Community gardens are a great way to meet your neighbors, get involved in your local community, and to grow some really yummy fruits and veggies on your own! There’s nothing better than skipping the expensive produce section because you have plenty of your own homegrown fruits and veg at home. What’s even better is that when you grow your food in a community garden, you know exactly where everything is coming from and how it’s been grown. As great as community gardens are, it’s important to remember that like any other community project, they require a bit of organization if they’re to run smoothly.
Too often, new community garden projects peter out after their first few years, because some community members get busy with life, and forget their responsibilities with the garden. This leads to a lot more work for other dedicated gardeners, and often a smaller yield. When gardens aren’t producing, and members feel resentful because they’re doing the lion’s share of the work, the community gardens aren’t functioning as they should. With a little bit of time and planning, you can easily organize a community garden where everyone feels satisfied with the amount of effort they’re putting in, and the crops they’re reaping as a benefit. Here are some tips to help you divide up the work in your community garden fairly.
First, Organize your Garden
The first step in making sure that work is shared evenly in a community garden is deciding how to divide up, and organize the garden. There are two basic community garden methods: individual plots, and a true communal garden.
Individual Plots: An individually plotted community garden divides up the gardening space into multiple plots, and allots one plot to each gardener. That gardener or family is responsible for the planting and care of their plot, as well as shared community garden spaces, but that’s all. Typically, each gardener pays for the size plot they’d like, and money from those fees goes to pay for land fees, water, and any necessary permits.
Communal Garden: Though often more difficult to organize fairly, in a true communal garden, all gardeners pool their resources and decide together what will be planted, and where. Then, everyone is collectively responsible for the entirety of the garden, and everyone shares all of the harvest. Often, this method will reap a larger variety of produce, but it can be more difficult to organize, because you have a number of people caring for one very large space. In a communal garden, every gardener interested in participating pays a membership fee that goes to paying for garden-related fees like seeds, plants, etc.
Both methods have their benefits and drawbacks, it’s just important to choose one before your garden gets underway this year. Once you know how the garden will be divided, it’ll be easier to create a community garden plan that works for everyone.
Create a Committee
Some community gardens benefit from an established volunteer committee. Creating a committee helps ensure that everything gets done, and assigns a specific person to key roles like treasury, property maintenance, etc. Check out this handy Community Garden Toolkit for ideas on how to set up your committee, and how to divide up the work. Keep in mind that it’s important to have clear job descriptions and estimated weekly time commitments. When you have dedicated committee positions, it’ll be easier to keep your garden organized and on track.
Make a To-Do List
Whether your garden is divided up by plot, or everyone’s sharing the space, there will be chores to do. It’s important that these chores are clearly lined out, and posted where every community gardener can read them. If you’ve created a committee, your property manager might be in charge of creating the to-do list, but everyone should weigh in to make sure no tasks are left out or accidentally forgotten.
Some community gardens opt for a chart that allows members to mark who watered the garden, and when, so that plants aren’t over or underwatered. Other options include a weekly chore chart that rotates, giving one gardener a different chore each week, like sweeping walkways, tidying up the compost area, or organizing the tool shed. Be sure to create different to-do lists for different times of the season. For example, in the spring, planting and watering will be key to-do items, while harvesting and weeding will be more important in the fall.
Split up work before the season begins
No matter what your to-do list looks like, it’s important that everyone knows who is doing what before the season starts. This helps eliminate any miscommunication, and it makes it clear what the expectations are, so your plants can prosper. If you’ve created set positions for everyone in the garden, it’s a good idea to remind people of how much time they’ve committed to each week, and divide up chores evenly between volunteers. If your community garden has individual plots, there will be less communal work to divide up, but if you’ve decided to have a true communal garden, it will be more important to ensure that all volunteers show up during times they’ve committed to.
To make sure everyone in your community garden is on the same page, it’s a good idea to organize a kick-off event. There, you can remind everyone of the general rules for your community garden, and you can teach newer gardeners basic gardening safety practices. This helps ensure that everyone can participate safely, without threat of injury from unfamiliar tools or chemicals.
Events are also a great way to bring everyone in the community together, especially if you have bigger projects that need to be tackled. Whether you need a tool shed built, or you plan on having one large harvest weekend, turning the work into more of an event can help boost participation, and ease the workload on everyone. Many hands make light work, so it’s a great idea to publicize and host regular work days to get some of the bigger projects accomplished, rather than letting all of the work fall on one leader.
Remember That Some People Will Drop Out
When you’re setting up a community garden, it’s always disappointing to see gardeners drop out halfway through the season, but it does happen. Whether they have kids and their summer gets busy with sports, or community gardening just ends up being more work than they planned on, someone almost always drops out of the community garden before the end of the year. Keep that in mind as you plan each person’s responsibilities for the year, and make sure that any extra work doesn’t fall consistently on the same people. This will help keep all of your gardeners happy, and reduce any potential resentment some gardeners may feel from having to pick up extra slack.
In the end, a community garden should be fun for everyone! With just a little bit of planning and organization before the season starts, you’ll be set up for a smooth year and a plentiful harvest later on. And if you’ve always wanted to be part of a community that believes in sustainability, be sure to check out the available properties at Couch Mountain. A mountain community in Asheville, NC, Couch Mountain provides all residents access to the spacious community garden and greenhouse. Check out photos of the Couch Mountain community here, or for more information, give the office a call at 866-936-5263 or send us a message online.