Organizations like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which serve the needs of America’s poor, have raised concerns about the nutrition factor in our nation’s Health Inequality. Close to 20 million US residents lack access to fresh, healthy food. Nonprofits do their best to provide as much high-nutrition foods to their clients as possible, but many neighborhoods take matters into their own hands and start Community Gardens.
You may have noticed community gardens in the neighborhoods where your friends and family live. Do you wish your community had one? Starting one is not as intimidating as you may believe. The benefits of being involved in a thriving community garden from the ground up (literally) are undeniably worthwhile. The sense of accomplishment you’ll feel is practically incomparable.
Some nonprofits build community gardens to benefit the community in their service areas. In other cases, neighbors band together to start a garden of their own. Many times, individuals from the community divide up the land and each tend to a small plot of their own. Volunteers keep an eye on these community gardens. Many have devoted members as well.
A community garden can help transform people who live in the same neighborhood into a cohesive community. It celebrates diversity in individual plots while also providing opportunities for people to collaborate and learn from one another about gardening, food preparation, and other topics. They learn to appreciate what they have in common while respecting each other’s differences. Community gardens foster bonds that last beyond the growing season.
The Advantages of Community Gardens
Gardening allows you to get dirty, enjoy nature, exercise, beautify your surroundings, and grow delicious and nutritious food. Gardening as a group is a great way to socialize and meet neighbors while sharing common interests. A garden can promote physical and emotional health, connect with nature, teach life skills, and promote financial security, in addition to providing fresh fruits and vegetables.
- It lets you enjoy nature.
For many city dwellers surrounded by high-rise buildings and concrete, a community garden may be their only opportunity to interact with plants, birds, butterflies, and nature.
Water conservation, water quality preservation, environmental stewardship, and sustainable land use lessons learned in the community garden can be taken back to homes, businesses, and schools and implemented, improving environmental health.
- It promotes good health.
Community gardens provide a space for gardeners and their families to grow healthy, nutritious food, resulting in a greater variety, greater quantity, and higher quality of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed by both gardeners and their families. Gardeners also increase their physical activity and overall health.
- It helps gardeners learn essential life skills.
Gardeners learn essential life skills such as planning, organization, and teamwork, in addition to a wealth of basic horticulture knowledge.
How to Get Started
Building community gardens require determination and hard work. You can build one using the following steps:
- Form a Committee of People with Similar Thoughts and Diverse Talents.
The first step in the process is to form an official committee with others in your community who share your vision. While you are encouraged to welcome anyone in your neighborhood who is enthusiastic about the project, you will want to identify those who bring unique talents and resources to the table.
Are you fortunate enough to have a horticulturist on your team? Okay, so that scenario is a little optimistic, but there will usually be one or two with a green thumb and a knack for gardening. Many professions also translate into skill sets that benefit a thriving community garden.
Florists, landscapers, nutritionists, and carpenters are just a few examples, but mechanics, doctors, lawyers (don’t judge), and everyone else in between should not be overlooked. As long as the desire to plant a seed is present, your committee should genuinely reflect the make-up of your neighborhood.
Forming a solid planning team, selecting a safe site accessible to the target audience with sunlight and water, organizing a simple, transparent management system, and designing and installing the garden are the keys to a thriving community garden of individual plots. Find a location
Community gardens can be built on either public or private property. An agreement to use the land for at least five years provides security for the garden. In general, public land has greater long-term use assurance. Ideal locations include parks, service centers, schools, utility easements, apartments, churches, and synagogues.
The garden’s location should be close to the gardeners who will maintain it. Gardeners may propose converting their private land into a community garden, with themselves serving as resident coordinators. Such gardens can also be excellent, though they can be challenging to maintain if the land is sold to another owner. Volunteers may also be hesitant to step in and work on a garden on private property.
- Look for a sponsor
While your committee is most likely starting with some resources, nothing gives you more breathing room than obtaining sponsorship for your community garden. Contact local businesses and organizations to see if they are willing to assist in the form of financial endowments, building materials, and planting seeds.
Sponsors can include local credit unions, retailers, churches, schools, home and garden supply stores, and grocery stores. A good sponsor can provide the essentials at deep discount or even for free. Some are happy to add special touches to your community garden, such as ornate benches for gardeners and their families to relax after a hard day of working in the soil.
- Get your hands on the plants.
Once a garden is established, production is rapid. The first vegetable crops should be ready in 45 days, from August to November and January to March. At times, it may take up to 90 days. Some fruit trees and shrubs will bear fruit in five years, others in ten, while smaller fruit plants planted in winter will bear fruit in the spring.
The majority of garden beds require about an hour of maintenance per week. Planting crops takes about 6 hours per season, four times a year. When it comes time to harvest, plan on spending one hour per week reaping the benefits of your labor.
- Establish garden rules
Even with great preparation, problems can arise. All community gardens require guidelines. This is especially true for newly planted gardens. Gardening rules specify precisely what is expected of a gardener. They make removing inactive gardeners with abandoned plots much easier. Difficult and disruptive gardeners may be more upset with the rules than with garden leaders or other gardeners. Address issues as soon as possible and reasonably before tensions rise. Once you reach a consensus, stick to the rules.
Car Credit is proud to support the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society Joe Latina Center in Temple Terrace. Car Credit owner, Steve Cuculich, remembers his lean years growing up with his single mom and siblings in a low-income Chicago neighborhood. “Struggling families depend on charities like St. Vincent de Paul for assistance with many basic needs. Self-help projects like Community Gardens can also make a real difference for those families.”