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Community Gardens

Maister

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I have recently read a few articles about community gardens. Coincidently, I had a resident the other day sort of idly inquire if the city supported any community garden programs (not really). It got me to thinking on the topic - I personally enjoy gardening a great deal and the benefits of a community program of this sort seem like they could be numerous. Do any of you have any experience with city sponsored community gardens using municipal land? It occurs to me that one possible problem might be continuity - i.e. you get a group of citizens who are really enthusiastic about gardening in April but by September volunteer interest has dropped off so far the park or garden plot area turns into a weed infested, overgrown eyesore. There a handful of 'private' community gardens in our area but no public ones. I'm curious on your thoughts.....
 

boiker

Cyburbian
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3,889
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26
contact the City of DeKalb, Illinois. I believe they have a city sponsered community garden.. At least I remember driving by it frequently when I lived there in the late 90s through 2001.

I believe it's located on Dresser Road.
 

The Irish One

Member
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2,267
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The community garden in my area is always kept up really nice and done by volunteers. People take a lot of pride in their gardens. One note is that the garden started in this city was initiated by citizens, not government. That might be why the garden looks nice year round. If possible put the garden near a concentration of seniors, that seems to help with recruiting caretakers.
 

Elisabeth

Cyburbian
Messages
157
Points
7
We have a few community gardens here in Albany, but the success of the program has only been so-so. My Mom is a master gardener through Cornell, now she actually works for Cornell Cooperative Extension as their community horticulture educator / director of the master gardener program for Albany County. Anyway, she was involved a couple years ago with two community gardens--one was through he former job with an environmental justice group and the garden in that neighborhood did OK--it's a pretty depressed area of Albany known as Arbor Hill. But she brought in a local girl scout troop and kids from the boys and girls club. They kept it up while there was a cultivated (no pun intended) interest and while she worked there.
The other I know of is by our church which is also in a depressed area, but not quite as bad as the other--there are a lot of families who care about the neighborhood and the church's presence (dare I say the presence of the Lord? just kidding) has helped sustain this community garden a little better. The general consensus is that if the community actually wants the garden, or if there are volunteers who come in to tend the garden for the benefit of the community, it can /has work[ed]. But since I'm no expert, I'll ask Mom for you and I'll report back.
 

Doitnow

Cyburbian
Messages
496
Points
16
We have a small community garden which was planned, designed, developed and maintained intially by resident-volunteers.
Every sunday morning one household would arrange fresh fruits etc for breakfast to all members of the local Yoga, Laughter club members. It ran well for some time then suddenly stooped.
Now we have hired some gardeners and the garden is superbly maintained, but hardly anybody goes there now.

Looks like a bad example really for this thread. But thats how it is.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
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10,080
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34
Community gardens are popular in Madison, WI, and I think they have information on the web site.
 

boilerplater

Cyburbian
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916
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Isles o' green

See www.isles.org
They've done some amazing things in Trenton, NJ, getting into housing and job training in recent years. It started with community gardens and then they got into the other obvious community needs. The city gives them some funding, and they get a lot of grants. It was started by a couple of neighbors of mine about 20 years ago, and has a big reputation apparently, because I recently met a guy from Japan who was working with them to learn about community building. Apparently that is a real problem in Japan as traditional communities have been washed away by modern corporate culture.

So gardens aren't just about getting fresh vegetables, its about building community too.
 

cololi

Cyburbian
Messages
1,185
Points
22
We have a city sponsored community garden. By city sponsored, I mean we provide a piece of land and a very small yearly budget to pay for things like water, parking maintenance, etc. and the residents can grow what ever they want (that is, if it is legal to grow ;-) ) The garden is devided into small 50 x 10 plots and are reserved on a first come, first serve basis. There is no fee to reserve a spot. Last season, the garden covered approximately 30,000 square feet. This year, it will be moving to a new location in an historic dairy that the city purchased and will increase by about 10,000 square feet. Last year all of the plots were reserved. The area is fenced off with a 10' chain link fence and the gate is locked. All people who reserve a plot are given teh code to access the garden.

The area is manged by a citizen committee. They handle all reservations, enforce the rules, etc. If someone fails to maintain their section, the committee posts a sign on the plat and gives them a week to weed, harvest their veggies, etc. IF not, the plot gets tilled over and is made available.
 

Maister

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cololi said:
We have a city sponsored community garden. By city sponsored, I mean we provide a piece of land and a very small yearly budget to pay for things like water, parking maintenance, etc. and the residents can grow what ever they want (that is, if it is legal to grow ;-) ) The garden is devided into small 50 x 10 plots and are reserved on a first come, first serve basis. There is no fee to reserve a spot. Last season, the garden covered approximately 30,000 square feet. This year, it will be moving to a new location in an historic dairy that the city purchased and will increase by about 10,000 square feet. Last year all of the plots were reserved. The area is fenced off with a 10' chain link fence and the gate is locked. All people who reserve a plot are given teh code to access the garden.

