How to Join a Community Garden
This blog often focuses on eating local. However, if you aren’t comfortable gardening on your own or your yard is shady (or nonexistent) you can still grow your own food successfully.
You just need to get involved with a community garden!
The characteristics of community gardens are varied. Some of them allow you to rent a plot of land that you are responsible for growing your own food in. Others pool labor and garden beds together and everyone shares a portion of the overall harvest. Some are inclusive and others require qualifiers to join (perhaps that you go to a certain school, live in a low income neighborhood, reside in a hospital long term, or that you belong to a specific homeowners association).
Most have a limit on the number of members per season. Subscriptions can be for the year or for segments of the year. The price of a single plot for yourself tends to be lower than if you are buying into the collective labor and materials of a large shared garden. Keep in mind that your long-term costs on a personal plot (where you buy your own transplants, fertilizer, etc.) will probably match the larger up-front subscription of a shared garden (where these items are purchased for you by a committee). Each garden is different.
Community gardens usually want members to be participatory and they either offer classes or share mutual knowledge to boost everyone’s skill level. Some stay in touch through the internet and others schedule specific work dates where people meet in person. If you are a fledgling gardener this can be a foolproof way to get started successfully on your first attempt. Some people only join for a single season and then apply what they learn to their home garden.
Finding a garden to join can be the challenging part. Fortunately there are many places you can look.
Start with the American Community Garden Association‘s (ACGA) North American directory. It lists community gardens in the USA and Canada. Bear in mind that some community gardens local to you might not be listed. If you don’t see anything, don’t give up yet.
If you don’t have luck there, call your local Extension Service. If the agent isn’t sure, ask to speak to whoever is in charge of your Master Gardener program. MGs often volunteer at community garden projects and may have insider information.
Still out of luck? Try asking around at plant and local food related organizations and businesses. Possible candidates include natural groceries, locavore groups, botanical gardens, native plant societies, garden nurseries, food banks, charities, and farmers markets. If you belong to a homeowners association check if you have a neighborhood community garden. Churches are another likely source. Urban gardeners should call your local Parks and Recreation department or City Hall.
You can also start your own community garden. There are help files available on the ACGA site that tell you how to get started! Now is a great time to do it… if you hit the ground running (or with a shovel) you can get your beds ready before your local spring/summer planting out (frost free) date.
If you’re involved with a community garden I’d love to hear about it in the comments!