All across Virginia, communities are becoming inspired to start their own community gardens. Arlington and Richmond are just two localities where community gardens have had success. It seems simple, right? All you need are a few passionate people, and you’re golden.
Even Margaret Mead, a brilliant cultural anthropologist, knew, broadly, that starting a community garden was simple, as she is quoted with saying: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
But if we look more closely at that quote, we will see the words “thoughtful” and “committed” strewn amongst her inspiring words. Initiating a community garden is ‘simple’ when the desired accomplishments are envisioned, such as increasing the health of community dwellers by having fresh fruits and vegetables available; spreading awareness and knowledge to the community population about food systems and nutrition; reducing environmental and economic strain by offering access to fresh fruits and vegetables within an easy proximity to where the citizens live. However, the goal of creating these gardens becomes more complex when all the thoughtfulness and commitment that must go into the creation, promotion, maintenance, and perceived effectiveness of the garden is analyzed.
How will you obtain the land – often owned by state or local government? Where will you obtain water for the garden and who will pay for it? Is your soil safe and who will test it? Who gets to eat from the garden and how is that managed?
With these specific questions comes a broad answer: policy. Research has been done in the field of food systems to analyze how to effectively implement and run a community garden. Here are some key points to understanding the fundamental aspects of growing a community garden.
1. Support from the government: with the support of the local government, creating the garden will come with ease, especially in regards to positive promotion from the government and possible financial support or allocation of public lands.
- Attempting to include community gardens in a city or county’s comprehensive plan will increase the garden’s success. Alexandria, VA incorporated community gardens into their Healthy Food Resolution and Minneapolis, MN is an example of a city that adopted an Urban Agriculture Policy Plan.
2. Understanding laws and regulations: before starting a community garden, it is important to understand any laws or regulations in place that protect the health and safety of a community. Ensuring that the community garden is committed to safety and will follow these rules will guarantee its overall longevity and success.
Compost – Regulations regarding solid waste management should be reviewed before implementing composting.
Soil – Nutrient and contamination testing of soil should be completed before and during the development of the community garden (guidelines found here).
Water – Any rain barrels being used must be food-grade safe.
Universal Accessibility – Ensure gardens are accessible by those of all ages and those with physical disabilities so anyone wishing to garden can do so.
Zoning – A barrier might arise if the land plot is located within an incorrect zoning code; this should be checked before development of the community garden begins. Also, review policies relating to fences and permanent structures as well as laws on the sale of the produce from the garden.
3. Funding: funding for a community garden can be obtained many ways: through the support of the local or state government, with grants (such as the Community Food Projects program, as well as the Free Seed Grants and GROW Award) or with support from within the community or from non-profit organizations.
4. Creating Garden Rules: because there are are a variety of ways to run a community garden – such as plant your own plot, a take-what-you-want policy, or a “you plant therefore you can take” ideology – defining rules is a good idea. The American Community Gardening Association has a sample list of rules to guide those developing a community garden. The Virginia Cooperative Extension has a gardening application for their Gardens Growing Families program that can be used as a reference.
While there exist many more details to developing a community garden, knowing these four foundations will be a beneficial building block towards a beautiful, blooming garden. Hard work in the early planning and development stages pays off when your community garden will provide healthy and accessible foods to interested individuals.