Starting a Community Vegetable Garden - New Mexico State University

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Starting a Community Vegetable Garden - New Mexico State University

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  • 1.Starting a Community Vegetable GardenGuide H-246Revised by Ron Walser, Urban Small Farm SpecialistCooperative Extension Service College of Agriculture and Home Economics This publication is scheduled to be updated and reissued 5/13.Community vegetable gardening has become a popular way The committees first objective should be to develop ato supplement food sources for many low-income people inquestionnaire to survey the community to determineNew Mexico. With more than 16 percent1 of the populationinterest, extent of commitment and clientele characteristics.in New Mexico experiencing food insecurity, community If the project is to benefit a particular group or an entirevegetable gardens offer apartment dwellers, low-incomeneighborhood, it is important that the clientele be involvedfamilies and retirees a chance to improve their health andin all aspects of planning and implementing the project. Atoutlook by producing fresh produce and interacting with some point, it is important that city or county plannersneighbors. Community vegetable gardening also teaches become involved to assist with planning and making sureyoung urban children that food is not a product of thethe garden complies with various ordinances. If possible,supermarket, but the result of tilling and nurturing the soil.find a volunteer lawyer (legal aid) to help with legal issues.Decide on a name for the garden for legal documents. The next step is to determine the type of garden. WillTypes of Community Vegetable Gardensindividuals or families be assigned plots to grow their ownThere are many types of community vegetable gardens.vegetables or will volunteers or other laborers grow veg-Three major types are individual or family plots; commu-etables to support the community, food bank or rescue mis-nity gardens that support food banks, shelters, churchsion? Is the main goal to educate kids? Will it be limited tomissions or select communities, or vegetable stands thatvegetables and small fruit crops or will flowers be allowed?benefit a group or cause; and school projects that empha- A border of flowers surrounding the entire garden as a com-size education. munity project often will help improve the aesthetics of the Individual or family plots normally involve a fee systementire neighborhood.for people who want to grow their own food. Volunteers At some point, committees should be appointed tousually are involved in community support gardens.address certain tasks, such as selecting the site, raising funds,Low-risk prisoners, such as driving-while-intoxicated finding sponsors, addressing legal issues, handling public-(DWI) offenders, also may participate in garden labor.ity, obtaining insurance and developing by-laws and otherSome involve Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)regulations. A structure needs to be developed to determineprograms, in which individuals pay a yearly fee to receivewho maintains the irrigation system, whether it includesa specific amount of produce from the community gar-individual faucets, drip systems or furrows. A structure alsoden association. School projects may involve early spring should be developed for the overall project management.programs that terminate after the school year or continuethrough the summer.Identifying a CoordinatorSelecting an overall coordinator for the project is crucial toForming a Planning Committee2 the success of any community vegetable garden. SomeoneThe first step in setting up a community vegetable garden must emerge with the time, patience, leadership skills,is to organize a meeting of interested people to determinecreativity and stamina to solve the numerous problems ofif there is a need and desire for such a garden in the com- bringing it all together. Usually, in the initial organizationalmunity. Ideally, the desire should originate from the com-meetings, an obvious leader will arise. Other essential quali-munity not an individual. The community may consist of aties a coordinator should exhibit include a background inlow-income housing complex, a neighborhood surroundinghorticulture and the ability to interact with local govern-a public park, a school, a senior citizen center complex or ment officials and business leaders. The coordinator alsoother community association.must have some means of transportation. 1 Associated Press. Nov. 15, 2007. USDA Report.2 American Community Gardening Association, Starting a Community Garden, www.communitygarden.org/pubs/starting.htmlTo find more resources for your business, home, or family, visit the College of Agriculture and Home Economics on theWorld Wide Web at www.cahe.nmsu.edu

