Utne Blogs > Environment

Grow a Community, Garden

 by Erik Helin

Tags: David Tracey, community garden, gardening, community building, urban development, permaculture activist, Seattle, P-Patch Trust,

Community GardenLiving in the city amid dense development and endless pavement, it’s easy to forget the pleasures of cultivation and growth that can be found in gardening. Writing for Permaculture Activist, a quarterly magazine that promotes the design of “ecological human habitats and food production systems,” author David Tracey outlines, step by step, how to build community and reconnect with the earth by beginning a community garden. 

The first step, Tracey writes (article not available online), is choosing the right location. Nearly any size plot of land can be used, but the size will affect future plans. “Make sure you have enough space for everything you hope to do, now and later,” he advises. “Think of what you’ll need for other features, perhaps an orchard, an herb garden, a picnic spot or a pond.” Community gardens can fit perfectly into vacant lots, street ends, abandoned park spaces, and unused schoolyard areas, among other places. The area needs a fair amount of sun and water, it needs to be safe from crime and vandalism, and it needs to be accessible to gardeners and enjoyers. 

The next step is choosing the right people: like-minded individuals who care as much about community as they do about gardening. “Think of the garden as what grows only after you’ve tended the community,” Tracey writes. Once your small community is assembled, set up a mission and lay down garden ground rules. 

How are you going to pay for the land? Tracey recommends pooling volunteer money, donations from land trust groups and other organizations, and possible government grants to fund the project. In Seattle, in conjunction with the P-Patch Trust, the city has established community garden space servicing residents of 70 neighborhoods

Once your garden is established and your community decides what to grow, you'll need to tend it and promote it. Tracey suggests a “work party” at the end of every month where garden members get together to weed, prune trees, and perform other general maintenance tasks. He also advises an annual “Open House/Plant Sale,” monthly planning meetings, and other fun events that bring members of the community to the garden in admiration of their hard work and dedication.

For more information on community gardens and to find one near you, visit the websites of the American Community Gardening Association and the Urban Community Garden.

Image by Paul Symington licensed under Wikimedia Commons.