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By Will Johnston |
If you are considering starting a community garden, there are many things to keep in mind before setting out. It could prove to be a bigger project than you imagine, and steps below will help you cover your bases and launch a successful garden.

First, you need people. Select some individuals whom you know you could take on a project of this scope and longevity with to tackle the planning and execution of the garden. It’s good to have a mix of friends and folks who are knowledgeable about gardening. A quick perusal of some online gardening forums or Craigslist may turn up willing participants in your own city.

Make sure you select someone who is going to be the principal coordinator of the garden. This person will be the hands-on, day-to-day decision maker who ensures that the garden grows successfully. This person should be trusted and respected, because you’re going to have to give him or her authority. Also select or elect someone to manage day-to-day operations. He or she will collect and funds or fees required to support the garden, greets visitors, tracks tool use and ensures that the commitments of volunteers and the team are followed through. This person is not responsible for ensuring that garden grows successfully (the garden coordinators job), but instead the coordination of those using or helping with the garden.

Once you have your group organized, work through the following steps and discussions below:

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1) What are the objectives and desired outcomes? Get consensus from your team on what you hope to accomplish, so that later there is no confusion.

2) Make sure everyone involved understands the roles of the garden coordinator and the operations manager and the importance of their authority and responsibility.

3) Determine the type of garden you wish to have. Conventional or organic? How organic?

4) Find a plot for the garden. Ensure that you have proper rights established for long term use. You don’t want to be surprised after years of investment and community sacrifice that you may have to relinquish it all based on the whim of a property or lease holder. Also ensure that your plot is adequate for gardening. A soil test, hours of sunlight, access to water, easements or rights of access issues examined.

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5) Determine your resource plan. Assign someone who will be responsible for acquiring and managing resources (seeds, starts, tools, money, plumbing, etc.). Decide at the outset if you intend to fund the garden with the founding team’s contributions or if you’re going to do fundraising. If you’ll need to do fundraising, make sure you assign someone with experience to this task and give them adequate time to meet the funding goals. The best approach could be to have the garden evolve organically, starting with a small and inexpensive plot and over time creating a substantial bounty.

6) Set a date and plan for preparing your plot. Clean it up, coordinate soil preparation and irrigation, provide a tool shed for storage and have a sign-in sheet and tool checkout if desired.

7) Determine how inclusive the garden will be: What will be done communally and what will be the responsibility of individuals? What are the roles for the team and for any community volunteers? Do you want to have local folks drop in or just keep it to the original group?

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8) Ensure that a schedule and individual responsibilities are clearly outlined and posted in a public place.

9) Who has access and how will distribution take place?

10) Keep things as simple as possible, but not too simple. Planning and assigning responsibilities in the beginning will help things to run smoothly and minimize conflicts and ambiguity. Some groups will want to keep things loose and flexible and that will reflect that long term outcomes, others will want to have clearly established goals, by-laws and responsibilities. If you choose to do the latter, it is wise to have an individual responsible for establishing the by-laws and getting buy-in from the group. This person will also be responsible for ensuring that they are enforced and followed through.

11) Plan to have a more general meeting with the broader community to outline what you are trying to accomplish, to ask for volunteers and to gather input and feedback. Make the community feel involved and establish the goals ground rules from the outset.

12) Consider creating a website or Facebook page with everything that anyone would want to know. This is a great place to keep all of the information that the original group decides and then outbound communication that you need to the neighbors and broader community, and should include email addresses, phone numbers, policies, hours, address, news updates, roles and names.

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Hopefully your community garden will bring people together, nourish your families and be a meaningful way of giving back.

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