Whether you live in a concrete jungle or your landlord won’t let you start a garden in the backyard, don’t let your green thumb goals or fresh, local produce dreams die. A shared neighborhood garden may be just the answer you’re looking for as an urban dweller or renter.
A community garden is a plot of land collectively taken care of by a group of community members. From eating healthier to learning new skills to building new friendships with neighbors, there are plenty of reasons for participating in your local community garden.
Felecia Maxfield-Barrett, volunteer and outreach director with Wasatch Community Gardens in Salt Lake City, UT, says that because a community garden encourages neighbors working together, the value of these projects extends far beyond just growing fresh fruits and veggies.
“You learn about your neighborhood, make new friends, connect with nature, learn new gardening skills, gain leadership experience, participate in garden events, and are an active part of preserving green space in your community,” she says.
How to find a community garden near you
There are around 18,000 community gardens in United States and Canada, according to the American Community Gardening Association(ACGA). The ACGA offers a community garden locator, but if you don’t see what you’re looking for, don’t give up hope.
If a web search isn’t drawing the results you expected, look to social media and your town officials. “Search Facebook for community garden groups, or call your town clerk to ask,” advises community gardener Caroline Blanzaco. “Most towns have websites, and they should list gardens that are open to the public.”
The ACGA also suggests checking with your local or county park agency, as well as the land grant college cooperative extension program in your state.
Additional ideas for tracking down a local shared garden space include:
- Contact your neighborhood council. In addition to your county or city council, you likely have a neighborhood council. Neighborhood councils may even have a small community garden of their own that they likely don’t advertise to the rest of the city.
- Ask your librarian. Visit your local library and ask a librarian if they’ve heard of any community gardens in the area. Chances are, if one exists, they’ll know about it — as community groups often advertise on library community bulletin boards.
- Check with your neighboring city. If you’re still not finding any community gardens in your area, inquire within your surrounding towns. It may be worth the commute out of your city for a home sweet garden of your own.
Starting a community garden of your own
If there’s no community garden near you, or the waiting list for an open garden plot seems never-ending, consider starting a community garden of your own.
“Every community garden is different, and is a reflection of the community surrounding it,” Susan Harper of the Fairmount Community Garden in Fort Worth, TX. “It works best when there are experienced gardeners and leaders to answer questions or find solutions and flexible rules to allow the garden to grow.”
The ACGA recommends first gathering a group of interested potential gardeners, then forming a planning committee as well as identifying a list of resources that already exist within your neighborhood community.
The ACGA’s start-up resources offer everything from a step-by-step community garden start-up guide, a community garden toolkit, and a list of beginner-friendly recommended books.
Sharon DiLorenzo, program manager for Capitol Roots in New York, suggests keeping it simple the first year or so. “Novice gardeners can easily get overwhelmed by the weeding and maintenance,” she says. She recommends looking into free gardening classes to help keep your garden plot healthy and productive.
Community garden benefits for renters
Even if your rental home boasts plenty of potential garden space, not all landlords are willing to let a tenant alter their landscaping. A common worry is having to upkeep the garden after the tenant moves away — leaving an empty garden plot with no one to care for it.
While living in a 600-square-foot apartment in Richmond, VA, Blanzaco longed for space to grow herbs and veggies. Without an outdoor space of her own, she sought out Uptown Community Garden.
“It was right down the road and gave me a sunny, free plot where I could grow things and chat with other gardeners,” Blanzaco says. “I was able to eat healthier, exercise, spend more time outdoors, keep it local, and meet new people.”
In addition to the health and community involvement benefits, DiLorenzo says that community gardens can even help make inner city neighborhoods safer.
If a community garden sounds intriguing to you, Blanzaco’s advice is to go for it. “If you have a community garden in your area, reach out to the person in charge,” she says. “In my experience, gardeners are very friendly people and want others to get involved. Don’t hold yourself back or make excuses. Just show up to the site and see if anyone is there to talk to.”
About the Author
Sarah Pike is a freelancer, writing teacher, and new homeowner. When she's not writing, teaching, or obsessively organizing her home, she's probably binge-watching RomComs or reading home decor magazines. She also enjoys following far too many celebrities than she should on Instagram. You can find Sarah on Twitter at @sarahzpike.