Community garden idea. Need some experienced insight.
So here's some background, before I get to my questions. I apologize if this turns into a novel:
I'm a science teacher at our town's high school. Among other things, I teach biology and experimental design, and we've been working in the experimental design class this year on some non-traditional gardening methods (that's just a small part of it). I have a garden at my house and we do well enough with it that we typically start the growing season off with plenty of stuff still canned from the year before. My wife and I have been talking about the idea of starting a community garden, and I mentioned the idea to my students a few weeks ago and they won't stop talking about it now!
Our county is large and rural. We are the only high school in the county, and over 65% of our students live below the poverty line. The elementary school down the street from us has a 93% poverty rate among their students. On the other hand, there are a lot of people in the county that have very progressive agricultural methods. For example, I've worked at a large, hydroponic greenhouse in town for the past two summers. It's interesting for sure, but he only sells commercially and not to the public with the exception of farmers' markets (which we have May - November). The problem there is that everything for sale at the farmers' market is so expensive, so a lot of people (myself included) don't shop there because we can't afford it when there's a grocery store a mile down the road with produce half the price. Like a lot of places, people might like the IDEA of locally-grown, organic produce, but can't necessarily afford it. I see a lot of families that have the choice of spending what little money they do have on groceries for an entire meal versus the same amount on a couple of tomatoes at the farmers' market....I get why they don't do it.
There are clear relationships between socioeconomic level and nutrition. It's obvious here, looking at the kind of crap some of these kids eat because it's all their parents can afford. Right now we're growing greens in our school's greenhouse (which is costing an arm and a leg to heat, so I doubt I'll be able to do this next year except during Fall and Spring) and I've got kids that have never wanted to contribute to anything in class excited over watching lettuce grow because they can't wait til the day comes when they can eat it. In the meantime they're asking if we can plant X, Y, and Z too because it's stuff they like (strawberries, peas, etc).
There's a good chance if we go forward with this that we can get some land donated to the cause and probably some materials too. I've got no idea if it would be usable land or if it'll be a parking lot somewhere. In looking around, I'm seeing that most community gardens are built with raised beds. IDEALLY, from what we've been talking about, I think it would be awesome to be able to use the community garden to help get some affordable (read "free") nutrition to families that need it if they want it.
Here's my question: Is that too much wishful thinking? It seems like most of the ones I've seen involve plots "rented out" or "assigned to" individual families to take care of their own thing. I think that would limit the scope of what we could potentially do with this because we'd only be doing something for, say, a dozen families (probably most of which would be my students anyway).
Is there a way to do this sort of thing on a bigger scale? I get why you'd want "assigned" plots per family...I mean if one family or person decides halfway through the year they don't care anymore, only their crop suffers and you don't get one dedicated person stuck doing all of the work for the entire garden. On the other hand, it seems limiting that way.... I dunno.
Sorry for the rambling thoughts...just trying to figure some stuff out.