woman gardening in an urban community garden

Growing some of your own food might seem nearly impossible if you live in an apartment building or have a shaded yard. However, there might be a great solution – joining a community garden. These shared spaces are a simple solution to promote local food production and food security while fostering relationships.

Community gardens are maintained by their members. In some cases, people have individual plots for their households. In other arrangements, people grow crops collectively and share the harvest or donate it to benefit others.

Regardless of the approach, community gardens provide an opportunity to sharpen your gardening skills, grow healthy foods, increase vegetable intake, and gain a sense of community.

How can I find a community garden in my area?

Your local county extension office or a quick Google search can be an excellent way to get started in finding a shared garden space. Also, the American Community Garden Association maintains a directory of gardens and is a helpful resource. Finally, if you know of a community garden in your area, try visiting on the weekend when people will likely be out tending their plots.

It’s helpful to find a garden plot that is conveniently located, perhaps close to your home or office. The easier it is to get there, the more likely you are to go there to tend plants and harvest your crops.

What are the benefits of a communal vegetable plot?

As people across the globe continue to flock to cities, an increasing number of homes have limited space for growing produce or even flowers. Community gardens offer a welcome solution for urbanites who want to grow their own food.

Gardening helps foster a relationship with the earth and local environment and improves access to fresh, locally grown produce. By enabling members to grow their own healthy food, community gardens can even help minimize food insecurity. Some food pantries and aid organizations partner with community gardens or farms to supply produce to people in need.

There is also a social aspect to community gardens. Because people come together around a shared vision, communal gardens help build relationships. Gardening with others also creates educational opportunities: Often, members will share growing tips with other members to help them succeed.

What types of rules do community gardens have?

Many gardens have annual dues, which tend to be relatively minimal. In some cases, the fees are reduced or waived for people who cannot afford them.

For example, a plot in the Fenway Victory Garden in Boston is $40 per plot or $25 for seniors over 65. The City of Portland, Oregon, has 55 community gardens, and the annual membership fees are on a sliding scale based on household size and income. They range from $5 to $20 for a 50-square-foot plot and between $55 and $220 for an 880-square-foot plot.

There is an understanding that members will not harvest produce from other people’s plots without permission. Gardens may also have guidelines for approved fertilizers or pest treatment methods. For example, some may ban synthetic fertilizers and pesticides because what you do with your plot can impact the soil and nearby garden beds.

Some gardens may also have specific conditions for membership, such as residency requirements.

Who owns the land used for community gardens?

These gardens can be located on either public or privately owned land. Often, they are associated with nonprofit organizations such as churches, schools, or community groups and are primarily run by volunteers. In some cities, the parks and recreation department helps oversee and maintain them.

How do I start a successful community garden plot?

If there is a high demand for garden space in your areas, you might need to put your name on a waiting list until a garden plot becomes available. Once you get your plot, plan out your approach.

If you have children or family members, are there ways to involve them? For example, kids may enjoy helping to plan the garden, tending a small plot, or harvesting veggies. Some community gardens may have raised, wheel-chair accessible plots. If you are new to gardening or tight on time, starting small is a good idea. Remember that you will likely not go to your plot daily, so low-maintenance crops are ideal.

Healthy soil is essential for healthy plants, so consider adding soil amendments and organic matter, such as compost. Adding a layer of mulch to the soil helps reduce the need for frequent watering and keeps weeds down. Also, don’t forget to be a good neighbor and think about the needs of other gardeners and the greater community. Help maintain the garden pathways, avoid storing unsightly things on your plot, and adhere to your garden’s rules.

There has been a recent resurgence in community gardens globally as part of an urban agriculture movement. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an uptick in gardening, encouraged by supply chain shortages and an interest in self-sufficiency. Community gardens offer opportunities for households with limited yard space to nurture their green thumbs and grow healthy food.

Originally published on March 8, 2022, this article was updated in March 2023.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.