The Negatives of a Running a Community Garden

GardenBuffaJuly 18, 2011

I am in charge of a fairly large community garden. I thought I would post some of my experience in regards to it. I live in the city of Buffalo and there was a lot of land next to my house that was torn down for parking. The block club was assured this house wouldn't be torn down but was. After the parking lot was shot down by the city I attempted to purchase the land from the authority that owned it assuming since they couldn't have their parking lot it would be of no use to them. After being turned down, as they are probably waiting for the right time to build a parking lot again, we got Grassroots Garden of Buffalo involved and are on a 5 year lease for our community garden.

People love the thought of coming together for the community and people love planting plants and coming by once a year to do so. What people won't show up to do is weekly watering, mowing, or weeding. It's not fun and the results, while important, are not nearly as rewarding. Do not be surprised by this nor do not take it personal. Unless you have a core group of people that you know it just will not happen but fall on you alone or a few people.

People will come along and build a flower bed, or plant a tree, or plant a plant in the stupidest most inconvenient spots and then never return to care for it. Say there is a narrow heavily used path in your garden. Do not be surprised when someone comes along and plants a tree smack in the middle of this path.

If you plant vegetables and other edibles do not expect to reap the rewards. Say you have a squash plant that you water every day, pick the beetles and smash them, and tend to it for months. Then when it comes time to pick that squash that you've been watching since it was a mere flower and BAM your neighbor "who has been waiting for those squash all summer" gets to them first while putting no work in. It's frustrating so if you can't deal with this happening don't plant them.

Do not leave anything behind. If you leave any garden equipment do not be shocked when someone takes it. Now you may be thinking to yourself "bums, crackheads, thieves!!!" Well I hate to break this to you but it is other gardening folks who are taking it. If a crackhead thief was to wonder into a garden he will not be selective, he will take everything. But if a shovel and a nice pair of pruners are next to each other and someone takes the pruners and leaves the shovel it is probably another gardener taking your stuff.

People will take plants. Some people will tactfully divide a nice looking hosta so you won't even notice. Others times people will take a giant chunk of your hosta and leave you a straggling piece if it. Other times people will take the entire darn thing. Do not plant anything expensive or unique.

Do not plant fussy or invasive plants. Community gardens need to get to a point where they can take care of themselves until you can get to them. If you plant plants that spread and put them next to other less aggressive plants but don't want to pull then expect a bed full of goose neck loose-strife. You want to plant that water hungry plant but miss a week expect it to die in July.

With that being said on the polar opposite side of that you also want plants that fill in nicely so you don't have to put money into mulch or you will be weeding a lot.

Do not spend too much of your own money but rely on non profits, people, and other community gardens for divides and donations. In the beginning we took any and everything. Those ditch lilies everyone has? We'll take. After a while after there was no more room you turn them down and start working of variety.

Do not take anything with out examining it to the core. We've had people donate iris infected with iris borers, peonies intertwined in bishops weed, roses that had clumps of bindweed. If you let these things in they can spread everywhere and it ends up being more work than its worth.

If you plan on a community garden you have to be weary of these pit falls. A community garden is supposed to be for the community and if you over whelm yourself with the work of it you will probably end up abandoning it. Good luck!

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I think you may be referring to a different kind of communty garden than the ones we establish around here. Here, they are mainly for vegetable use. Everyone has their own plot, so whatever they grow, they are responsible for watering/weeding.

I have been a member of one for six years and am in the process of starting a new one in my neighborhood. I definitely don't think running it is easy, but maybe you will find some of our rules useful..

-gardeners pay a $40 deposit. if they leave their plot in good condition, they receive the deposit back. if they leave it full of weeds and bugs, it becomes a 'clean up fee' (donated back to the garden fund to purchase tools or seeds) and is cleared at the next work day.

-everyone has their own plot. they are only allowed to plant plants in their designated spots, and they are the only ones responsible for those plants, and the only ones allowed to harvest.

-gardeners must sign an agreement/contract...they must put in 2 hours of service per month, and they must keep their plots and pathways tidy. if plot is unkept for 2 months, they must surrender their plot.

