The Best Time (& Ways) to Start Your Community Garden

There’s a reason our former First Lady, Michelle Obama, was adamant that the White House needed a garden. The benefits of gardening are immense. In Mrs. Obama’s case, she is dedicated to teaching children about healthy eating. Her own family ate the food from her White House gardens, and the surplus was donated to area food banks, serving those who may not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Benefits of a Community Garden

Mrs. Obama knew what so many of us now know. According to Green Leaf Communities, community gardens:

  • Help improve air and soil quality
  • Increase biodiversity of plants and animals
  • Reduce “food miles” that are required to transport nutritious food
  • Can reduce neighborhood waste through composting
  • Positively impact urban parks and neighborhoods
  • Increase access to fresh foods, particularly in urban areas and areas of lower income
  • Improve food security for residents
  • Increase physical activity through garden maintenance activities
  • Improve dietary habits through education
  • Increase fruit and vegetable intake
  • Reduce risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases
  • Improve mental health and promote relaxation

From an organizational perspective, community gardens also develop leaders, bring community members together and increase the enjoyment residents experience outdoors, in their own neighborhood.

It’s Time to Start Now

The case is clear – If you haven’t started a community garden in your parks, or as part of your programming, we think you should. And believe it or not, NOW IS THE TIME! Despite the bitter winds and flurries of February, some areas of the country may still be experiencing, now is the time to prepare, especially since Spring is expected to arrive early in some regions this year. When those first greens pop through the ground, you’ll be glad that you did.

Michelle Obama’s garden inspired her to publish the book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America. The book details her experience working in the garden, as well as advice for others looking to plant their own plot. She, like many of you, had little experience starting a garden. She, like many of you, can learn. And we’re here to help you get started.

Starting a Community Garden

The American Community Gardening Association helpfully compiled the project of starting a community garden into ten main steps. It’s a great starting point and goes something like this:

1. Bring interested people together. Bring residents, leaders, schools and any other key partners together for an initial meeting to discuss the purpose of the garden, interest and general type of garden you’re looking for (vegetable, kids’ butterfly, organic, etc.).

2. Select a planning committee. Choose members who are dedicated and have the time to nurture the logistical plans and seeds. Experienced gardeners are a plus, as are “Connectors,”, those who like to engage groups and rally people around a cause.

3. Identify your resources. What already exists in your community that could aid the creation of a garden? Park space? Land? Tools? Water? Expertise? Organizations/Nonprofits that can help you get up and running?

4. Find sponsorship: According to the ACGA, “Some gardens ‘self-support’ through membership dues, but for many, a sponsor is essential for donations of tools, seeds or money. Churches, schools, private businesses or parks and recreation departments are all possible supporters. One garden raised money by selling “square inches” at $5 each to hundreds of sponsors.”

5. Find your site: The land must have the appropriate amount of sunlight (vegetables need six hours of direct sunlight a day), access to irrigation and water, and soil that is free of pollutants. A soil test will be an important piece to this puzzle. Organic landscaping groups can conduct testing and provide amendment recommendations.

6. Get to work: Clearing and preparing the land will take work. Now is the time to engage volunteers to clear land, amend/prepare soil, dig plots and build containers. Some tips: Allow space for storing tools, making compost and pathways between plots. Plant flowers or shrubs around the garden’s edges to increase attractiveness and promote beauty.

7. Plan for kids: Consider a kids’ plot that is less about yield/perfection and more about education and engagement with your littlest gardeners.

8. Create ground rules: Literally. Post them for the community, share them and provide training to all those who will be maintaining and building your garden.

9. Create a communications plan: Make sure sponsors, residents, volunteers, schools and anyone else involved stays in the loop. This will only help you accomplish seasonal goals more fully.

10. Have fun! Enjoy every step and spade, knowing you are making your community, the earth, the air and the bellies around you better for your hard work.

Beauty and bounty await! If you’re looking for a new – and inspiring – way to engage your community, a community garden may be just the thing. Happy planting!