No Culture has ever survived if it couldn’t feed itself. The strongest communities are the ones that feed themselves. That is historical normalcy. Let’s rebuild it. -Joel Salatin from his newest book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”
There’s a lot about the American food system that isn’t normal. We ship things too far. We grow vegetables for their shipping ability instead of their flavor or texture. We fly/truck/sail in produce from all over the world, because we can’t even be bothered to grow all our own food. We’d rather cross a staple grain with weird genes from a frog than consider organic growing practices. Our 4 legged food doesn’t eat grass anymore. This just ain’t normal.
America has 35 million acres of lawn, and that doesn’t count golf courses or street medians. We could feed everyone in this country if we planted a good chunk of that in veggies and fruit. Urban farms and Community gardens need to be a key part of how we reclaim our food system. I’ve started a couple of community gardens, I’d like to share the basic steps so others who might be thinking along the same lines can have some starting points.
Find land – This is both the easiest part, and the hardest part. There’s no shortage of land being under-used in most towns. The problem comes when you try to figure out who owns that land, or when you try to approach land owners with propositions for growing swiss chard. Some owners are scared of the liability. Some have visions of rodents and weeds. Some have visions of high money real estate deals and don’t want to admit that their “prime lot” is going to sit there covered in weeds for the next 5 years at least. Solutions to this vary, depending on where you live. In the last large city I lived in, enough people went to the city council that they created a job for someone to oversee community gardens; get them started, making sure access to water and storage and mulch are all taken care of, act as emissary between the gardeners and the city, etc. So, that person became the go-to for anyone wanting to start or expand a community garden. Here in the rural part of NW Iowa, I’ve noticed that a lot of community gardens are on church owned property. Including the garden I’m currently a part of. It’s not my church of course, I’m not the church type anymore, but I had been in touch with enough locals, explaining my wish of starting a local Community Garden, that when the subject came up, people passed my name and number to the nice old ladies who were starting the project. It was a great match, they were looking for someone with experience starting Gardens, and I was looking for another garden to start. They didn’t care that I wasn’t a congregant in their church, and I didn’t care if they wanted to pray over the tomatoes. 😀 I know some community gardeners who just started knocking on their neighbors’ doors until they had enough land to start planting. Don’t even get me started on Guerrilla Gardening, that’s a post all by itself.
Find people – Keep telling enough people that you want to start a garden, or have started a garden, and word of mouth will eventually get the word out, especially if you live in a small community. Local bulletin boards can be a place to post invites to join if you need more gardeners. Local blogs can help spread the word, as can county extension offices. (Iowa isn’t the only one that does county ag offices right?) The garden itself is a good advertiser. Especially if it can be seen from the road. Make sure you have signage telling passerby’s the basics of the garden, with some sort of contact information so if they are interested in joining, they have a way to do that.
Find seeds – Lots of seed companies will send you boxes of free seed if you write in and explain your need. Usually it’s old seed, stuff leftover from the previous growing season. Most of it is still good seed though, but with a whole batch of new seed ready to go out, they are usually happy to see the old stuff go to a good home and a worthy cause. Seed Savers comes to mind, with their Herman’s Garden program. Local market farmers often have leftover transplants, if they know they need 75 tomato plants, they’ll usually grow closer to a hundred. I’ve seen donations every spring, of everything from tomatoes and peppers to flowers and such.
Any other community gardeners among our readers? Any thoughts on how you got started? Any tips or tricks to pass along?
What about the rest of you? Any questions or hurdles you can’t seem to get past?
Food doesn’t grow itself.
– Calamity Jane