Raymond Ave Community Garden, Los Angeles

When you look at the price of food today, you might consider the value of growing your own. But a garden can do more than save you money on groceries. You can also avoid pesticides, insecticides, and GMOs by growing your own produce — not to mention the environmental benefits of locally grown food.

However, many people don’t have yards large enough — or any yard at all — to support a vegetable garden. The good news is there are ways you can grow a garden larger than your own yard — or apartment balcony. One of those ways is to join a community garden. In a community garden, a group of people comes together to grow food on a plot of land. This land is usually either owned by one of the community garden members or leased for use by the city.

It’s usually quite affordable to get your own plot in the community garden. If there’s one in your area, it’s a great way to reap the rewards of gardening when you have no space at home. But if there isn’t an established community garden in your area, why not start one yourself? Here are some ideas to help you establish a community garden in your neighborhood.

Connect With Community Leaders

One of the first things you need to do is to seek support from your community’s leaders. It’s possible there may be an unused plot of land they can approve for community gardening use once they understand the benefits to the community. The support of a community leader can also help make your project a reality faster.

Shell Park Community Gardens
Shell Park Community Gardens. Image courtesy of JP Newell

Identify Potential Members

Start spreading the word within the community that you’d like to establish a collaborative garden. It’s important to make sure there is enough interest to make the community garden sustainable. When you find a few key people who are interested, they can help you spread the word through their networks to help find more members and perhaps secure the land plot.

This is a good time to start talking about what kind of community garden you want. Will each member have an individual plot that they tend or will everyone work together in a cooperative garden? What will each member pay and who will collect dues? What will each member’s responsibility be in the maintenance of the garden?

Secure Land Use Permissions

While you seek a location for the garden, it’s important to consider whether the land will be private or publicly owned. If you’re lucky, a private owner may provide a lease in exchange for a plot in the garden. However, you can also try and secure the rights to unused public land. The city may be willing to lease unused public land at an affordable rate if they see the value to the community. When you get permission to use a plot of land, make sure you have a lease or contract in place so you don’t lose use rights mid-season.

Other important considerations before you sign the lease:

  • Does the location have access to clean water?
  • Is the soil healthy or will you need to bring in new soil?
  • Does the site get enough sunlight?
Cable Street Community Garden.
Cable Street Community Garden. Image courtesy of Jack Thurston

Create the Garden Design Plan

Once you have secured the land use rights, you will need to design the layout of the garden. How the garden is laid out will depend on your preferred model: individual plots or a cooperative model. You’ll need to decide:

  • Who will prepare the land for gardening
  • Whether you need to fence the perimeter
  • How big the plots (if individual plots) or the beds (if cooperative) will be
  • The layout of the plots/beds within the garden
  • Whether you will designate a common area for shared resources or meetings
  • Where the paths will go so members can easily access water without disturbing plantings

Survey the potential members so you can make sure the layout works for everyone’s needs.

Reap the Rewards

Starting a community garden is not an overnight project. It requires careful planning and a strong community of dedicated members to make it work. But once you have made the plans, secured community support, acquired and prepared the land, ensured water access, and all the other bits and pieces, take a moment to enjoy your hard work. You’ve done more than set up a garden where you can grow healthy food. You’ve established a place where neighbors can meet, share knowledge, and create community.

Feature image courtesy of Craig Dietrich. Originally published on February 27, 2015, this article was updated in May 2022.

By Chrystal Johnson

Chrystal Johnson, publisher of Happy Mothering, founder of Green Moms Media and essential oil fanatic, is a mother of two sweet girls who believes in living a simple, natural lifestyle. A former corporate marketing communication manager, Chrystal spends her time researching green and eco-friendly alternatives to improve her family's life.