Believe it or not, there is actually quite a rigorous process to starting a community garden, but once you’ve got it up and running (and have read my guide on how to start your own garden) you will reap the health and community benefits, as well as have access to delicious organically grown produce all year round. I’ve set up a guide to make this a more organised, smooth process, with essentials to consider as you delve into this highly rewarding journey.
1. Gather a team
First of all, community gardens cannot be accomplished alone. You need a small group of core contributors to set up a community garden, that are actively committed to the project and the purpose it serves. This can be 2-3 people to start with and will gradually grow as the project rolls out. It is important to get together and decide what time you have available for the garden, as this is the difference between an idea and a project. Remember to have a clear intention or ‘why’ for your garden, is it to strengthen communal ties, celebrate food or for the love of friendship and gardening? Reflecting on your ‘why’ throughout the process will keep you committed to your project.
2. Make a plan
Once you have looked at your ‘why’ and your ‘when’, it’s time to make a plan! Create this plan on the ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘what if’ of the garden. Ask questions such as:
What do we want to grow? Florals or vegetables?
Where is the ideal place for this community garden to be set up? Where is Plan B?
What approval do I need? From who?
What is the underlying purpose of it?
Who will benefit from it?
What size should it be?
Once you have this plan, organise a meeting with your workplace, organisation or local neighbourhood to propose your plan and gather diverse perspectives on it. This gives you the opportunity to gain support and funding to move forward with your garden. Invite anyone that might share your vision for the garden or could be a possible stakeholder.
3. Form a planning management group
Once you have undergone your initial meeting and gained some interested members, create a management group with these people to discuss time commitments, regular meetings and possible roles and tasks. Identify and delegate different tasks such as funding and partnerships, activities and events, construction and communication. Discuss appointing a chair, treasurer and liaison person and outline their key responsibilities as part of the group/committee.
4. Take your plan to the council
Once you have got a decent plan and support behind you, take your plan to the local council and get them on board. They will be able to advise you on land ownership and any upcoming projects or use of the land that you have your eyes on. Local councils can be a powerful tool in terms of offering advice, support and resources, as they have usually done this all before!
5. Procuring land
As part of your plan, you should have identified possible sites for establishing a community garden. It’s important to remember community gardens can be formed on narrow, unused pieces of land, behind buildings or in wastelands, they don’t always have to be in the most obvious places; think about your plan B for establishing a communal growing space. There are plenty of organizations out there such as the Diabetes Foundation and their Gardens4Health programme that are there to give advice and support around the process of setting up an edible food garden. This can include connecting you with suppliers, funding application advice, budgeting and sustainability best practice. Go to https://www.diabetesfoundationaotearoa.nz/our-programmes/gardens4health
If you are considering private land look into green spaces around churches, in schools or universities, or in and around health or community centres. Once you have decided on a good site to set up your garden, get your committee together and create a written agreement with the land owner. Include the following:
· Plan for the land
· Tenure of the land
· Access to water
· Agreement to growing techniques
· Agreed access to the garden
· Harvest of the garden -how it will be distributed
· Disputes procedure
· Responsibilities of gardens and owners
· Health and safety
· Communication updates to landholder (taken from ccga.org.nz)
6. The site and conditions
Once your site has been approved, it’s now time to check the conditions of the site. First of all, consider the community factors associated with the site. Will it be accessible to all members of the community, regardless of their ability? Is it close enough to the local community? Who lives around the space (who needs to know about it)? It is adequate in terms of health and safety (e.g. eroded banks, high traffic density)? How close are toilets to the site?
The Canterbury Community Garden Association provides a useful resource for making a community garden health and safety plan including areas of risk, possible hazards, possible solutions and helpful contacts. Use the following link to access this document: http://www.ccga.org.nz/documents/
Now look at the growing conditions on the site and consider the following factors: how much sunlight does the area get? Where will its water source come from? Check the soil type and quality or get it checked at your local gardening centre. What is the history of the land? Could this previous use impede on growing certain plants? Is there enough space to build a shed and store materials?
7. Approach sponsors
Once the site is approved by your committee, it’s time to approach some possible sponsors that can provide physical and financial resources to get your garden started. If you’re unsure where to start, ask your local council for some suggestions. Make sure to clearly state your purpose to these possible sponsors and how it will be a mutual benefit. As you are establishing the garden, you will need all the gardening tools and essentials, as well as long hours of manual labour, which will come at a cost. Write a budget considering all costs involved.
8. Get planting!
Time to get planting. With community gardens, you’re looking to attract members of the community, so aesthetics is important. You want a space that is colorful, lush and inviting, including various types of plants and flowers that make the garden a hub for relaxation and renewal. Make sure to consider this. Put up signs with the code of conduct for the garden or pictures of what the plants will look like in full bloom. Get creative and take ownership over your beautiful garden. Also consider maintenance when choosing your plants and choose varieties that are manageable and not overcrowding other plants (or the walkway!).
9. Events and activities
Once you have established your garden, you will already see a significant rise in involvement and interest from surrounding community members that are keen to get stuck in and help out. You can increase this engagement with the garden through hosting social events around the garden (for example a cooking class using all the delicious veggies grown in the garden) sharing the garden on social media or reaching out to people through newsletters and emails. Get the local schools, churches and other organizations engaged through activities in the garden, such as ‘grow your own lunch’ or simple projects that can provide education and mutual benefit to the community.
10. Manage and maintain
You already have a fantastic team on board. But remember during a lot of prolonged projects, the enthusiasm can burn out. Make sure that there is a clear leadership plan in place and there is recruitment of new volunteers every year to keep the passion alive! Go into local schools and talk about the garden, maintain regular meetings or look into hiring a garden coordinator. In this case, however, you would need to be considered as a charitable trust.
So, there you have it, you are well on your way to making a genuine impact in the world and being a sustainable, global citizen. Being involved in a community garden through volunteering looks great on your cv, encourages your social and leadership skills and you will be thanking me when your dinners are sourced from whole, delicious and organic vegetables from your community garden. Good luck and get planting!