There is one thing that connects us all no matter who we are and where we live- we all have to eat.
It’s increasingly obvious that the current food system that is heavily oil-dependent, incredibly destructive and expensive is not the answer to our burgeoning food needs. So what is? Research has shown that urban agriculture is seen as a one of the leading solutions to the current unsustainable systems which are rapidly falling apart. The more food we can grow locally and share locally, the more we can effectively work towards setting our communities up for a resilient future.
We are all fully aware that food grown within a short distance to our homes is by far the better choice; it is more flavourful, it is healthier and safer to eat, it is better for the environment and it does strengthen our local economy. At the most local level of our food system and the easiest and most basic way to eat local is quite obviously to produce our own food. However, in order to achieve this we need space which most of us do not have. So what’s our next option? Common spaces which offers people the opportunity to grow their food in the most approachable of ways. They are called community gardens.
According to the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens:
All community gardens are unique, locally managed pieces of land that develop in response to and reflect the needs of the communities in which they are based.
Community gardens are as much about helping communities and people to grow as they are about plants and animals. They all grow plants but many also provide a wide variety of social, recreational, educational and environmental services, facilities and opportunities that are generated by and help meet local needs.
The usual driving force behind their creation, and the key to their success, is that through community gardens local people find appropriate solutions to local problems, and make a positive contribution to regeneration their communities.
So how does one go about starting a community garden? It can be rather tricky and a very lengthy process but if you are a person that wants to do something that will have a positive impact on your community, and you would like to take more responsibility for securing a strong local food systems, we’ve gathered together a few basic tips which we hope will be helpful.
Gather the troops – invite family, friends, neighbours, local community organisations, anyone you is likely to be interested. Determine what kind of garden is needed and wanted and what the main aims are (produce food, educational etc.).
FIND A SITE
Take a walk around your neighbourhood and look out for any derelict, run-down or unused pieces of land that you think will be a suitable for a community garden. If you can’t find one, your local council may be able to help you by providing a Local Development Plan which is available to read at council offices and libraries.
Remember when choosing a site, it’s a good idea to consider the amount of daily sunshine, availability of water, and possible pollutants in the soil.
Once you have found a site and the lease/licence has been approved, it’s time to get organised. A community garden means making lots of collective decisions, so establishing how you will organise it is the key to a thriving garden. Start by identifying the roles that need to be filled and establish a management committee at this stage. Preferably, this group will be comprised of people who are committed to the creation the garden and have time to devote to it. The purpose of this committee is to tackle specific tasks: garden management and coordination, funding and partnerships (if needed), activities, construction and communication.
Come up with a name and consider logistics such as how can people contact the group, do you need a website, how much money you have got, how much you will need and who will look after the finances.
PREPARE, DEVELOP & GROW
In most cases, the land will need considerable preparation for planting. Gather together as many volunteers as you can to help clean it, you will need to find materials and decide on the design and plot arrangement.
Decide how many plots are available and how they will be assigned. You will need a specific space for storing tools, making compost and don’t forget to define clear pathways between plots!
PLAN FOR CHILDREN
Get the kids involved by creating special areas just for them. They are usually not as interested in the size of the harvest but rather in the process of gardening. By setting up separate areas, this will allow them to explore the garden at their own speed.
Good communication ensures a strong community garden with active participation by all. Some ways to do this are: create an email list, keep the news section of your website up-to-date, have a social media presence, install a rainproof bulletin board in the garden, organise regular events and celebrations. Community gardens are all about creating and strengthening communities.
FOR MORE HELPFUL INFORMATION AND GUIDANCE