Did you hope to have a garden this season, but were unable to? Perhaps you simply don’t have the space or maybe your summer travels got in the way? Is it the lack of experience that has deterred you? Whatever the reason, if you are looking for an opportunity to dig into a garden this summer, consider volunteering at a community garden. Aside from the perks mentioned above: gardening space, flexible time commitment, and learning opportunities - participating in a community garden is an fun way to get to know your neighbors and deepen your involvement with the community.
SEEKING OUT A COMMUNITY GARDEN
Chances are, there may be more than one type of community garden in your town or city. The goals and structure of community gardens vary, so it's a good idea to do a little research before signing up to volunteer. Below are four common types, which may help you narrow your search:
- Donation Gardens The produce grown in these gardens are donated to local food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. These gardens typically have a garden manager who will delegate tasks to volunteers. The Lord’s Acre, in Asheville does just that!
- Neighborhood Gardens In this scenario, community members work collectively and share the harvest. The garden provides a space for residents to gather and connect. Falconhust Gardens in West Asheville and Shiloh Gardens in South Asheville are two examples of active neighborhood gardens.
- Allotment Gardens In allotment gardens, gardeners take on an individual plot. The site is typically maintained by the group. There may be a one-time or monthly fee. An example is the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden, which rents out 70 garden plots to community members. The membership fees supports educational programs and 10% of the food grown is donated to a food bank.
- Educational Gardens An educational garden is typically hosted by a school or organization with an interest in sustainable agriculture. These gardens usually have a farm manager or coordinator to guide volunteers. The food grown is usually sold to support the programs or donated. Roots Foundation supports garden programs at multiple Asheville schools.
* photo from Bountiful Cities
To find community gardens in your area, check in with your local food advocacy organization or cooperative extension office. Here in Asheville, we're fortunate to have Bountiful Cities, a non-profit committed to supporting the development and sustainability of Asheville's community gardens. On their website, they have mapped out over 50 located in and around the city: https://www.bountifulcities.org/gardens/. They’ve also created a volunteer form with a goal of connecting potential volunteers with the appropriate match: https://www.bountifulcities.org/volunteer-opportunities. If you don’t have access to a community garden and are passionate about starting one, the American Community Garden Association is an excellent resource and provides a list of 10 steps to starting a community garden.
Before you sign up with a garden, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few questions: what are your goals for joining a community garden, how much time are you willing to give, and what skills would you like to bring to the table? There is much to do, other than digging in the soil, for a community garden to function. Consider skills you’d like to offer in addition to, or instead of, physical labor. Grant writing, social media management, community outreach, volunteer recruitment, tool maintenance, and event planning are all ways you may be able contribute.
"We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously." -Grace Lee Boggs