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Starting a Community Garden

How to Start a Community Garden


Garden Volunteers at the ‛Free Farm' in San Francisco, CA

Garden Volunteers at the ‛Free Farm' in San Francisco, CA

Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images News

What is a Community Garden?

Community gardens can be a handful of residents who plant something in a vacant spot or a well-organized association that cultivates a larger plot. They can grow flowers for beautification and/or food to feed themselves or others. It can be a group of neighbors, seniors, students and people with special needs. Community gardens are simply gardens created and tended by groups who share a sense of community.

How to Start a Community Garden?

Some community gardens simply happen. Someone decides to clean a vacant lot or commandeer some space to grow tomatoes and it blossoms from there. More often, community gardens are the result of careful planning.

Although your community garden concept will grow and develop as you begin to work, you can avoid many problems and obstacles if you ask a lot of questions up front. I've broken them down to 5 categories. Some areas will overlap and some may not apply, but they are all worth addressing.


  1. Define the Purpose of the Garden?

    • Determine Need and Interest: What is the goal (individuals growing for themselves, service group, beautification...)

    • If a service garden, are those who will benefit willing to be involved?

    • Hold an exploratory meeting. Invite everyone interested or even peripherally involved (neighbors, service organizations, gardening groups, building superintendent and board, community groups, elected officials...)

  2. Organize the Community Garden Committee

    • Set up a Planning Committee: Set up a leadership team as well as committees for major undertakings such as: budgeting, communication, community outreach, construction, fund raising and ongoing work schedules

    • Choose a name

    • Consider finding a sponsor (a local business or association)

    • Contact similar groups in your area for advice

    • Will membership be required?

    • Will dues be charged? If so, what do you get for your dues?

    • Are you required to work as a member?

    • Are there rules to follow? Who decides on them?

    • Plot sizes? How will they be assigned? How will they be laid out?

    • Will the work be done individually or will large jobs, like tilling, be cooperative?

    • Will there be hours?

    • What are the minimal maintenance requirements?

    • Who will be responsible for tools?
  3. Search for a Site

    • Look for available sites

    • Set up soil testing (Nutrients and pH, heavy metals and contaminants)

    • Is there a source of water?

    • Are there at least 6 hours of sun?

    • Is any exhaust, garbage... currently being put there?

    • Will security be an issue?

    • Is there a place for storage?
  4. Take Care of Legal Permits and Regulations

    • Who owns the land? Can you get a multi-year lease? Are they interested in selling in the future?

    • Check with local planners (they may know of a better site)

    • What municipal permits are needed?

    • What does the building board require from you?

    • Is insurance required?

    • Are there security issues?

    • Do you intend to incorporate?

    • Have You Created By Laws

      • Legal name and address

      • Mission Statement (Purpose and goals)

      • Names and addresses of organizing members

      • Membership Info (Types, Dues - amount and frequency, Meeting Schedule)

      • Voting Process

      • Officers (Who, how chosen, terms and duties)

      • Committees (What are they for, how will they work)

      • Official policy (will it be strictly organic, who tends to repairs...)

      • Process for amending by-laws

      • Process for dissolving garden
  5. Create the Garden

    • Design a plan (Tip: make the front border of the garden ornamental (flowers, shrubs...) Neighbors and authorities will look more favorably if the garden is attractive and adds something to the neighborhood.)

    • Organize work details (volunteers, work to be done, equipment needed)

    • Gather resources (source free supplies, exchange for advertising)

    • Schedule a 'Clean the Garden' workday

    • Begin planting the garden.

    • Schedule ongoing maintenance and coordination

Each organization will have different needs, but these questions will help to flush them out. There are also many groups with wonderful resources to help answer your questions. One of your first stops should be the American Community Gardening Association. This is a membership organization that assists in all aspects of food and ornamental community gardening, with guides and tip sheets, letters of support, networks, advice and educational programs. They are a great place to start answering questions about permits, organizing, developing a plant and protecting your garden, once it is up and growing.

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