-garden manager usually organizes one workshop per month, sometimes less depending on the heat (it can get to be 90 by 10am during july and august!)

-our tools are bought with garden members' dues. we keep them locked in a shed, and usually have the shed open weekends while more than one garden manager is out there (when most garden members are out there working). members can bring their own tools out if they want to work outside of weekends, but it is always recommended you label them and don't leave them behind.

-we have a spring and fall potluck/social. it's BYOB and everyone brings something. if there isn't a burn ban, we have a fire. sometimes at these socials, we will have a farmer from the area come and give a talk about something relevant to the season (for example, we plant garlic in fall, so the fall social will be about garlic. we have the social right at planting time, buy a few heads of garlic with garden money, that way people can plant them right away). it gets people more involved and willing to try planting stuff that they dont normally plant. also, at these socials, we have people bring extra seeds for swapping.

-at the one work day per month, if there isn't any major weeding or garden work to tackle, we will have a workshop. The possibilities/topics are endless. Have an expert in the area come talk about companion planting, composting, etc.

...hope this helps with some ideas, ways to tackle common problems. though i will say, it is hard to depend on people. it is very true that there a few you can rely on, outside of that, it's iffy. some people are just crappy workers. maybe bring refreshments for a work day, or pair a workday with an informational talk/workshop/seed swap.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 4:03PM
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I also think that the negative experience is a result of running the garden as a collection of shared beds instead of a collection of beds assigned to individual gardeners. I manage a garden with 100 different gardening families and we don't have gardeners stealing from each other, nor having confusion about who grew which plants, nor abandoning things they planted. I have several gardeners who left other community gardens because they were ran that way, though. I have yet to come across someone who had a good gardening experience in that kind of community garden.
I can honestly tell you that of our 96 plots, two were planted then abandoned, and they were assigned to new gardeners within 24 hours of the initial gardener admitting to the abandonment. We also have never had things planted in stupid places - but ours is a raised-bed garden on cement so it would literally be impossible to do so.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 12:58AM
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I agree with leahsurfer and would say it this way: If you run the garden professionally, with plots assigned to specific gardeners and with contracts in place with every gardener, and with a deposit, you will NOT have abandoned plots nor will you have people taking other gardener's produce. If you run the garden all willy-nilly, with no designated planting beds and no hard rules, you will get walked all over and end up exhausting yourself. My advice is professionalism: Treat every gardener the same, make your expectations clear at gardener orientation, have written clear and precise rules, have signed agreements that you adhere to, and don't do communal beds!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 1:04AM
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I am in a community garden and we have both a communal plot and individual plots and that seems to work well once in a while ur veggies still get poached but such is life I always plant way more then I need and share anyway so it works out

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 10:36AM
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I am in a community garden and we have both a communal plot and individual plots and that seems to work well once in a while ur veggies still get poached but such is life I always plant way more then I need and share anyway so it works out

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 10:42AM
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We run monthly work days but I have noticed a lot more chatting than actual working however I guess for the most part our garden works out same system as above individual plots each person responsible for own plot. Some plots seem to never get planted or tended though.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 11:32AM
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We just started garden out here but it's painful. Most of the gardeners are new to community gardens. I'm not new.

Don't let the public into the garden.

The pilfering has started. I am going to use fake tomatoes with a wireless sensor to stop pilfering. About $20 with a magnetic sensor (GE or some such) and a fake plastic tomato.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 2:01AM
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Hello, I am writing a story about community garden difficulties and disputes for Modern Farmer magazine. I would love to speak with anybody who has relevant experience. Please contact me:

Here is a link that might be useful: Modern Farmer

    Bookmark   August 2, 2013 at 11:12AM
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I just started as a community garden manager and tripped over this thread. Thank you all for the great list of pitfalls to avoid! Forewarned is forearmed and all that.

Anyway, I saw that Jesse's article mentioned above was published, and thought others might want to take a look at it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Thievery, Fraud, Fistfights and Weed: The Other Side of Community Gardens

1 Like    Bookmark   October 11, 2014 at 11:00PM
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