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How to Start a Community Garden to Catalyze Change

Community gardens have numerous benefits. Here's everything you should know before starting one of your own.

Written by
Stephanie Phelan

A typical drive around your hometown to run errands, or go to and from work, sometimes makes you notice urban landscaping and its impact. There are many neighborhoods similar to mine in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Small block homes making up a large neighborhood, with small private yards, fenced off from one another.  School bus stops, maybe a library or community center, and sparse community parks open to the public. These are the typical “common areas” that make up an American neighborhood today.

You may begin wondering “Why aren’t there more community spaces that encourage sustainability?” More lush spaces of green landscaping with native plants or even better-- food farms. Vibrant fruits, vegetables, and herbs that offer nutrition to the community, while bringing them together. 

Many people have wondered this as well, which has fueled the research and implementation of community gardening worldwide.

The Benefits of Community Gardens: food security, free therapy, and community enrichment

I once attended a Permaculture class that talked about the research done by Andrew Faust in urban design and food forests. The idea of permaculture uses a whole systems approach while choosing the landscaping design and plants. This means: minimal resources, optimal production and a positive impact. Urban design in permaculture is used to create a diverse amount of edible and medicinal plants in a small area. 

Andrew Faust tied all of his ideas together along with his passion for teaching to help schools create lush gardens in otherwise degraded land. In just a matter of weeks,  he would turn the soil into a nutritious resource for fruits and vegetables. Which would then give the students the nutrition they need to succeed in their academic environment. He helped neighborhoods that were demographically considered to be low-income, with high poverty and high crime rates. 

Faust’s permaculture materials online are free, and there is a wide variety of similar resources available for you to start a community garden!

Community Gardens Bring Out the Best

Faust’s work is a great example of the positive impact other communities have felt when they start a community garden. When proactive work like this is done, communities thrive and connect. There’s the opportunity for farmers markets and local produce for the first time ever in some cases. Students can strike curiosity in gardening, landscaping, self-sufficiency, environmental science and even political issues. Elders of the community would enjoy being able to connect with the younger generation through a similar passion they once enjoyed but was somehow forgotten overtime. 

Getting Dirty Means Being in Touch with Nature

Growing our own food provides self-sufficiency and teaches some basic survival skills. We live in a modern era filled with fast food, prepared meals, and tons of dine-out options because most of us live such busy lifestyles. By pursuing happiness in our careers, families, and extracurricular activities, we’ve lost valuable time to research what fuels our body and where our food comes from. The Garden Center online reveals that more than half (55%) of American adults are currently gardening or caring for their lawn during the COVID-19 outbreak, with an additional 20% saying they are “likely” to head outdoors and accept the green thumb challenge while in quarantine. 

The pandemic has taught us many things, one of which being -- our time home and our time outdoors should be cherished. Be we thrive to connect, and it’s something we’re all missing a lot right now. Why not take extra initiatives now to connect in a different way with the people around us? Reach out to those who are interested in gardening, have the space, or resources; and see if they want to get involved!

Getting Started Doesn’t Have to Cost Much

For older generations, food was produced differently during their childhood. Families with lots of children were more common, so food couldn’t be wasted. Most of the food was grown on the family’s land or otherwise traded with local growers and producers. There were only a few options for basic staple items - bread, eggs, milk, meat, produce. And only a select few grocery stores were available to shop from. Thinking back on ways we used to live as a society and provide nourishment to our families shows the simplicity of it all. Food waste is costly, not food production, not on a small scale at least. An urban gardener named Mohamed Hage explains how a rooftop garden feeds a city during one of his Ted Talks. And it really does take a small space to provide food for a community -- especially with today’s advancements in hydroponic and organic gardening.

Think about the costs of building a garden and see where you can save on material or resources. What can be created using recycled items or upcycling? Where can you recycle water and use it to nourish the garden? What composting techniques can you use to create rich soil? What organic pesticides and plant nutrients can you use?

Reach out to those in your community for help brainstorming and reach out to your network online for research (I recommend Good Together's episode with Joe the Gardener). Eco Blogs online provide inventive material, personal stories, and a network of like-minded people. With Brightly, we’re in this together.