Plant a Seed, Grow a Community

What better way to integrate yourself into the great outdoors than to join a community garden? Or start your own?
By Cara Lucas


Let’s face it—spring is an inspirational season. It comes sprouting out of an icy-cold winter and incites motivation in all of us. We venture out of our cocoons and re-connect with the outdoors by opening windows, taking a stroll, and, for some, working in our gardens. Neighborhood gardens provide a fun way to obtain safe, pesticide-free food while cultivating a sense of community for people of all ages.
Getting Started
A community garden has a broad definition because, ultimately, you make it what it is. All you need are seeds, land, and a group of people! You can start a community garden anywhere, and it can be as small or large as necessary. Consisting of friends, neighbors, or local organizations, it could be in the city, in the country, or in a suburban neighborhood—the great thing about it is you can design it to your needs because it’s yours.
Minneapolis-based Dowling Community Garden planted its roots as one of many local “Victory Gardens” in a national effort to promote home gardening and to support our troops in World War II. Today, it still stands as one of the most notable and organized in the area, consistently boasting new projects and events to entice the involvement of the locals.
Joan Krey, a member of Dowling’s Garden Committee, is a 25-year community gardening veteran and has been a gardener at Dowling for 20 years. “I would suggest finding another community garden in your area and have them mentor you for a year. It’s important to think about your purpose, set your expectations, and educate yourself before getting started,” says Krey.
Some of Dowling’s goals are to promote sustainable gardening practices, share products with community organizations, and provide environmental education to gardeners. They have recently added wheelchair-accessible plots with raised beds for disabled gardeners to use and even taller ones for older gardeners with limited mobility. Adding to the community focus, Dowling donates excess produce to local food shelves and meal programs.
Getting Informed
The ACGA provides a wealth of information for those looking to learn about becoming involved in this upbeat subculture. They provide links to resources, training, and publications that can fill you in on everything you would ever dream to ask about community gardening.
Here are just a few topics you can learn about on their site:

  • FundingYou may not be prepared to front the money necessary to finance all of the materials needed to coordinate your garden. Check out ACGA’s website to find out how you can earn grants and fundraising for your new organization. They supply you with all you need to know including organizations’ names, who may apply, the amount of money to be awarded, the deadline, and contact information.

Benefits of “Greening”: Modern research has come far in finding measurable data that backs the benefits of people-plant interactions. Besides the obvious public beautifying benefits, gardening has health and environmental impacts that significantly affect one’s overall well-being.
Tips: You can find quick tips by following links to articles under ACGA’s “Learn” tab to find out anything you want to know, from how to organize volunteers for your garden to starting a garden at your school or university.
Getting Involved
By getting involved with a community garden, you can educate yourself not only on where fresh fruits and vegetables come from, but how to live a healthier lifestyle in general. Besides the obvious benefits of being pesticide-free, cultivating your own food can give you a sense of ownership, pride, and community as you work together with others in harvesting your garden’s goods. “I have developed some great friendships out there,” says Krey, who has learned how to grow a variety of foods from fellow gardeners.
In an adress made by Michelle Obama to the ACGA, the first lady references a class essay written by a school aged gardener of the White House community garden. He states, “I think about the garden project as a model for being gentle—gentle with nature, gentle with your body, and gentle with each other.” Experience the satisfaction that comes with reaping what you sow this spring—inspire yourself to start a community garden!