Tomatoes from the FCC Community Garden
Although almost all area gardeners are just now putting their gardens to bed for the winter, now is the time to start planning for next year's garden, especially if you are interested in starting a Community Garden. What is a Community Garden?
A Community Garden is non-residential land shared by two or more people who grow plants or flowers on it. There are about 2,000 Community Gardens in the United States that range in size from about 400 square feet, to a Catholic Charities sponsored Community Garden in Kansas City that is nearly 5 acres in size. Typically, a Community Garden is comprised of many small plots that are independently managed by individuals or families, but where all the gardeners share common resources, like water, and follow a standard set of rules.
Community Gardens have always been popular in Europe. During the Middle Ages and right up to our current time, individuals and families have expected and depended on local government to set aside an "allotment" of land that could be used for personal gardening in a community setting. Allotment gardening is so popular in Great Britain that some families wait as long as twenty years to get their "plot." In tiny Demark, with a population of just 5 million people, there are more than 64,000 Community Gardens--and similar long waits for a spot in them.
In the United States, Community Gardens are most often sponsored by churches, public and private schools, and non-profit organizations focused on community development. There are many reasons for why people and organizations get involved in community gardening. Among them are:
-A desire to improve the quality of life in, and appearance of, neighborhoods or towns that are in decline.
-To save money on the purchase of household foods (a well managed 12x12 foot garden can produce more than $600 of food each gardening season).
-To build a "sense of community" among neighbors or other community "units" such as church members, scout troops, etc..
-To provide opportunities for older people to get exercise, to have access to healthier foods, and to share time and interests with other people in their age group.
-For parents to spend quality time with their children, and to pass along lessons about thrift and knowledge about where our food comes from.
-To make otherwise unproductive but resource intensive land--such as lawns--into productive space that utilizes resources more wisely.
-For faith based organizations, to show appreciation to God for the blessings of the natural world: land, rain, sunshine, etc..
-For youth based organizations that raise money (and learn about entrepreneurship) by selling Community Garden produce at local farmers' markets.
-To contribute vegetable production to families in need, to food shelves, or to raise flowers for altar and sanctuary decoration.
Individuals or organizations thinking about starting a Community Garden should spend time planning them. For one thing, gardens are not a "one shot deal." It can take several years for a garden to become fully productive; gardeners need to realize that soil needs to be tended, nurtured, and enriched; that takes time. Planners should develop short, midterm, and long range goals and expect setbacks.
Experience and levels of commitment among participants also varies. Garden planners should not expect that all gardening "wannabees" will stick around long term. There will be some level of attrition. It is critically important for Community Garden managers and planners to encourage and assist gardeners--and to know when to help the disinterested disengage gracefully.
Gardening is also not free, especially in the early days. Water, in urban settings, costs money. So does mulch, fencing, fertilizers, tools, and so on. Community Garden planners should spend time thinking about what it will cost to start and operate the Garden, and where sources of funding or material contributions may be.
Finally, Community Garden planners and organizers need to develop a set of rules for gardeners to follow. Is your garden going to be an organic garden? If so, strict rules about pesticide and fertilizer usage must be followed. Similarly, there will need to be standards about weeding, using water, and so on, that must be agreed to--and followed--by all participants. The success of any Community Garden depends on the willingness of gardeners to work cooperatively.
Carroll County is fortunate to have one Community Garden, located in Berryville at the First Christian Church Disciples of Christ, across from Nelson's Funeral Home. Since beginning the garden in 2007, Community Gardeners at FCC have helped nine other organizations and groups start Community Gardens. They'll be glad to help you too. Stop by the Church for information and a garden tour.