Community Gardening ResourcesBelow you'll find a list of resources to help you begin or advance a community garden in your community.
Starting a Community Garden
There is something so rewarding about tending a garden, especially when you gather with friends and neighbors. Being in the fresh air, partaking of joyful exercise and becoming exuberant over the first tomato makes weeding and insect control bearable.
"tho' an old man, I am but a young gardener" - Thomas Jefferson
Gardening as part of a community goes back centuries and have long been accepted as vital to communal survival. When people are empowered to grow food for themselves, everyone benefits.
According to Smithsonian Gardens, Detroit was the first major city to deploy vacant lots as garden spots. Mayor Hazen Pingree started the program in response to the economic recession that began in 1893, which left many of the city's industrial laborers unemployed and hungry.
Today's community gardens are important places. They can help us revitalize neighborhoods affected by urban decline, create vibrant social networks and reduce barriers to healthy food. systems.
So grab your shovel and sunscreen and let's get started!
Define your image for who your community is and begin outreach
Hold Your First Public Meeting
- At-risk youth
- Retirement centers
- Ladies gardening or bridge clubs
- Welcome everyone and review the purpose of the garden.
- Have everyone introduce themselves and give their reason for wanting to participate in a community garden.
- Provide a vision for the garden. If possible, show slides of several different community gardens to spark creativity.
- Seek nominations for an official garden club. This formally organized group will help make decisions and divide-up the work effectively. It also ensures that a community and not an individual contributed to the garden theme, design, development and maintenance.
- Schedule a meeting for the garden club to define
- garden rules
- accepting and reviewing garden applications
- collecting dues
- paying bills
- resolving conflict
- Schedule a meeting for the garden club to define
Resources and Examples to Get Started With:
- American Community Gardening Association - Creating Rules for Your Community Garden and Suggestions for a Sliding Scale Plot Fee
- Coalition of Austin Community Gardens - Sample Garden Plot Registration and Sample Garden Plot Lease Agreement
- Denver Urban Gardens - Best Practices Handbook
- Sustainable Food Center - Notes from Community Garden Group Discussion and Garden Support and Training
Find Land for the Garden
There are many different thoughts on how to pick the perfect site for your community garden. According to the University of California Cooperative Extension, the most important thing to consider is will the site work well for the community of gardeners that will manage it. Here are some other things to consider:
- Visibility. Having your garden near gathering areas encourages being in the garden versus having it tucked in an out of way place where people don't otherwise go.
- Access. Is there parking available, bus routes, accessibility for the disabled, friendly for children and delivery vehicles?
- Sun/Wind/and Drainage. The vast majority of vegetables and fruits need at least 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight each day. As you visit sites, be aware of large buildings that will cast shadows as well as large trees. Significant wind will cause problems for most vegetables and young fruit trees and will lead to soil moisture issues. Finally, are there flooding problems or is the soil difficult to drain? Also, be mindful of slopes that will need to be terraced.
- Soil Quality. Good gardens start with great soil! Follow these instructions to take samples and submit the samples to your local extension office before committing to a garden site.
- Does the Site Have Water? If you don't see a water outlet you will need to contact the local water district to find out if your potential site has water. If you don't have water at the site you will need to have a water meter run to the site which will bring a significant cost.
Once you've decided on the location, write a letter to the landowner asking for permission to use the property for a community garden. If you don't know who owns the land take the location address to your county's tax assessor's office and review the map books. You will need to establish a term for use of the site and assure the landowner that water and improvements will be paid by the gardeners. A lease is also a very good idea to protect yourself from losing your garden after improvements have been made.
Resources and Examples to Get Started With:
- Generic Land Use Agreement
- Sample Lease Agreement for the state of Texas
- Sample Permission for Land Use
You might also need to obtain liability insurance if required by the landowner.
There are many different options for funding considerations. Luckily for us, lots of research has already gone into this topic so let's look at the available opportunities here in Texas to secure funding for community gardens.
Time to Plan the Garden!As stated above, it's important for the design to reflect the collective ideas, needs and wishes of the garden participants. Input should be gained in a series of meetings, ideally in the fall before construction begins, in which garden participants and property owner discuss the desired site uses along with its character.According to Denver Urban Gardens, some other considerations include the following:
- First, do you need funding or will your garden be sustained by the garden members?
- If your garden will be self-sustained, it's a good idea to create a simple budget to have an idea of the amount of money or materials needed for your project.
- Will the gardener's provide their own supplies or pool their money to purchase items as a group?
- In other cases, gardeners may seek donations of money or materials from community members, local organizations or businesses.
- Partnering organizations can sometimes cover the cost of water, insurance and other supplies.
- Grant opportunities also exist. For excellent coverage of the topic of fundraising, see the National Council of Nonprofit's "Fundraising" page.