The area is manged by a citizen committee. They handle all reservations, enforce the rules, etc. If someone fails to maintain their section, the committee posts a sign on the plat and gives them a week to weed, harvest their veggies, etc. IF not, the plot gets tilled over and is made available.
This sounds workable......you've got nearly an acre garden area - how large is your community? The policy of retilling if a plot is not maintained sounds like a wise policy. Do you find a fairly high percentage of nonmaint. or is this the exception? Is the 'program' administered through your parks dept. or does the city's involvement begin and end with the citizen's committee?

Good info, thanks!
 

cololi

Cyburbian
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1,185
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22
There are very few problems with people not maintaining their plots. Our city has approximately 60,000 residents. We moved the garden next to a regional Senior Center, so we get a lot of elderly residents who have downsized and no longer have room for a decent garden in their yard. Also, the garden is located in an old dairy that the City is going to use as a history museum, a petting zoo, and an educational area to teach people about the history of our community.

The garden is administered by the citizen committee, with the Mayor and City Administrator providing very limited oversight. They usually only have to worry about including expenses in the yearly budget. There are two main people on the citizen committee who oversee the garden, both are retired and certified Master Gardeners from a major University. We are probably fairly lucky that we have them, or else the City's expense would be greater because we would have to do more hands on administrative duties.

The final site plan for the area has not been approved, but it is intended to be a "working" agricultural center, so I would imagine that the garden area could grow or shrink based on the interest.
 

JNL

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2,449
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Maister said:
It occurs to me that one possible problem might be continuity - i.e. you get a group of citizens who are really enthusiastic about gardening in April but by September volunteer interest has dropped off so far the park or garden plot area turns into a weed infested, overgrown eyesore. .....
I imagine the location of plot would be a key factor in this - out of sight, out of mind. I like the idea of locating them near concentrations of elderly folk - they can act as informal guardians and interact with the community amongst the veggies :)
 

The One

Cyburbian
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8,289
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30
My grandmother lives in a large 55 and over Condominium complex in Leesburg, Virginia (Leisure World). As a private example of community gardens, this facility offers a plot of land 10' x 10' for those who wish to have an outside garden. It's a wonderful idea for the elderly that provides an outdoor activity. The plots are rented at $100/month +- and seem to be popular. Just thought you might find this interesting..... :-D
 

Maister

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cololi said:
There are very few problems with people not maintaining their plots. Our city has approximately 60,000 residents. We moved the garden next to a regional Senior Center, so we get a lot of elderly residents who have downsized and no longer have room for a decent garden in their yard. Also, the garden is located in an old dairy that the City is going to use as a history museum, a petting zoo, and an educational area to teach people about the history of our community.

The garden is administered by the citizen committee, with the Mayor and City Administrator providing very limited oversight. They usually only have to worry about including expenses in the yearly budget. There are two main people on the citizen committee who oversee the garden, both are retired and certified Master Gardeners from a major University. We are probably fairly lucky that we have them, or else the City's expense would be greater because we would have to do more hands on administrative duties.

The final site plan for the area has not been approved, but it is intended to be a "working" agricultural center, so I would imagine that the garden area could grow or shrink based on the interest.
How long has the community garden been in operation in your community? Was there entusiastic public participation as soon as the idea emerged or did it take several years to work up to the current popularity/level of participation?
 

vaughan

Cyburbian
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335
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11
I'll second Cardinal's suggestion about madison, WI... also, wasn't the last Planning magazine focused on community ag programs?
 

Bangorian

Member
Messages
198
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7
For some good information and advice, go straight to the horse's mouth: The American Community Garden Association. You can browse the archives of their listserve, which are quite handy.

Last spring, I started a community garden in the town I live in (small town of 10,000 on hte Maine coast). We have 24 10x15 plots, 12 raised beds for a children's garden, a communal toolshed, and a shallow-well water pump all on site. We are on a piece of vacant city land in somewhat of a rough neighborhood in town.

Being on the city land is the only city support we get, though. Oh, we are insured through the city as a "volunteer program" of the rec. dept. but that is the end of the connections.

I think that if you have even a small group of dedicated volunteers that abandonment won't be a problem. As for our garden, there are 6-7 people who are taking charge of planning the garden from year to year, and there are others who want to garden again, but aren't interested in doing anything but gardening (i.e. no planning, fundraising, etc.)... If it doesn't seem as though you'll have even a few people to carry on from year to year, then perhaps the interest isn't strong enough. I have been involved in three community gardens so far (one up in Lansing, MI, in your backyard!), and none of the ones I have been a part of have seemed to have any problems with neglect or abandonment from year to year. Even if its just little old ladies, their dedication will keep the garden going.

If you don't have much interest up front, then I'd suggest you wait until there is more interest, that way you won't end up wasting effort when the few interested people get burned out / move / die / whatever. Community gardening is actually a lot otugher than gardening at your home, and not everyone realizes that from the get go.

Perhaps there could be a clause that if the garden was dormant for more than one year, or if participation was below 10 gardeners or 25% of total plots or something, that the city could take the site back over and mow it as they regularly would. Perhaps the option for a garden to be sited on the property is only granted in 2-year terms... There are ways around the abandonment issue.

At the end, an abandoned, weedy garden plot usually looks no worse (usually far better) than an abandoned, weedy city property.

I'm working on developing our garden now as we speak (we need a fence and are applying for 501(c)3 status). Any questions, I'd be happy to answer!
 
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