To START a community garden, follow these steps below. If you want to JOIN an existing garden, skip to the end of this section. Consider starting a garden at your local school. See the Additional Resources section for ideas on how to Start a Teaching Garden with a school in your community.
Step 1: Start with a Plan
Form a Planning Committee
Recruit friends and neighbors who are interested in helping with the garden. Find three to five energetic, committed people for your planning committee.
Hold an initial meeting with the planning committee. Discuss:
- What is your purpose? Who will the garden serve?
Schedule a kickoff; invite neighbors, community organizations, gardening and horticultural societies.
For information on setting ground rules for your garden, see How To Set Ground Rules in the guide.
Hold Your Kickoff Meeting
At the meeting, you should:
- Introduce yourself and the planning committee.
- Explain why you want to start a garden.
- Get feedback and initial thoughts.
- Make sure to discuss:
- What type of garden you want—for example, a communal space to benefit a certain group (such as to provide produce to a soup kitchen for seniors), individual plots for family use, a flower garden.
- What special skills people have to offer—for example, a lawyer among the group could be helpful (but isn’t necessary) for drafting documents related to land use.
- How committed everyone is to this idea? Community land use issues—whether public or private—often involve jumping through administrative hoops. You’ll need dedicated people on your team to see everything through.
- Schedule the next meeting, and maybe even monthly meetings.
- As issues arise, you’ll want a place to talk through everything with members.
- Participation will vary at the meetings but it’s nice for your gardeners to know they have a forum to raise issues. You can always cancel a meeting if nobody sees a need to get together.
- Grab everyone’s contact info before they leave.
- Communication is key to your garden’s success. Develop an email list, phone tree, or another way to keep in contact with members.
- Review the HandsOn Network guide www.handsonnetwork.org/ for more ideas on how to be a successful volunteer leader.
Step 2: Funding: How to Do It?
Some gardens “self-support” through membership dues. Talk with interested members about what they are willing to contribute.
Also, consider finding a sponsor or two. Churches, schools, private businesses, or parks and recreation departments are all possible supporters. Ask your sponsor what they would be willing to provide, such as land, tools, seeds, or even money!
At your kickoff meeting, find out what special skills people have to offer.
You can raise money for your garden in other ways. For example, one garden sold “square inches” at $5 each to hundreds of sponsors.
Before you start collecting funds, you will need to set up a bank account. You should determine what the money will be used for and who will have access to the account.
Step 3: Choose a Site
Find the Site
Picking the right site will take time, so be patient!
Do an initial scout and make a list of potential sites, just in case your first choice doesn’t work out. When looking at sites:
- Record the address (or the nearest cross streets) — This will help with determining ownership.
- Measure the size — Your garden doesn’t need to be huge, but you will want enough room for each plot, usually 10' x 10'.
- Check for sunlight and water — The garden should get at least 6 full hours of sunlight daily (for vegetables) and be near a water source.
- Test the soil — You can assess the nutrients in the area, as well as make sure there is no contamination.
Secure the Site
Once you find the perfect site, you’ll need to get permission from the owner to use it. You might even need to pay to lease the land.
See How to Secure a Garden Site in this guide.
Step 4: Develop and Prepare the Site
Design the Garden
Once you have your plot secured and ready to go, the real fun can begin! (For more details, see Basic Elements of a Community Garden in this guide.) When designing your garden, a simple grid is easiest.
Keep in mind:
- Walkways — People will need enough room to walk and carry gardening tools, both around the edges and between rows of plots.
- Defined plots — Finalize the size and number of plots.
- Children’s plots — If you have decided to include children’s plots make sure to set aside a specific section of the garden.
- Fencing — You’ll need to design and build a fence around the garden, for security and to keep animals out.
- Storage areas — There will need to be a place to keep tools and other equipment, as well as a compost area.
- Flowers and shrub beds — Planting around the perimeter of the garden will help promote good will with non-gardening neighbors and municipal authorities.
Set Up the Site
Getting your site ready for planting is a big job. So round up lots of volunteers!
First things first, spend a day cleaning the site. You may need to rent heavy equipment, like a backhoe, to do a thorough job.
After the site is clean, it is time to get building:
- Plan a work day when all gardeners in your group come together to set up the site.
- Gather your resources — soil, mulch, fencing, stakes, etc. Try to get free materials from your sponsors or other sources, like a local landscaping company.
- Organize volunteers into work crews. Have some turn soil, install plot borders, raised beds (if needed), a fence, etc.
- After everything is ready, have all the gardeners mark their plots.
Step 5: Plant Something!
Getting a plant in the ground marks a significant step in your garden’s success. Even if everyone isn’t yet ready to plant, starting the first plant now will give everyone a sense of accomplishment and a boost of energy.
Install a rainproof bulletin board for announcing garden events and messages to keep members up to date and recruit new gardeners.
Hold a celebration to applaud everyone’s hard work. Remember, community gardens are all about creating and strengthening communities. And fun events go a long way to keeping everyone engaged and excited!
Step 6: Share the Wealth
Gardens can produce and produce AND PRODUCE. Individuals may choose to donate food and produce to neighbors who could use some fresh produce. Or your group may have agreed to donate fresh food to a local food bank, faith based organization, or other group that provides food to those in need.
You might also consider holding an educational session where you can teach others in your community about how to build a community garden and/or how to create their own family garden.
Step 7: Inspire Others on CreateTheGood.org!
TELL US WHAT YOU DID!
We want to hear stories (www.CreateTheGood.org/stories) about how you helped give back to your community. You just might inspire others to do the same.
KEEP UP THE GOOD!
Remember, whether you’ve got five minutes, five hours or five days, you can make a positive impact in your community. And if you have more time, consider organizing another service activity, finding local opportunities and posting your events at www.CreateTheGood.org.
Want to Join a Community Garden?
There are approximately 18,000 community gardens throughout the United States and Canada. Use the American Community Garden Association’s website—http://acga.localharvest.org/—to find one near you. The site includes garden details and contact information for each site. Also, if your garden is not listed, you can add your site to this national databank of community gardens so others can find you.
You can also become a member of ACGA. Senior memberships start at $15 and provide access to the group’s Member Directory, where you can participate in discussions on ACGA’s email listserv. You can find membership information at www.communitygarden.org.