How to start a community garden

May 7, 2012, 6 a.m.

A community garden can come with a bushel of benefits, from providing fresh vegetables to transforming an unused, trash-strewn lot into a place of community kinship, harmony and purpose. But a community garden does not grow overnight, and it is not likely to grow at all without proper planning. The American Community Garden Association offers a number of steps for starting a community garden, several of which are are outlined below.

Plan the garden

As with nearly any successful project, planning is the first thing to come into play. Create a planning committee to figure out if the community even wants or need a garden, then determine the garden type, size, location and purpose. Create a community gardening group led by a coordinator and stocked with committees for fund raising, construction, outreach and other planning activities.

Sponsors are helpful for providing funding for community gardens. Sponsorship choices range from the area church to the local nursery and greenhouse. The community gardening group needs a mailing address and at least three contact people who can communicate information throughout the group and to the local community.

Pick the site, the name -- and the insurance carrier

Once the planning is in place, pick a name for the garden and site where the garden will grow. Talk to the site's owner to make sure it's OK and if the owner requires liability insurance. Obtaining at least a three-year lease gives the garden project plenty of time to take hold. The site should receive adequate sunlight and an available water supply. Also consider past uses of the land. Don't opt for a former sewage treatment plant.

Organize and invite

An official gardening organization takes over where the earlier group left off. Create a slate of bylaws, obtain contact info from all interested parties and consider requiring a small garden contribution fee, another way to further provide funding for community gardens. Bylaws should establish garden rules and membership requirements, such as committing to plant by a certain date, maintain the plot and help with trash pickup and weeding.

Invite community members, local residents and whoever else may be interested to take part in community gardening. Omit area residents from the invite and you may be asking for trouble. There's no reason to grow resentments before the broccoli or begonias are even planted. Require members to fill out an application with contact information, a bit on the applicant's gardening history and a signature on the bylaws.

Dig and develop

Organizing the garden and preparing the site comes next. Clean out debris, divide out the plots and figure out where to store all the equipment. Donations from local merchants are a dandy way to obtain donations of tools, seeds, dirt and additional funding for community gardens. If different gardeners will be tending to specific plots, make sure all are clearly marked.

Volunteer work crews and a daily work schedule can help the garden grow, as can protection from potential vandals. Large, barb-filled bushes and plants around the perimeter can help keep the area looking neat and deter intruders. Consider a fence if one is not already in place.

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