Our country is in crisis: we are in the middle of a global pandemic, record numbers of Americans are without work, and many are experiencing financial and food instability. On top of that, we are in the middle of an urgent nationwide conversation over ongoing systemic racial inequity in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The White House has been surrounded by miles of fencing in order to keep us far removed. In short, it’s been a tough year. We know that, historically, these “Moments of the Whirlwind” often precede major progress and growth, but that doesn’t always make it easy to resist the overwhelm.
Without connectedness and communion, we don’t exist fully as our truest selves – Richard Rohr
Now more than ever, people are hungry for community and fellowship, a refuge from isolation and loneliness. Many are looking for ways to collaborate around positive change in their own neighborhoods. For many of us it has become clear that happiness doesn’t necessarily mean having all of our needs met all of the time. Happiness may be an outcome of doing for others and for our communities. To be happy is to contribute: something new, something practical, something joyful.
More grows in the garden than the gardener sows – Spanish proverb
One popular activity that has taken a firm hold of our free time and creative imagination in this period is gardening. People across the country are creating victory gardens in their own yards, and reclaiming unused community spaces for community gardens. Community gardening is accessible for most people (even children can participate!), and research has shown that gardening is good for mental health: for practicing acceptance, getting out of your head and into the moment, challenging perfectionism, and most importantly connecting with others and with nature.
Practical tips for starting your own community garden initiative
1. Find a space
First, start networking and talking to people in the community to get people on board with your idea. Aside from community collaborators, you need to find space. Talk to the owners of centrally located lots that are not being used. You’ll want something large and flat that gets 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.
2. Check zoning laws & water availability
Once you’ve received the blessing of the land owner, check and see if there are any zoning ordinances prohibiting gardening in that space. Water is, of course, vital to the project, so check with the owner or your local water utility to ask if the property has a water meter. Getting a new water meter is relatively inexpensive. Running a water line may be prohibitive. Once you’ve taken care of all of this, sign the lease or contract.
3. Crowdsource & formalize your efforts
Here’s where things start to get fun. Community gardening is all about connecting people in the community around a shared project! Ideally you can secure a buy-in from a handful of neighbors before you start. Contact local neighborhood associations, houses of worship, and local gardening clubs to drum up participants and let folks know who you are and what you’re about! At the very least, they may be able to donate money or supplies.
4. Organize a “steering committee”
A decentralized approach is the smartest way to keep things moving, but having a steering committee will make sure that nothing slips through the cracks- fundraising, publicity, partnerships, garden construction, plant selection, etc. Ask each member of the steering committee to pick a job to spearhead. Make sure that everyone involved in the community garden is aware of who is in charge of what, so that group members can efficiently get their questions and concerns addressed.
5. Formalize your group structure
The more people that want to get involved, and the more successful your project becomes, the more it will become necessary to draw up some documents to explain the decision-making process. Doing this will help keep everyone on the same page and will help keep things chugging along when it comes time to raise money, run meetings, and keep track of membership. Have a centralized online repository for group documents so that information is accessible.
6. Brainstorm and map your garden
Are you growing vegetable, flowers, or both? Fully organic? Planting in-ground or making raised beds? Remember to test the soil to make sure it is free of heavy metals if you’re planting in-ground. Raised beds are far more accessible for groups with limited mobility. What amenities will you include: a tool shed, benches, a bulletin board, a picnic table, a fence? Map everything out from the physical layout of your beds to diagramming each plot so that flowers and veggies are appropriately spaced and primed to thrive.
7. Prepare & build
Now is the time to clear all debris from the site and implement your plan. Everyone can help with clearing, construction, and soil prep. Remember to add some fun, funky signage so that the rest of the community knows what you are doing! Ask everyone to collaborate on a fun name for your community garden.
8. Never miss a chance to celebrate!!
Have an opening day so that everyone who collaborated, donated, or gave their time can come and see the fruits of their labor. Organize a potluck or barbecue to bring everyone together in your new community garden space! Don’t forget a bluetooth speaker and citronella! Enjoy!
Find a group management tool to turbocharge your community garden
If you’re looking for some organizational support for your new project, check out Groupeasy. Our suite of 9 integrated group management tools can help get your community garden project off the ground! Groups of 15 or fewer are always free, and Groupizy offers a user-friendly, ad-free platform for helping to support groups in doing what they need to do: communicate, decide, and plan!
Need to create a watering or harvesting schedule? Our sign-up tool is perfect for that. Our newsboard is a great way to easily keep the group on the same page, and we also provide calendar and messaging tools so you don’t need to rely on 5 different apps to keep things running smoothly. Use our document repository as a home base for bylaws and other group artifacts. Eventually you may want to promote a garden sale or attract new members by using our free homepage function!
Happy Grouping (and happy greening),
The Team at Groupeasy