How to Start a Community Garden

It takes dirt in a sunny spot, access to water and a group of hardworking neighbors to make a community garden work. But when it works -- it's a beautiful thing.

And it's easier than it looks, according to Sadhu Johnston, the chief environmental officer for Chicago. The city is a leader in encouraging city residents to garden together.

"As you walk around your neighborhood, drive around and you'll see little vacant areas that are kind of abandoned spaces. Those are perfect," Johnston says. "You can get together with one or two neighbors and start to plant things, and it can be as informal as that."

The garden plot can be as small as a 3-by-3-foot corner, to get started. Tomatoes, beans, even potatoes can grow in a very small piece of ground.

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Of course, you'll need to check to see who owns the area before you plant.

Start at City Hall, or, if you live outside the city, check with your county government to determine ownership. If it's public property, you'll need to get permission from the government agency that's responsible for it.

Also, check to see if there's already a community gardening association in your area.

The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) can help. This national organization promotes neighborhood gardening and offers resources (and occasional workshops) to those who want to get started and to those who want to refine their existing gardens. Their fact sheet includes tips, like how to find the perfect spot, how to organize the plot of land, find insurance, and manage the community program.

In addition, ACGA is a great jumping off point for resource tools like Garden How-To Manuals, and Start-Up Guides.

"We try to make it as easy for people as possible," says Gwenne Hayes-Stewart, an ACGA board member and the director of "Gateway Greening," a St. Louis-based organization that works to help clear the way -- sometimes, quite literally -- for neighborhood gardens throughout the St. Louis area.

For St. Louis residents, there's an application process, "where groups can apply, starting in the fall, for a garden the following spring. Then, all winter long, we plan with them how that garden is going to come about. We get to know them, they get to know us," said Hayes-Stewart.

"It's not that difficult to grow the best-tasting tomato you've ever had in your life," she insisted.

The following links offer more information on how to start your own garden:

Read the Community Gardener's Quarterly Newsletter to learn about upcoming events, read gardener profiles and pick up tips for your garden and program.

Openlands.org walks you through how to turn a vacant lot into a community garden in seven steps.

Just because you live in the city doesn't mean you can't garden! CityFarmer.info offers tips on how to garden in the city, whether starting a rooftop gardening community, or a wading pool garden.

Join a communtiy garden forum, where you can discuss all aspects of organizing and growing a community garden. Also check out their GardenWeb Photo Galleries of all the community grown produce.

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