Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How to Start a Community Garden

Last year, my business had the opportunity to partner with a charity and build a community garden at our local youth center. In one day, the community came together, young and old, to build raised beds and a fence to surround the garden. Now the youth center includes gardening as an after-school activity for the kids. They feed them after school snacks and meals out of the garden, and send the extra produce home to their families.
Seeds of Grace (dreambigaskbold.org), the non-profit that organized and fundraised for the event, has now built nine community gardens in Washington State and Mexico. Each garden donates their produce to a specific organization to help the community. Homeless shelters, food banks, after school programs, and Meals on Wheels are a few of the recipients. 
I sat down with Seeds of Grace founder, Karole Johnson, to ask her how others can start building community gardens where they live. She offered several helpful suggestions based on her own experiences.

Find the Right Location
First things first, you need to find a location for your community garden. Great places to start looking are schools, churches, food banks, parks, your local YMCA, youth centers, and senior centers.  Karole stresses that your location needs access to water. One of her first gardens did not have easy access and forced her to get creative to find a solution. She figured out a way to irrigate the garden, but has since made sure to avoid that problem in the first place.
Your garden will also need to be located where there is plenty of sunshine. If there is wilderness surrounding the plot, you may need to build a fence to protect your garden from deer and other hungry critters.

Find the Right Leadership and Involve the Community
Once you have your location, you need the people. Community gardens rely on community members to keep them going once they've been built. Chances are that you will find a lot of interest at the location where you plan to build. Reach out to local businesses, have the local paper write up a story about the garden, put up flyers and use social media to gather support. Karole emphasizes that the leaders you choose should not be control freaks, but instead be able to motivate and bring people together. 

Be Creative and Bold about Fundraising
According to Karole, you can estimate that each garden will cost around $2000. This includes materials for the raised beds and fencing, dirt, plants, equipment and tools. She has found success in asking local businesses to donate funds and supplies. Be bold when asking businesses for support. You will be surprised at how generous they will be. At the youth center's garden, my shop donated the funds for the fence, another business donated all of the soil free of charge, and another company allowed us to use a front-loading tractor for the day.
One of Karole's most successful fundraising events was when she partnered with a local restaurant. She handed out fundraising tickets to the community, and the restaurant donated 10% of their pre-tax sales from any guest that presented a ticket. 
Seeds of Grace also holds craft bazaars twice a year, once in the spring and once during the holidays. They sell handmade items that were either donated or made by volunteers, and use the profits for their next garden.
If you are a non-profit organization, you can set up a Smile account with Amazon. Amazon will give you a link to share. When people shop Amazon using your link, your organization will receive a  small percentage of the sales.
Gofundme.com is an effective fundraising site. You post your cause on their website and perfect strangers will donate their pocket change to help you. Many worthwhile organizations have raised a lot of money this way.

Community gardens are an important trend. They feed the less fortunate with organic food, bring people together, and keep the community connected to nature. The one thing every community garden needs is good people. You are needed. I encourage you to find an organization, or start your own, and use these tips to get your own community growing.

This article was first published in Maximum Yield's Industry News April 2016 edition.

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