By Marty Ross
When you become a member of a community garden, you’re not just a gardener; you’re a citizen of a whole new neighborhood, cultivating relationships. Along with healthy food, you’ll harvest fresh perspective on your place in the world.
Community gardens typically start with the seed of enthusiasm. But before anyone ever digs a hole to set out plants, there’s work to be done. The biggest question is “Where?” Finding a plot of open ground comes first, then working to secure the necessary permissions, laying out and allotting the beds, and preparing the soil.
The American Community Gardening Association is a great resource for anyone planning a community garden. The organization’s web site has all kinds of tips to help you establish a successful garden, so you and your group can quickly realize the goal of becoming urban farmers. Many communities offer classes or workshops to promote community gardening and help groups — and individuals — get started.
In a community garden, friendly advice is always plentiful. Some community gardens publish planting calendars, recommend the best vegetable varieties for the local climate and conditions, sell seeds and transplants, and offer access to tools. No matter where you live, there are bound to be community gardens nearby. Put yourself in touch with them.
Community gardens usually consist of a number of plots. The available plots may vary in size, and if you’re new to it, start small. One raised bed or a small garden plot of about 4 x 6 feet is large enough to grow an impressive harvest of squash, peas, peppers, and tomatoes, but not so big that you’ll feel overwhelmed.
Keep an eye on what the other gardeners are doing. Grow whatever you like, but be prepared for surprises: community gardens are often melting pots of cultures. Gardening side-by-side with people from faraway places, you may decide to try a crop you’d never even heard of before.
It takes all kinds of people and skills to set up and maintain a successful community garden. You’ll need to be organized, help others, have a few rules, and assign some shared duties. Be prepared to work hard, get mud on your knees, smile a lot, and fill baskets not only with fresh food, but with satisfaction.