Starting a Community Garden
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Community gardens are taking root in schools, neighborhoods, community organizations, and places of worship. If you want to start a new community garden, the following resources will help with the process.
Toolkits & Planning Guides
- Collard Greens and Common Ground
- Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina: Growing Communities through Gardens
- How to Organize a Community Garden
- Urban Agriculture in Winston-Salem Toolkit from City of W-S
Step 1: Form a core team and gather community input
A community garden is, first and foremost, a community of people! Nurturing this community takes time and effort. For this reason, we encourage garden organizers to focus first on engaging members and understanding their interests and gifts.
Start by talking with friends, neighbors, and local associations to identify people who are interested. You can use the Garden Interest Survey to identify potential participants’ skills, availability, and learning needs with respect to gardening.
When you have at least 5-10 people committed to the garden, organize an initial meeting to determine the feasibility of a garden and – if you decide to move forward – plan next steps.
Step 2: Answer initial garden questions
There are many questions to answer to determine the unique structure and culture of your garden. Review the Getting Started section of Collard Greens and Common Ground to read a step-by-step approach. In your initial team meetings, consider the following questions:
- Who is the garden for? Who will the gardeners be? How will they be recruited?
- Is this an allotment, donation, educational, or other type of garden?
- How will the team and the gardeners make decisions, assign tasks, and establish leadership roles?
- What leadership roles are needed, who will fill these roles, and what are their responsibilities?
- Will the garden focus on a particular group or set of needs? Will it restrict membership to a certain group of people?
- What are the garden rules and guidelines? How will these be enforced?
- Community Garden Organizing Process Flowchart (American Community Gardens Association)
- Crafting a Mission Statement (Adapted from Voices Reaching Vision curriculum, North Carolina A&T University Cooperative Extension)
- Asset Mapping Worksheet (Adapted from Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets, Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University and Community Outreach of Our United Villages Community Asset Mapping Workbook.)
- Mapping Reciprocal Partnerships (American Community Gardens Association)
- 10 Steps to Starting a Community Garden (American Community Gardens Association)
Step 3: Find a good site and secure tenure (permission to use the land)
As you assess potential sites, refer to the Site Selection section of Collard Greens and Common Ground to think through site selection and tenure considerations. Here are some tips:
Locate a suitable garden site. A community garden site should:
- Be easily accessible for intended gardeners (within their neighborhood, or located on the land of an organization they visit frequently, such as a faith community)
- Be relatively flat
- Get 6-8 hours of direct sunlight in spring, summer, and fall
- Have access to water
- Have soil that is free of contaminants such as heavy metals (or be suitable for constructing raised beds with imported soil)
Identify the site owner and obtain written permission to use the land (a lease).
- Use the Forsyth County NC Tax Parcel Viewer to verify the owner of any potential site.
- Inquire with the owner if they will grant the group written permission to use the land for at least three years. Review the sample lease on pp. 8-18 Change Lab Solutions’ Ground Rules: A Legal Toolkit for Community Gardens for things that should be included in a lease to protect the interests of both the landowner and the garden group.
- Helpful Links:
- Land for Community Gardens: City of Winston-Salem Urban Agriculture Ordinance
- Dig, Eat, and Be Healthy: A Guide to Growing Food on Public Property from Change Lab Solutions
- Establishing Protections for Community Gardens Public Health Law & Policy
- Example_Land_Use_Agreement and
Step 4: Site Design
Draw your garden plan. Refer to Food Garden Design from Collard Greens and Common Ground (see excerpt below)
A Step-by-Step Method
We suggest adapting a simple, three-step process for garden design:
- Decide what goes in the garden. Everyone with a stake in the garden discusses and makes suggestions about the elements and general structure of the garden. List your choices and priorities.
- Determine the site layout. Next, go out to the site and walk around. Discuss where different elements might go. For instance, where will the front gate and entrance be? Where can you put a compost area? Where will you need a water tap? Take pictures.
- Draw the garden plan. Recruit someone with visual design skills and experience to transform the team’s ideas into clear scale drawings that accurately show the garden’s actual layout on the site.
Universal Design & Accessibility
- Read “Accessible and Inclusive Gardens” chapter in Build a Community Garden in Your Park from the National Parks and Rec Association (Chapter 3.)
- Accessible Gardening article from Chatham County
- A Guide for Making Community Gardens
Accessible for all Members (Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo)
After your garden has been established, consider reviewing the following topics: