Finding a Site
There is a diversity of successful community garden sites—the most important thing is that the site works for the community of gardeners who will manage it. Several important considerations need to be taken into account, however, when choosing a site for a community garden. Some have to do with location, others with the landowner.
Visibility. It’s beneficial to have the garden in a clearly visible location. Some of the most successful gardens are that way because they’re situated in a place where the community naturally gathers and thus serve as community gathering areas. Gardens that are tucked out of the way, in places people would never go otherwise, can prevent a garden from being used by the community and recognized as an asset.
It’s also important for safety reasons to locate the garden in a place where passersby can have “eyes” on the site, to discourage any unwanted behavior.
Access. In addition to being visible, the garden needs to be accessible to both gardeners and large vehicles such as delivery trucks. Think about parking, where the bus routes are, whether someone with limited physical mobility could enter the site, and whether a large truck trying to deliver compost could get to the garden. You may not be able to have all these things, but they are important to consider.
Sun. The vast majority of vegetables and fruits don’t do well without at least 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight daily. Look to the south for large buildings or trees that will shade the site. Some shade on the site can be nice relief on hot summer days. But a very shady site will be a challenge for growing vegetables.
The other major consideration when choosing a site is the landowner. Different types of landowners present different benefits and challenges to the garden—both in initial development and long-term stability. While many landowners are potentially willing to host a community garden, the differences between them most often boil down to the differences between public landowners, such as a city, and private landowners, such as a citizens' group or an agency like a church.
Some considerations that relate to the type of landowner include:
Water. There are three costs related to water. The first is access to a water meter—this can be one of the largest upfront costs. A public agency may be better able to pay for installation of a water meter than a private citizens’ group.
The second cost is installing pipes to convey water from the meter to the garden’s location, and then throughout the garden. This can often be done for relatively low cost. Public agencies often have staff qualified to do this work, or private citizens can do it with volunteer labor, but it helps to have a skilled volunteer.
The third cost is the ongoing cost of the water. No matter who the landowner is, gardeners are usually held responsible for the cost of the water they use throughout a growing season.
Insurance. Different types of landowners will have different requirements regarding insurance. If the owner is a public agency that’s used to insuring its public spaces, then treating the garden like a public space (and/or having gardeners sign a waiver) can often satisfy the agency's requirements. Churches or other land-owning non-profits are also familiar with the costs of insuring the land they own, and changes may not be necessary to turn parts of their land into a garden.
A private citizen, however, probably won’t want to buy additional insurance to let a group of gardeners use his or her land. In this case, it may be best to seek out a third party that would be willing to support the community garden by handling the insurance.
Access to resources. Different ownership structures may make you eligible for different resources to assist with building the garden. In general, it’s easier to access public dollars if the garden is on public land. Private dollars can be sought to develop a garden on either public or private land.
Next...Designing a garden