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Community Gardens

Gardening can be even more fun when done together! Learn the benefits of community gardens and tips for establishing one in your neighborhood.

Have you ever wondered what is so appealing about gardening? With today's emphasis on all things modern, fast, and urban, why are we still drawn to vestiges of our agrarian past? Whether it is a city park, a row of trees planted along a busy street or something as simple as a houseplant, studies have shown that people are more relaxed and healthier when they can connect with nature. Ironically, it is pace and complexity of the culture that we are striving to create that drives us more and more toward the calmer environment of the plant world. Stopping to smell the roses is no longer just a clich&eactute;, but wise advice for good physical and mental health.

The benefits of community gardening are numerous and include such attributes as revitalizing the neighborhood, food production, access to nature and social interaction with fellow gardeners.

Community GardensThe first step toward developing a community garden is to simply recognize the desire to have one. Here are a few other things to keep in mind has you consider establishing a garden in your neighborhood.

Get Others Involved

Form a group with other interested gardeners to help get the project started and to establish an alliance that can maintain the site.

Be Official

Organize your group into a club with a president, secretary and treasurer. Set goals, rules, a budget and agendas. To keep the momentum going, hold regularly scheduled meetings. Create an application form for gardeners who wish to participate to fill out and determine if any membership dues will be required. If so, open a bank account.

Find a Suitable Site

Look around your neighborhood for a location that receives 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day, is close by, fairly level, and has access to water.

You can contact your local water company to find out if the lot has a water meter.

Avoid sites that are slated for development in the near future.

Write down the address or cross streets of the site. With this information your county tax assessor's office can help you find the owner(s).

Make it Legal

Once you have identified the owner(s) of the land, contact them to see if you can work out an agreement to use it. Your community garden will be a value to the property owner because it will cut down on the cost of maintaining the lot, beautify the neighborhood and bring neighbors closer together, which means a higher property value.

Sign a lease for at least 3 years. It is common for groups to lease property for $1.00 per year. To prevent liability suits brought against the landowner include a "hold harmless" waiver in your lease. You also want to take the additional step of obtaining liability insurance.

Fund Raising

Starting a garden takes a lot of work and money. Presumably you will have the available hands to do the digging, but coming up with funds may be another matter entirely. You can charge the members of your community garden a membership fee, find a sponsor, or even combine the two.

If you decide to look for a sponsor, start the search with churches, organizations and businesses that are already active in the community. They have a vested interest in seeing the success of the garden.

Designing the Garden

The design of your garden will depend on the layout of the land and the number of gardeners involved, but there are a few universal elements that apply to any site.

Create beds that are a manageable size. Framed or raised beds should be long and narrow so that the gardener can plant from either side without having to step into the bed. In ground beds can be larger.

Make sure paths are wide enough to accommodate a wheelbarrow and other garden equipment.

Set up a simple irrigation system for each plot. An open faucet is also essential for hand watering and cleaning up. If you have a large group of gardeners it would be a good idea to have more than one faucet available.

Consider putting in an 8' tall fence with a drive through gate to keep out vandals, including four legged ones such as deer or raccoons.

Establish a secure area to store tools, fertilizers and supplies.

Build a compost bin. Compost is essential addition to the soil for successful gardening and the least expensive way to obtain some is to make it with your own compost bin.

Set up a bench or a few chairs in a shady spot for a place to rest and take in all the beauty.

Now, I've just touched on some of the things to consider when getting started. There is a wealth of in depth information available both online and at the library. A few good online sources are

American Community Garden Association at www.communitygarden.org

Canada's Urban Agriculture at www.cityfarmer.org

UC Davis at celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/garden/pubs/index.html