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10 practical steps to help you start a community garden

By Andrea Mathew

Growing food with friends, co-workers or neighbors can bring a community together for a healthy cause and a delicious outcome. Here are few tips from Kansas City Community Gardens (KCCG) to help you start and grow a successful community garden.

Step 1: Contact KCCG

From selecting crops to harvesting rainwater, the KCCG staff can provide the knowledge and experience to help you figure out “best practices” for your new garden. Becoming a KCCG Community Partner Garden gives your gardeners access to low-cost seeds and plants, garden tilling, fertilizer, straw mulch and more.

Step 2: Do your research

If you are new to gardening or consider yourself a “black thumb,” attend a local workshop offered by KCCG or a local extension office. You don’t have to be a gardening expert, but it is important to have a basic understanding of planting seasons, plant spacing and garden maintenance requirements. Visit area community gardens to see how they operate and to get ideas for your own garden. You may even decide to partner with an existing garden in your neighborhood.

Step 3: Identify the purpose of your community garden

Taking the time to think about why you want to start a community garden will impact the rest of the decisions you make, from what you plant to how you find funding. Your purpose may be as simple as wanting to have a space on your block where neighbors can gather to grow food together or wanting to provide fresh produce to a community food pantry.

Step 4: Recruit committed garden participants

Whether you’re looking for families from your neighborhood who are committed to healthy eating or people from your place of worship with the desire to feed others, choose a recruitment strategy that will attract garden participants who are committed to your garden’s purpose. Putting up a garden sign is a great way to let others in your community know about the community garden and how they can be involved.

Step 5: Determine how your garden will be organized

Will your garden consist of individual plots, or will it be a group garden with participants sharing space and responsibilities? Or will it be a combination of both? Consider whether there should be a manager or a committee in charge, if you will have garden rules, if you will charge to help cover costs, and how to divide up responsibilities. Communicating expectations for the garden can prevent misunderstandings down the road.

Step 6: Find and evaluate your garden site

When choosing a site for your garden, you will want to make sure that it has at least eight hours of sunlight, access to a water source, not too much slope and fairly good soil. If you are lacking one or more of these success factors, you will have to do some problem-solving such as cutting down trees, using raised beds to terrace a slope, bringing in compost, or installing a water meter.

Step 7: Secure funding

Starting a community garden does not have to cost a great deal. Your start-up costs will depend on how much work you have to do to make your space garden-ready. Grants and other resources are available to help; contact KCCG to learn more.

Step 8: Map out and prepare your garden space

Measure your space and map out all of your garden elements – planting beds, shelter or picnic tables, compost area, fruit trees and other features. You don’t need all of these elements to start, but having a plan for the whole area helps to maximize your available space. Plan the tasks you will need to perform to start growing during the first year, including tilling ground plots, building raised beds and establishing water access.

Step 9: Make a planting plan

For community gardens with individual plots, choosing what to grow is best left up to each individual or family to decide for their own space. For group gardens, choices should be consistent with the purpose of the garden. If you are donating food to a food pantry or community kitchen, make sure to have a conversation about what foods their clients like to eat and their capacity for refrigeration and storage.

When you follow a planting plan, you make the best use of your space season by season, keeping your garden from getting out of hand and your participants from getting discouraged.

Step 10: Grow food and community

Grow food in your backyard, and you are rewarded with healthy, fresh food, physical exercise and a sense of pride. Grow food with a group of friends, family, co-workers, congregation members, or even strangers and you get all those benefits plus the sense of community that happens when people work together for a common purpose.

Andrea Mathew is the program director at Kansas City Community Gardens.

Top photo: The Kansas City Community Garden provides resources and support for organizations, neighborhoods and schools interested in starting a community garden.

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