If you are considering starting a community garden, now is the best time to start building the community to create the garden. We’ve had great success over the past five years growing from two gardens to more than 20 in the greater Spokane area.
Community gardens are 90 percent community and 10 percent garden. In other words, a successful and sustainable garden will need a group of committed friends, neighbors and community members who help develop and build the garden. The “build it and they will come” philosophy doesn’t work.
Start by talking to people you think might be interested in the project. This might be other church or community group members, neighbors and neighborhood leaders. Have a meeting to draw everyone together and explain what you’d like to do. Listen to their ideas closely; you may have an idea how you want the project to go but they may have even better ideas. Try to get a committed group of five to 10 people to help with the project. Gardens run by one or two people usually die when one or both people burn out.
At the same time, start looking for potential locations. Don’t settle on a particular one until you have had input from your community, even if it comes with everything you need. A good site will be level with lots of sun and be within easy walking distance of the gardeners who will use it. It should be in a place where the gardeners will feel safe and are comfortable gathering. The soil will need to be tested for contamination and fertility and water sources identified. Be sure to communicate with landowners and neighbors.
Design your ideal garden and make a list of things you will need for construction: a water system including any hook ups to main lines, boards and compost to make raised beds, tools and fences to keep deer and errant people out. Work up a best-case budget and begin fundraising. Create a short statement about the purpose of the garden to use as you solicit donations of money, material and labor. Remember most businesses may not give you a direct donation but they might be willing to give you a discount.
Identify a person with some gardening skills and a strong interest to be the garden master. This person will be in charge of the day-to-day garden management to make sure there is communication with the gardeners and problems are addressed and rules followed. Establish a registration process for beds and a simple set of rules dealing with how the garden is to be used, gardeners’ responsibilities and an arbitration process for conflicts that arise. Consider charging a fee to cover costs with partial scholarships available for those who can’t afford the full fee.