What is a community garden? Merriam-Webster tells us:
Community: a unified body of individuals: such as people with common interests living in a particular area
Garden: a plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated
When you put those two words together, you get a group of people who live in an area coming together to create a space for cultivating something(s). You get a community garden.
Here’s the History
While community gardens seem like a late twentieth century, early twenty-first century movement, their roots are fairly deep in American society. This from the Smithsonian Institution: “The first community gardens in the United States were vacant lot gardens started during the economic recession of the 1890s.” Community gardens have sprouted up in many different locations by a range of people and organizations. For a broad history of community gardens in the United States, learn more at the Institution’s Community of Gardens initiative: communityofgardens.si.edu
Community gardens are about more than just growing food. Folks come together to create community gardens for a variety of reasons.
- To build and foster community
- To provide space for people to grow things
- To support those who otherwise lack access to fresh produce
- To create a space for learning
Some community gardens operate with the idea of individuals maintaining their own plot(s). Others are organized so that all participants work on a collective garden and share in the harvest. Either way, sharing resources, be they land, water, work or knowledge, is essential to the success of a community garden.
Don’t Try This on Your Own
A community garden may be the idea of one person, but for it to take root and grow, it needs a group of committed individuals. The adage of “many hands make light work” underscores the creation of a community garden. Once it is organized and underway it still requires the participation of all. More often than not, one of the goals of community gardening is to bring people together. So, if the idea of a community garden fits your vision for your neighborhood, town or organization, reach out. Look for others, be they gardeners or not, to join you as you work to build community, one garden plot at a time.
An Excellent Example
Each community garden operates differently and uniquely. Let’s look at an example of an established garden located in Clarkesville, Habersham County.
The Clarkesville Greenway Community Organic Garden was founded by the Soque River Watershed Association (SRWA) (www.soque.org) in 2009 to foster community and to make visible the sense of living within a watershed. The garden is located on a flood plain of the Soque River just around the corner from the Clarkesville square. It was developed as part of a larger, collaborative project involving the SRWA, the Clarkesville Greenways Inc., and the City of Clarkesville. Together they created a recreational space that supports wildlife habitat and manages runoff from a former factory-turned-retail building.
One quarter acre in size, the garden is surrounded by solar powered electric fencing to repel deer. The City provides the space and water. Members of the garden maintain not only their plots but work collectively to keep the fencing, grass, equipment and storage area in working order. Twenty-eight 10’ x 20’ plots are available to individuals, families and organizations.
The day I visited the garden, a couple was tending their two plots. Their reason for joining the garden is because they live in a wooded area that does not have the sun needed to grow produce. They were applying organic hay, which they acquired from a farmer in Rabun County, to their vegetables. This points up the fact that the Clarkesville garden is an organic one. Gardeners agree to use sustainable gardening practices and not use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Given that the garden is overseen by the Watershed Association, an awareness of the landscape is built into the ethos of it. Locating a garden in a floodplain has its pros and cons. The ground can be overly damp, especially during periods of high rainfall and humidity; however, moisture is a key ingredient for happy plants, yes? The greenway/garden have experienced flooding from the Soque River, which is just a couple of hundred feet away. The most recent flood, October 2020, covered the area in more than a foot of water. The plus side of a flood is the new nutrients that are washed in and laid down by the river. The key to success in planning your garden is knowing your area and the environmental factors that impact it.
Folks pay a fee for their plot in the garden. It helps defray the cost of maintaining the shared equipment, purchasing gasoline for the equipment, supporting the salary of the garden manager. In joining, folks also commit to sharing in the maintenance of the garden’s common areas. Participating in work days and making an individual effort to keep the garden tidy are part of the communal experience.
Exploring Further/Create Your Own
Want to find a community garden near you? The American Community Gardening Association may be your next stop. The ACGA is a member-based, non-profit organization founded in Chicago, but their current headquarters are in Atlanta(!). Their mission “is to build community by increasing and enhancing community gardening and greening across the United States and Canada.” Offering workshops, resources and an annual conference, they are a great source for locating or starting a community garden.
Gardening is gardening. It is what Art of Stone Gardening has done for 20 years. Community gardens are an exciting way to bring people together to cultivate solutions for individuals and for the community at large. While we are not currently engaged with a community garden, if you are interested in starting one in your area, we are happy to help.