Community Gardening: What We’ve Learned Part 1

Last year we joined a community garden to grow our own organic produce.  I am a country girl at heart who currently lives in a city-bound apartment, so the simple fact of having earth to work made me giddy.  We started in July in the middle of the hottest summer in Texas.  Even with the furnace-like heat, it was a successful season of learning with plenty of produce to show for our efforts.

Community gardens are different from location to location.  Some are organic and some conventional.  Some very structured and others “anything goes.”  While I cannot speak to your specific options available in your area, here are some things we have learned about why community gardening is right for our family.

We save money on organic produce.  Last summer and fall we harvested organic watermelon, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts.  We pay a yearly fee for each plot we plant.  This fee would not even cover the water that we use for our crops much less the organic produce that we harvest throughout the year.  It’s definitely a money-saving venture for us.

My children are learning a life skill.  Our kids are definitely partners on our little “farm.”  They plant seeds and seedlings.  They weed and water.  They are constantly on the lookout for new blooms and fruit forming.  They are the best hunters for all the little pests that love our garden plants as much as we do.  The kids love to help harvest each little veggie or fruit that comes along.  They get to see the life cycle of each plant we care for from beginning to end.  I can definitely say that vegetables taste better when you appreciate them more by growing them yourself.  Hopefully, they will be able to use these skills to feed their own families and neighbors in years to come.

We have fed the hungry and blessed our neighbors.  We donate at least 25% of our community garden produce.  This has allowed us to share with local charities that feed the hungry.  We have also shared much of our bounty with neighbors when a particular plant just kept on producing after we’ve had our fill (think zucchini ALL SUMMER LONG!).

Collaboration means we share the work and the rewards.  Because we work with a community of gardeners we all share in many of the labor-intensive aspects of  the garden.  We collectively produce the compost.  We depend on different people’s connections for sources of mulch and manure (and the trucks to transport these supplies).  We’ve even received gifts from big home improvement stores to help develop our raised beds and provide much needed tools.  This sense of community accomplishment allows us each to offer a part of the puzzle that leads to successful gardening for the entire group.

Water costs in a backyard garden can be prohibitive.  Unless you have rain barrels it can be very expensive to provide the water for even a small backyard garden.  And rain barrels don’t do much when you are experiencing a long-term regional drought.  In our community garden, the property owners have a special relationship with the city which gives them a huge discount on the water bill.  Many locations have adopted this green initiative to encourage more community garden developments around the country.

Plenty of room with full sun coverage is a luxury.  As I said, we live in an apartment.  While we do have a small container garden, there are certain items you can’t easily grow in containers.  And a container garden to feed a family of seven would be a sight to see!  This is not just an issue with apartment-dwellers.  Many homeowners don’t have much full sun coverage area in their yards to take advantage of.  A community garden plot can be a solution.

We listen and learn.  Our community garden is made up of members of different ages and backgrounds.  Some have gardened for decades and others are just excited to get started on this journey.  This offers us the opportunity to learn from each other and share our experiences.  Sharing is good for the teacher and the student.  It’s good to be able to pass on information to eager beginners.  It’s also a great position to be in to learn from those with more knowledge that are generous enough to share it with you for free.  While gardening books are a great resource, there is no price that can be put on real life gardening experience for your climate and zone.

Last year we started with 1-100 sq. ft. plot at the community garden.  This year we have expanded to three plots.  I am hoping with the variety of plants we put in the ground this year to be able to feed my family from the garden for weeks at a time.

Next, I’ll share some things we’ve learned that make community gardening a real challenge.

Do you take part in a community garden?  What is your favorite aspect of your community gardening experience? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Beth is a wife to Mike and mother to their five children who range in age from toddler to teen. She spends her days doing school and her nights doing laundry. Saving money in the meantime helps. Beth is learning how to live organically now in the hopes of one day being a successful homesteader.

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