- How to Write a Grant Proposal and Grant Writing Tips for Community Gardens and other grant opportunities from the Sustainable Food Center
- Green Dallas Community Garden Grants
- Seed Money, formerly Kitchen Gardens International provided financial and technical support for food bank gardens
- USDA accepting grants for community garden high tunnels
- Identifying the variety of uses and garden amenities desired, including the potential to accommodate alternative uses in the garden such as hosting community events (i.e. memorials, weddings and dedications).
- Identifying key access points and predicted circulation through and around the garden, informing the layout of a garden pathway system.
- Integrating the neighborhood’s unique history and character into the theme of the garden.
- Infusing art in the garden in the form of murals, sculpture, special paving, birdhouses, etc..
- Identifying the type and location for the garden’s perimeter fence, entry and service gates.
- Agreeing collectively to a set of material choices for elements such as garden plot edging, pathway surfaces and vertical growing structures.
- Sizing garden plots to meet the community’s needs, while making them dividable to increase the garden’s capacity to engage more participants.
- Sizing pathways to promote efficient circulation, while choosing ADA accessible surface materials.
- Locating garden spigots strategically to serve four to six plots each, to help gardeners avoid dragging hoses across other garden plots.
- Considering the need for drip irrigation zones for common beds (i.e. fruit trees, perennial beds, etc.).
- Locating the best place for the garden sign and message board (typically at the garden’s main entrance).
- Finding a convenient location for the garden’s storage shed or toolbox (consider a structure that is weatherproof, secure and size appropriate for garden tools.
- Considering the need for raised beds for gardeners with limited mobility and for sites with extremely poor soil.
- Locating the community compost bin area in an accessible and functional location.
- Considering the type, size and location for community gathering spaces (i.e. areas for picnic tables, benches, a youth farmers’ market, a children’s discovery garden, an art display space, etc.).
- Identifying a location for shade elements in the garden (i.e. pergola, shade trees, etc.).
- Selecting a location for community planting beds if desired (i.e. perennials, herbs, border hedge, cut flowers, etc.).
- Finding a location for a grove or line of dwarf fruit trees (typically on the north side of the garden and spaced 12 to 15 feet apart).
- Determining the need for security lighting (either provided by the landowner or by utilizing individual solar-powered lights).
- Considering complementary projects, as capacity and time permits, that would add value to the garden (i.e. beehives, chicken coops, etc.).
Resources and Examples of Garden Designs to Get Started With:
Additional Resources and Startup Guides:
Texas Community Gardens
Take a Virtual Tour of the Community Gardens Around Texas
According to the American Community Gardening Association, there are approximately 234 community gardens across Texas. Use this map tool to take a virtual tour.
Using Urban Farming and Community Gardens to Improve Food Access
What is Food Insecurity?
According to Feeding Texas, food insecurity describes a households inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is one way we can measure and assess the risk of hunger.
In Texas, 14% - 1 in 7 Texans - experience food insecurity. That's 1.4 million Texas households and over 4 million individuals. Texas is one of just 15 states with higher food insecurity than the national average.
Texas Food Deserts
The USDA defines food deserts as areas lacking "fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods due to lack of grocery stores, farmers' markets, and healthy food providers." Instead of grocery stores, many food deserts around Texas have multiple fast-food chains and convenience stores, neither of which offer fresh produce.
How Does Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens Impact Food Insecurity and Food Deserts?
According to Civil Eats, in order for cities to become food secure, local agriculture should produce at least one pound per person per day of fresh vegetables. This means that farms and community food gardens would require 30 percent of the total urban area to meet this demand. Urban sprawl could make it hard to free up this much land for food production.
Urban farms and community gardens can take advantage of underused and vacant lots in areas that are in need of revitalization and are ideal to convert to food production. Urban farms can provide income, training, and jobs for those who want to grow and sell produce.
Many organizations see urban agriculture and community gardens as a way to enhance food security. It also offers environmental, health and social benefits. Although the full potential of both is still to be determined, many feel that raising fresh fruits, vegetables and some animal products near consumers in urban areas can improve local food security and nutrition, especially for underserved communities.
Texas Vegetable Garden Planting Schedule
Texas A&M Planting Schedule for Vegetables in Texas
Vegetable and Fruit Growing Tips
Growing Tips from Texas A&M University
- Cole Crops (Cabbage, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Kale)
- Collard Greens
- Green Beans
- Irish Potatoes
- Spinach and Other Greens
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Potatoes
- Turnip Greens and Mustard Greens
- Everything Texans Ask About Gardening
Disease Management - Diseases can occur at any stage during the course of plant growth. The rapid, accurate diagnosis of the cause of a disease, along with the implementation of rapid treatment, is essential to ensure the protection of the crop. Certain infectious diseases caused by living, microscopic organisms have the potential to rapidly ruin a crop. However, for any particular vegetable, these diseases are not that numerous and, so, it would not be difficult for a grower to become familiar with them and take proper preventative action. Diseases caused by nonliving things (i.e. not infectious) can be much more difficult to diagnose. Usually, it is easier to rule out an infectious agent as the cause of disease before investigating possible nonliving (abiotic) causes.