2. The most ideal individuals are those employed by local such as mulching and drip irrigation, be used to help con-government, who are paid to coordinate such activities. No serve water. A water test should be conducted to determinematter how idealistic a person may be, burn-out rates can be water quality.high. Retirees also make good candidates. It always is a good The landowners may require that the community garden-idea to have backup coordinators who can step in and pickers obtain extra insurance to cover liability problems. Insur-up the slack.ance can be a major problem. The policy should be reviewed by a lawyer. The site also should include sufficient parking if par-Identifying a Site ticipants or volunteers are commuting to the site. The siteA committee should consider a number of sites, if possible.should be sufficiently large to accommodate a compostingBegin looking for sites at least six to eight months beforearea, shed for tools and benches and tables to rest. The siteplanting. Available spots might include open-space proper- must be accessible after working hours and on the weekends.ties, government lands, vacant lots, church or school prop-erties, city parks, unused farmland, industrial parks, landtrusts, apartment complex grounds or fairgrounds. City,Identifying Sponsorscounty, state or federally owned properties are ideal, since and Funding Sourcesthere is little chance they will be sold. Check with appropri- Although some community gardens can be supported byate government planning offices for available space. Partici-membership fees, others require a sponsor, or an organiza-pants must agree that the land will be used for the public tion or individuals to support the garden financially orgood and maintained in an orderly fashion. through donations of water, seed, plants, mulch, compost, Private land sites should be identified and owners con-tools, supplies or services. Some government and corpor-tacted to determine land availability. Be sure the owner has ate sponsors may help with liability issues. Sponsors mayclear title to the land with no lien holders. Given the poten- include individuals, schools, churches, private businesses,tial investment in improvements to the garden site, any leasefoundations or city governments. Funding also may be ob-agreement should be for at least three to four years. Checktained through various government and private grants. Signswith city officials for any possible code restrictions.erected in front of the garden can recognize sponsors. Stay away from industrial sites that may be contaminated.Some lots where trash has been dumped may be contamin-ated with hazardous chemicals. Old parking lots may be Garden Organizational Structurecompacted and require extensive renovating to improve soil Garden organizational structures vary significantly. Some aredrainage. The ideal site would be level with fertile, well-informal, while others include advisory boards. Larger, moredrained soil.complicated gardens demand a fairly structured program so Stay away from lots surrounded by large trees. Roots that each individual can participate and so the group as aand shading will hamper crop growth. An isolated tree, whole functions efficiently. The structure should be kept ashowever, can provide shade for gardeners during the hotsimple as possible and should be based on trust.part of the day or at lunch. Trees used as windbreaks on Things to be considered in the organizational structurethe southwest corner of the project will help limit wind include goals and objectives. What is the purpose? How aredamage in the spring.the leaders chosen and how will decisions be made? How is Bindweed and other perennial weeds also can be a nui-communal work done and who is responsible? How muchsance. Sites should be scouted the previous fall to note will be charged for membership dues and how will the mon-potential perennial weed problems. Hoeing perennial weedsey be spent? What other fund-raising methods will be used?every week can be very discouraging. Most simple community gardens can be managed by a list Sites should have at least eight hours of full sunlight. of guidelines and rules. When incorporating, formal bylawsDepending on access, fencing may be required to determust be developed to govern the organizations internalanimals, vehicles and vandals. Gates may need to be locked affairs. Bylaws cover the organizations goals, objectives andfor security.philosophy and establish its name and legal address. Mem- A soil test in the fall will indicate nutrient deficienciesbership categories are defined, including dues required andand any heavy metal problems that may be associated with when theyre to be paid. Bylaws also define when regularindustrial lots. Make sure the site has access to good quality and special meetings are to be held, including annualwater and has appropriate water rights. Some areas of themeetings of the board of directors. It also includesstate may have water restrictions during the summer. Thisofficers, terms of office, their duties, special committees,could be a problem for a community garden. Lots with and liability