Ten Steps to Successful Community Gardens

Community gardens can turn stark vacant lots into productive keystones in a community. The reasons for starting community gardens are varied, and the rewards are numerous. However various pitfalls can turn noble intentions into negative neighborhood drama. Proper planning, excellent communication, simple rules, and basic garden knowledge all help reduce these problems.

Here are ten steps to successful community gardening.

  1. Organize first and early. Ideally, this should be done a minimum of six months before the garden season begins. Talk to local groups with existing community gardens and begin discussions with interested people and organizations.
  2. Form a planning committee. This group of committed well-organized people will work to find funding and partners, create garden rules and guidelines, identify resources, find a garden site, and much more.
  3. Define the mission and goals of your garden. Put them in writing and include both short and long term goals.
  4. Identify all resources. Evaluate the gardening skills of your committee members and identify those that can serve as garden mentors. Create a list of necessary supplies and materials, and create a budget. Determine if funding or donations are needed for tools, seeds, plants, soil, etc. Membership and plot fees or sale of produce can help make a garden self-supporting.
  5. Identify a sponsor, such as a park, church, neighborhood associations, or health center., to help with funding, land, tilling, and other expertise
  6. Select a site. Be sure to choose a location with at least 6 hours sun, water availability, easy and safe access, and quality soil without contaminants. Get it in writing!
  7. Prepare site and create a design. Have the soil tested for nutrients and heavy metals. Determine plot sizes and types of pathways, as well as locations for tools storage and compost.
  8. Develop rules & guidelines. Put in writing and include gardeners in their development.
  9. Initiate regular communication. Possibilities include regular meetings, educational programs, social media, email, phone trees, newsletters, and such.
  10. Celebrate success. Share harvest baskets with sponsors and neighbors. Host harvest parties, recipe exchange, or tomato tasting. And, include local media to help get the word out.

For help answer gardening questions that arise throughout the growing season, call a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Helpline. The Peoria HelpLine is available every Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to noon at (309) 685-3140, ext. 13. or at uiemg-peoria@illinois.edu.