Some things to look for while you are evaluating
- Is the whole plant struggling in addition to other plants surrounding it - problem with the soil or insects
- Yellowing - wet soil, low fertility, root problems, nematodes
- Spots on leaves - if round it might be fungal, if angular, bacterial
Harvesting and Handling Vegetables From the Garden - The most important goal of post-harvest handling is keeping the product cool to avoid moisture loss and slow down undesirable changes. Bruising and other physical damage can happen fast if field heat is not reduced or removed. Equally important is to harvest during the coolest part of the day.
All greens, including lettuce, should be harvested as early in the morning as possible before the heat of the day creates water loss in the leaf.
To minimize the spread of disease, harvesting should always be done with clean cutting equipment and clean containers. Cover the containers with shade cloth or place in a shaded vehicle to avoid sun injury.
Once the harvest has taken place, quickly move the product to a packing shed or crop wash area to cool and reduce field heat is important. Clean the product if needed and pack into the container in which the product will be marketed. The key is to minimize the number of times the product is handled to avoid injury. The less brushing, washing and physical handling needed the better.
Once the product is packaged, it's important to get it chilled as soon as possible. Temperature is the most important factor in determining the deterioration rate. Decreasing the temperature reduces the product's respiration, water loss and the growth of decay.
Additional Research Material to Get You Started:
- Johnny's Select Seeds - Post-Harvest Handling & Storage of Summer Produce
- South Carolina Department of Agriculture - How to Build a Walk-in Cooler for Your Small Farm
- Texas A&M - Post-Harvest Handling of Fruit, Herbs and Vegetables and Texas Vegetable Growers Handbook
Compost - The Community Garden's Best Friend
No matter how beautiful, no garden is perfect and all gardeners have to combat at least one flaw and it is usually the soil. Texas gardeners must work with many different soils. Some are very sandy, some are sticky clay, and others are rocky and shallow. Sandy soils do not hold enough water and clay soils hold too much water and don't allow air to enter the soil. Rocky soils have fewer nutrients and struggle with water retention. So what is the answer? Compost!
No single ingredient or fertilizer can make a positive difference in your garden soil the way compost can. Nature was designed to make its compost both in forests and grasslands. In a forest, the tree leaves and branches fall to the soil surface and slowly decompose back into the soil. This is a smorgasbord for microbes that work in concert with each other, breaking this dead plant matter down and building the soil in the process.
Hot Pile - Hot composting is a fast way of creating large quantities of high-quality compost. To do it successfully, close attention must be paid to maintaining a 25:1 carbon to nitrogen (brown stuff to green stuff) ratio, moisture content and aeration. A closely managed hot pile can create finished compost in as little as a month under ideal conditions.1. Spread a four to six-inch layer of brown material like straw, leaves or dried stems over an area of at least three feet long and three feet wide.
2. Add a two-inch layer of green material such as grass clippings, green leaves or vegetable scraps.
3. Spread a few shovels full of soil over the top and wet the pile thoroughly.
4. Continue adding layers in this manner until the pile is at least three feet high.
5. Turn the pile every couple of weeks, working the outer stuff toward the center of the pile and the inner stuff outward, and adding water if the pile seems to be drying out.
6. Cover the pile with a canvas to keep it wet and warm.
7. A hot compost pile may reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit, at which temperature most weed seeds and plant diseases die, making this a convenient way to dispose of all but the most worrisome of garden debris.
Compost Tumbler - Tumblers are usually made from dark plastics that enclose your compost pile and speed up the heating. It can also make turning the compost much easier. It is also considered to be cleaner and more convenient but reduces the amount of compost that can be made. For the tumbler to work optimally, there are a few things to know.
- The carbon to nitrogen (brown to green) ratio is very important for quick breakdown. Keep it as close as possible to 25:1.
- A new compost tumbler is sterile and there will be no help from soil contact so it must be inoculated with compost starter for the first batch or so. Grinding the material into small pieces will help the microbes to break down more quickly.
- Keep it wet...like a wrung-out sponge. Also, if you want your compost finished all at once, load the tumbler all at once.
Worm Bin - Worm composting is fascinating. Red wiggler worms are the species of choice, and they can devour an amazing quantity of kitchen scraps and cellulose in a short amount of time. This is a great option for apartment gardeners or those with limited space. It’s also a very visual and tactile way to teach kids about composting.
