A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How Big Should a Sharing Garden Be and Where Should It Be Located?

There is no one, right answer to this question. Here are things to consider:

Volunteers in the Monroe Garden
How much volunteer help can you count on for your first season? Better to take on a small plot and have a successful first year than to start out too big and have a stressful, disheartening experience.

Water: You can't have a garden without water. Be clear on who will pay for it. Will the Garden need to raise funds for this or will it be donated by the property owner?

Full sun: Be sure your site is not shaded by trees or buildings, especially in the Autumn when you need the sun to ripen your fruits and vegetables. Twelve hours of sun a day is needed for tomatoes, squash, corn, peppers and other sun-loving crops.

Soil quality: Is the site you are considering located in an industrial area where chemical residue may be a problem? Has the site accumulated a lot of trash, broken bottles or other hazards that would require a significant clean-up effort before you could begin to plant? As long as the ground is not trashy or toxic, the quality of the soil can be amended with the addition of organic fertilizers, compost and other organic materials.

Hay delivery to mulch the Monroe garden - we used seven tons, in one season, for a garden 110' x 170'
Access: You will need to be able to bring large quantities of organic material: leaves, hay/straw, grass clippings and other types of mulching to your garden site. Is it easy to drive a truck with a trailer close by?

Fencing: If you have a rural site, you will need fencing to keep the deer and rabbits from getting into your garden. We don't have experience yet with an urban setting. At a minimum, it seems that it would be useful to have a fence to prohibit cats and dogs from wandering into your Gardens. As for keeping people out...we have heard many stories of people stealing from Community Gardens that have multiple, separate plots. Sharing Gardens are meant to provide food for those in need. If you have signs that make it clear that the Gardens are meant to serve people "in need" and offer guidelines such as, "Only take what you can use," or "Please no more picking, we're saving these for seed," you will probably have much less problem with vandalism than other Community Gardens sometimes do. The Free Farm in San Francisco does not make their gardens open for harvest at all times but brings their produce to the Free Farm Stand at regular times each week and distributes their bounty in an orderly fashion at that time. I do not know if they have had trouble with vandalism or stealing.

Close to where you live. As the coordinator of the project, you need the Gardens to be close to where you live. Ideally, within walking or bicycle-riding distance. At certain times of the season you may need to go to the Garden every day. If your travel time (or expense) is too much, your Gardens will suffer.

Close to a Food Bank or other place to distribute your surplus: Our garden site in Monroe is beautifully situated between the town's Grade School and Food Bank. We are able to coordinate harvest times to coincide with when the Food Bank is open and bring the food in wheelbarrows directly from the garden to the people! This aspect of the garden's location is a bonus but not actually essential.

Electricity: Not essential but it can be handy. Of the two Gardens we started in Alpine and Monroe, one has power and the other one does not. Both are successful, productive gardens.

If you are having difficulty finding one large plot that meets the essential criteria outlined above, see if you can find a handful of friends who want to make a Sharing Gardens network. You can each garden your own backyard plot, arrange to "volunteer" in each others gardens, share in the harvest and give your surplus to those in need.

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