Contributing Editor: Will Johnston
If you are considering starting a community garden, there’s many things you should keep in mind before setting out. It could prove to be a bigger project than you imagine and to ensure success you want to cover your bases.
First, you need people. Select some individuals whom you have a relationship with and know you could work with to take on a project of this scope and longevity. 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. This group will perform the planning required to tackle all aspects of this project and should have something in their background that is complementary to the task at hand.
As long as everyone on the team agrees that the idea of a community garden is sensible you should then proceed with the planning. 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 and task assigner. This person should be trusted, because you’re going to have to give him/her authority and they should be respected.
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) What type of garden do you wish to have?
3) 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?
4) Who has access and how will distribution take place?
5) Make sure that everyone involved and participating understands the garden coordinator’s role and the importance of that person’s authority and responsibility.
6) 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.
7) 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.
8) We assume that you have a plot or location in mind, but if not this should be moved to item 1). 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.
9) 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 originating group decides and then outbound communication that you need to the neighbors and broader community. Should include email addresses, phone numbers, policies, hours, address, news updates, roles and names.
10) Ensure that your plot is adequate for gardening. A soil test, hours of sunlight, access to water, easements or rights of access issues examined. Is there any liability for access and use?
11) Set a date and plan for preparing your plot. Clean it up and establish the use plan. Coordinate soil preparation and irrigation. Provide a tool shed for storage. Determine guidelines for whether you will be having a conventional garden or organic. Have a sign-in sheet and tool checkout if desired.
12) The garden coordinator should have a plan for what their responsibilities will be and what will be delegated. What will be done communally and what will be the responsibility of individuals. How will you deal with balls being dropped and squabbling amongst the group when it arises.
13) Ensure that a schedule and individual responsibilities are clearly outlined and posted in a public place.
14) 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.
15) Day to day operations. There are many day to day considerations in maintaining your community garden and you will probably want to assign someone (not the garden coordinator) to manage the day to day business. This person collects any funds or fees required to support the garden, greets visitors and tracks tool use and 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.
Hopefully your community garden will bring people together, nourish your families and be a meaningful way of giving back.