Start a worm composting bin by drilling air vent holes in the sides and top, and water drain holes in the bottom of a plastic storage bin. Fill the bin three-quarters full with moistened shredded cardboard and newspaper and a few handfuls of garden soil for bedding. Let the bin stand for a day, then add the worms. Feed the worms every few days with shredded kitchen scraps, including vegetables, crushed eggshells, stale bread, coffee grounds and tea bags. Bury the scraps several inches into the bedding. The food will take a week or two to disappear, so bury successive feedings in different locations each time. Replenish bedding as needed. Worm compost will be ready to harvest in two or three months.
You can also purchase a worm bin like the one pictured here.
Compost Tea - Well prepared compost tea will contain thousands of beneficial microorganisms. Compost tea allows you to amplify a small amount of compost into a dispersible liquid form, helping a little compost go a lot farther. It's not complicated to make, here's a great description.
Manures as Compost - Manure has been used for ages for enriching soil and compost piles. The best time to apply manure directly to the soil is in the fall when the plants have been removed and the soil is ready to rest for the winter. Never apply your manure close to a water source and use a spreader if possible to apply it evenly. The downfall of applying manure directly to the soil is weed seeds. Piling your manure into a pile to heat it helps rid the manure of weed seeds in addition to ridding it of bacteria and parasites. No matter how well-aged your manure is, never place it too close to plants.
Animal Bedding - This is the combination of the solid waste the animal is done with, plus the liquid waste, and the material put down to cover the floor to make it less slippery by capturing numbers one and two. Typically, this bedding is straw, spoiled hay, wood shavings or some other carbon-rich material. The waste is nitrogen-rich and the bedding is carbon-rich which when blended makes a perfect compost! It is important to let it compost even further before applying to your plants to prevent burning.
Chicken Manure is full of nutrients that will benefit your soil, especially nitrogen. High nitrogen helps create heat to help the manure break down in addition to killing weed seeds, bacteria and parasites.
Cow Manure - Cow manure is made up of digested grass and grain. It is not as rich in nitrogen as many other types of manure but adds a great deal of organic matter to the soil which is very helpful for Texas clay soils. The downfall of cow manure is high ammonia levels that can burn plants so it's important not to put the manure directly on the plants.
Horse Manure - Horses process hay and grass into manure; and when that manure is composted and returned to the soil, a great source of nutrients and organic matter is returned to the soil. Horse manure can also help your regular compost pile become supercharged by adding heat. The downfall of horse manure is that it can return weed seeds to the soil. To avoid this as much as possible, add the horse manure to a compost pile and ensure your pile heats up to properly kill all the seeds. Additionally, you can pile horse manure into a pile to create heat and kill weed seeds.
Sheep Manure - Sheep manure contains protein, organic acid, cellulose and organic matter. Like other animal manures, it must be fully composted to prevent bacteria and parasites from being transferred to soil. It is hotter than horse manure due to its higher nitrogen content and it has a less offensive smell. The downfall of sheep manure is again weed seeds, so make sure you fully compost it before adding it to the garden.
To learn more about composting, read this mini-book from Earth-Kind Landscaping
Community Garden Design for Individuals with Mobility Challenges
Few activities compare to a day spent gardening. A day in the sun can elevate your mood and the physical work can invigorate the soul and reduce stress. A garden can also bring challenges for aging bodies and physical limitations. Accommodating these challenges ensures gardening is within reach for everyone by adding some helpful tools, altering the design of the garden bed and teaching how to go about tasks differently.
As you think about building your community garden to accommodate all physical abilities, think creatively. Heather Rhoades, founder of the Web site Gardening Know How and a gardener for more than 25 years, recommends these design elements:
- Wider pathways - The right pathway will allow more room to maneuver mobility equipment and navigate gardening beds, which can help prevent falling. Also, consider making the path firm with decomposed granite which provides a smooth surface.
- Verticle gardening - From stand-alone verticle towers to utilizing trellises and hanging baskets, getting the plants up and off the ground can reduce bending and enhance accessibility.
- Raised beds - There’s a wide variety of raised bed plans just waiting to be built. But if you’d prefer something even more simple, you might consider a raised bed kit.
Here are some other tools to help you create a community garden that welcomes gardeners of all mobility types
- Civil Eats - How Community Gardens Connect Seniors to Fresh Food and Their Past
- Countryside - Building Elevated Planter Boxes for Easier Gardening
- Dowling Community Garden - Building Raised Beds for ADA Access
- Environmental Protection Agency - Elder Accessible Gardening
- Inspired Living - Connecting Seniors with Fresh Food and Fresh Air
- Sympathink - Straw Bale Gardening a Complete Guide
- University of Texas School of Architecture - ADA Compliant Picnic Table and Stools