clauses. Bylaws also explain how disputesindependent wells and water rights may be more appropri- will be resolved.ate. It is important, however, that water-saving techniques,Guide H-246 Page 2 3. Guidelines and Rules3 Vandalism ProblemsMost coordinators of and participants in successful Vandalism can be a major problem for many communitycommunity gardens agree that all participants shouldgardens. Fences define the area and will keep out mostadhere to an agreed-upon set of guidelines and rules fordogs and motorcycles, but will not deter determined van-the garden. Guidelines and individual responsibilitiesdals. A sign letting the public know that the garden be-should be set up and agreed to before gardening begins. longs to the neighborhood will help deter local vandals.The rules should be simple and enforceable. The follow- Getting kids involved will help them take ownership ofing is a list of some typical guidelines and rules: the project. Keep all ripe tomatoes and other fruit picked Registration for plots begins on February 15, with plot to deter temptation to steal. The coordinator should visit preference being given to past participants with one the project at least once or twice a day to check plots for plot per participant. Unassigned plots will be allocated vandalism and irrigation problems. after May 15 on a first-come, first-served basis. The registration fee is $growing season for each plot and is due at registration.Problems with Neighbors Plots and the surrounding paths around the plots will If the garden becomes an eyesore, complaints from be kept free from weeds. Participants with weedy plots neighbors may arise. Weeds should be controlled at all will be given a weeks notice to clean up the area. Fail- times. Flowers surrounding the garden will improve the ure to clean up the plots will result in forfeiture of the aesthetic of the neighborhood and the overall environ- plots and any future participation in the project. ment. Sharing produce with the neighbors is also great Dogs are not allowed except on leashes. for public relations. Keep garden gates closed at all times. Do not leave your irrigation system unattended. Do not work alone in the garden, but on a Garden Design and Preparation buddy system.The first step is to clean the site and develop your design. Plots and the surrounding paths will be kept free of Decide on the size of each plot and width and length of trash and litter.paths between plots. Determine where tool sheds, com- Tall crops will not be planted in an area that will shade posting sites, rest areas and outdoor toilets will be lo- neighboring plots. cated. The irrigation design should address whether there Vining crops will not be allowed to spread into path-will be faucets at each plot, a common drip or sprinkler ways or other neighboring plots. irrigation line, or a furrow irrigation system with an Pick only crops from your assigned plot.appropriate slope from the main irrigation ditch. No pesticides or fertilizers will be used that could af- New sites probably should be worked up with a fect neighboring plots.commercial tractor and tiller the first year to break up One hour per week will be devoted to maintaining the hardpans and improve drainage. Thereafter, a rototiller community garden as a whole as determined by the may be used to work up individual plots. In furrow- project coordinator.irrigated plots, a tractor with a lister, bed shaper and Dispose of weeds and other plant residues in cultivators may continue to be used to maintain the composting area.furrows for irrigation. Supervise young children and keep them out of Applying compost will help improve soil tilth. Be care- neighboring plots. Borrowed tools should be cleaned and returned to the ful with the application rates of manure-based composts storage shed.that may be high in salts. A soil sample can serve as the Cleanup deposits will be returned in the fall after plots basis for a season-long fertility program. are cleaned and inspected by the garden coordinator. After leveling, the appropriate irrigation system shouldbe installed and plots staked out with appropriate path-ways. Most plots vary from 12 by 12 ft (144 sq ft) to 25Application Form and Fees by 30 ft (750 sq ft) in size, depending on the overallAt a minimum, the application form should include the garden size and the number of participants. Nationally,participants name, address, telephone numbers (day and the average size plot is about 700 sq ft and will supply anight), along with other appropriate information. Feesfamily of four with fresh vegetables all summer.4should cover irrigation costs and other expenses not Raised beds may be used in some areas where poorcovered by sponsors or grants. Generally some fee issoils are a problem. Boards or bricks can be used to lineappropriate to get participants to take ownership ofbeds. Beds can be filled with appropriate topsoil mixedthe project.with compost.3 City Farmer, 1997 (January 23), Canadas Office of Urban