Community gardens promote healthy communities and provide food security for many low income persons. In an urban setting, community gardens are part of the open space network. The gardens and those who participate in community gardening contribute to the preservation of open space, provide access to it, and create sustainable uses of the space. Community gardens strengthen community bonds, provide food, and create recreational and therapeutic opportunities for a community. They can also promote environmental awareness and provide community education.
How to Start a Community Garden on a Vacant Lot
A vacant lot can be transformed into an asset from an eyesore – with a little vision
Many people move to the suburbs because there is lots of open space for children to play, for people to plant gardens of flowers and vegetables and enjoy a healthy, beautiful environment as well as improved property values. Cities have open space, too, but the problem is that much of it is neglected. Open space in cities can be every bit as beautiful and useful as open space in the suburbs. In addition to the vacant lots, there are parkways, common areas, school yards, commercial and industrial strips, and even parking lots. All of these areas can be improved with plantings and maintenance making your city a more beautiful, and even safer, place to live, work and raise children.
Here is a brief outline of what is involved when people are trying to decide how to improve a piece of land for open space.
Step 1. Organize
Organize a meeting with people who can or should care about a garden. Help them to understand what work is involved in starting and caring for a garden and start right away to work to gain their commitment to the project.
Step 2. Decide on the Garden Goals
A. Do neighbors prefer a sitting garden, a vegetable garden? Raised beds or plantings directly in the ground, if possible? Individually maintained plots or cooperatively managed garden? Does this seem like a spot for permanent open space or just a temporary beautification until something is built there?
B. Does the group want to own or lease the land to insure that it is protected as the desired open space? Ownership (or tenancy) is necessary in order to secure funding for improvements, which can be another goal..
C. Does the group want to seek funding and donations to work on the property? And are they willing to assume the long term responsibility for planting, maintenance and even potential liability for the site?
Step 3. Survey the Site
A. Is this the right place for a garden or other kind of development?
B. Does it have sun, access to water from a hydrant or neighboring building? Are the nearest neighbors interested? Will they help?
C. How is the site currently used? (a shortcut, sports, etc.) Will this project build on that current use, or interfere with that use? Which use does the group want to incorporate in the garden design?
Step 4. Research and Gather the Resources
Determine what resources are needed and available in and out of the community:
A. Create a list of items needed for the garden based on the design (ideas below) that includes tools, supplies, materials and services like tilling if necessary, fencing, water lines, lumber for beds and signs. Come up with a budget for these things and then see what you can get donated or funded. Survey your neighbors - you will be surprised what they can provide!
B. Seek cooperation from community groups and other organizations in the area.
C. Contact potential funders and partners. See what they can offer in terms of labor, money, materials. Don't leave out Cooperative Extension Service. They have extensive information on growing things and may even have resources or materials.
Be sure to check out the City of Orlando Neighborhood Grants Program!
D. Plant and gardening information and funding sources:
Find out more here to Get started guide from the American Community Gardening Association.
Step 5. Design the Garden
A. Draw a diagram of where each element should be
B. Research the kinds of plants and trees that do well in the city with low maintenance and add to diagram
C. Consider structures like benches, arbors, tables and art work like statues and murals
D. Be sure to include a compost area to collect plant refuse and to create your own garden fertilizer.
Step 6. Plan the Work to get the Project Started
Create a list of tasks and a schedule or time line and work out a system so that garden volunteers can do a share of the work. Look ahead a few years and think about how to phase in planting and building projects. Don't try to do everything the first year, but start with the "skeleton" of lot clearing, bed and soil installing, and a few plants in year one and build up from there.
One or two hours of volunteer work a week can accomplish a lot of planting and weeding and of course harvesting at the end of the summer and fun all season long!
Click here for a list of Florida friendly vegetables and their growing season.
Get Active Orlando Gardens
Nap Ford Community School
Parramore Community Garden
Festival Park Community Garden
Watch the Parramore Community Garden Grow!