Community gardens reflect love, concern, and can serve a variety of functions. Cooperative gardens provide food resources for families and charities. Community gardens educate elementary and high school students that 'vegetables do not come from plastic bags' in the freezer section of grocery stores. Those who live in urban areas and zero-lot line developments receive soul-satisfying experiences of growing their own food even if there is not enough space to dig their fingers into a gardening project in their own yards. Native flowering community gardens can be enjoyed not only by humans; but allow wildlife creatures to live in balance with man's concrete and asphalt society.
In major cities, across the United States, like Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, volunteers, professionals, apartment dwellers, retirees, teenagers and children have combined their talents to establish community gardens where residents can raise their own food, experience nature, and enjoy a bucolic afternoon even in the city. According to an article published by Rutgers University, (FS264) public community gardens reduce neighborhood crime rates and provide a physical outlet so that urban dwellers lead less stressful, healthier lives.
Here in Florida, there are indications that community gardens are becoming more and more popular. Check with your local city if they are supplying funds to organizations and homeowner associations in the form of environmental education grants to fund opportunities to beautify and establish Florida-friendly front entrances and often, community gardens. These grants provide funds to groups that have volunteers who commit to furnish the labor to maintain the community garden area. These grants can offer professional on-site consultations, monies to retrofit irrigation systems, buy new plant material, paint to update signage. Cities, counties, and residents reap benefits and property values can increase from having a community garden in your neighborhood. County park departments and regional utility agencies have similar funding for demonstration gardens on highlighting water-conservation landscaping. Do you know if your neighborhood can receive benefit from environmental grants? If not, then why not ask them to create one?
Community gardens contribute to society by endowing an opportunity for people to work toward a common goal. Senior citizens can work with neighborhood children, parents working alongside other parents, strangers getting to know one another by getting dirty together are all ways of sharing and displaying a love of community towards one another.
In the past year with the onslaught of the pandemic, community gardens can also satisfy the need to get out of the house and put effort into working out restless energy and boredom in an outdoor project helping others.
Here are some tips to get your community garden started:
1. Determine if there is an interest and commitment among fellow neighbors. Remember that not everyone is going to be interested at first, allow for participation at different intervals and keep encouraging people to help.
2. Check with management offices, builder/developer, or administration office for a possible site, i.e. a community front entrance, the mailbox kiosk, sidewalk to a clubhouse or pavilion, future undeveloped areas, or school property.
3. Decide on a theme and develop an outline of the project to present at a future homeowners' board meeting.
4. Select leaders and designate teams if there are enough volunteers.
5. Develop grant partnerships with as many organizations as you can by contacting city, county, churches, businesses, regional agencies, and national organizations.
6. Take all precautions and responsibility in ensuring everyone is social distancing, using masks and hand sterilizer, and cleaning tools after use. Place signage with encouragement and reminders in key locations.
7. Set a reasonable time frame for completion,
8. Remember to prepare for future maintenance and allow everyone to participate at his or her own levels and time frames. Be honest and upfront about asking for volunteers, allotting time, and necessary maintenance.
9. Take before, during and after photographs of your project and volunteers.
10. Publicize your project through community newsletters, local newspapers, HOA websites, and award contests.
11. Have a celebratory appreciation event and possibly an annual harvest to commemorate everyone's hard efforts.
Victor Hugo said, "Nothing is so powerful in the world as an idea whose time has come."
Community gardens can inspire with beauty, environmental quality, resourcefulness, and ultimately, the spirit of your neighborhood. Anticipating the coming spring and summer seasons ahead of us, February is a good time to get a garden started in your community.
A garden full of love.
Teresa is a horticulturist, landscape designer, author of "A Gardener's Compendium" series, 24-year Master Gardener, and co-host of "Better Lawns and Gardens." You can also get her monthly newsletter "In Your Backyard" on her website www.she-consulting.com.
Updated 2021 "Build a Community of Love" first published in ICanGarden, February 2004.