Agriculture, www.cityfarmers.org/gardenrules.html4 White, John. 2002. Organizing a Community Garden. Doa Ana County Extension Service. Las Cruces, New Mexico(Adapted from Texas A & M Extension Circular). Guide H-246 Page 3 4. Mulching the pathways will help control most weedsPublicity and Public Relationsand prevent mud problems. Sawdust or bark are excellent Recruiting participants or volunteers can be donemulch materials. Pathways should be at least 3 ft wide to through signs, posters, radio and television spots andaccommodate wheelbarrows and rototillers. Fences with newspaper articles. It also is important that good rela-locking gates and utility areas can then be developed. Ations be established between the community vegetableshed that locks can be used to store tools. Shaded rest garden and the local business community. The businessareas will help provide relief from the sun in the summer.community is a great source for soliciting sponsors forPortable toilets also are a necessity. A first aid kit should the garden. Extra produce can be donated to local foodbe kept handy in case of accidents. banks, rescue missions and other charities as a way of Mulching plots is encouraged to conserve water andgiving back to the community.reduce weed problems. Battery powered meters may beused on individual drip systems to automatically turnwater on and off. This will help prevent individuals from Other Problemsflooding the garden or wasting water. In furrow irriga- Labor problems can be a major issue for community-tion systems, a schedule for irrigation should be devel-supported vegetable gardens. Volunteers often have greatoped to let participants know when plots will be too wetintentions, but may not be consistent in their participa-to work.tion. Prisoners like DWI offenders come and go, and you Most gardens are best managed as organic or pesticide-may spend all of your time training new people to hoe orfree gardens to prevent liability and philosophical prob- to distinguish weeds from crops. School gardens inher-lems between participants. Participants may wish to beently have problems with school schedules. Warm-seasonassigned the same plot year after year, if they intend to crops planted in the spring may not be maintained in thefollow a strictly organic program.summer. Relying on a custodian to maintain the garden Participants should be encouraged to follow horticul- during the summer is not realistic. Kids also may not betural techniques that save room in the garden and dont rewarded for their efforts, since crops are harvested inshade or compete with other plots in the project. Vin-the summer.ing crops should be trained on trellises and tomatoes on School gardens are best limited to early spring gardenscages. Bush varieties of vining crops that use less space that are harvested before summer vacation. Another op-should be encouraged. Crops should be grown in success- tion is to get kids involved with a community garden runionfor example, radishes in spring followed by green by adults that they can visit on field trips to plant, weedbeans in the summerto produce more in one growingor harvest.season. Although raspberries or blackberries may be planted inindividual plots or around the edges of the garden, makeEducational Programs and Resourcessure the roots are contained with a border of buried tinEducational programs can be conducted periodically(at least 12 inches), aluminum or stout plastic. Do not on horticultural and food preservation techniques byplant fruit trees or asparagus in leased plots or other plots NMSUs Cooperative Extension Service, Master Garden-that may not be permanent.ers, and other garden clubs. Publications also are available The garden also should have a rainproof bulletin boardfrom the NMSU Extension Service on planting vegetableto post messages and workdays or educational events.gardens and food preservation. Search online by topic atWorkdays help take care of common problems facedwww.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/. Seed and plants may be do-by the garden community as a whole, including install-nated by local nurseries or other commercial outlets. Seeding irrigation systems, controlling weeds in utility areas, also is available from the America the Beautiful Fund.building compost, working on fences, preparing the soil,or cleaning up in the fall to prepare for winter. Plantinga cover crop/green manure crop like winter wheat, rye,oats, or barley in the fall on all plots as a community Original author: George W. Dickerson,project will not only help encourage good soil tilth but former Extension Horticulture Specialistalso make the site aesthetically pleasing during the win-ter. Green manure crops should be incorporated into thesoil the following spring at least one month before plant-ing vegetable crops.New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Departmentof Agriculture cooperating.Revised May 2008 Las Cruces, NM Guide H-246 Page 4

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