Choosing a Community Garden Location

Questions to Ask When Deciding Where to Place a Community Garden

There are sites in every city that could become community gardens.  Vacant lots, street ends, railroad right of ways, abandoned park spaces, unused schoolyard areas, empty rooftops and more. Where can’t you find land that would more productive and environmentally improved by letting folks on it to raise their own food and flowers?

Community gardens come in all sizes. Smaller ones may fit into narrow leftover spaces such as the strip beside a schoolyard wall or a single unused city lot. These may be managed by half- dozen or so neighbors who lack their own space to grow things. In such cases the sites may well suggest themselves. Convenience and accessibility are the priorities guiding the search.

For a larger garden that can accommodate more people and more than just personal plots, take the time to find a place that will be good for you and for the area in years to come.  Context is king. Don’t just look at the site. You must take in everything around it as well.

Make sure it can provide trouble-free access for everyone whether they come by foot, bike, car, public transit or something else. Check the parking options and also see whether there’s room for trucks to drop of bulky deliveries such as loads of wood chips or manure.

You need sun. A minimum of six hours is recommended, but all day would be better. Check the surrounding vegetation and look into long-range municipal plans to make sure you won’t be heading into a shady future from maturing trees or new high-rise developments. 

Of course you want a site with fertile, dark, fluffy and well- draining soil. And people in Hell want ice water. Urban areas are known for having poor, degraded, unproductive soils. Yours will probably be no better. You’ll just have to improve it, over time, by adding plenty of organic materials. Start your compost system right away to get the cycle going.

When evaluating size requirements, don’t just total the dimensions of the plots. Make sure you have enough space for everything you hope to do, now and later. Think of what you’ll need for other features, perhaps an orchard, a herb garden, a picnic spot or a pond.  Anticipate future needs. If you’re popular and dozens more applicants show up, will there be room to expand?

Before you roam the city checking on places, prepare a check- list to be filled out at each site. That way you’ll have something to evaluate later once you’ve seen a dozen places and they all scramble together in your memory.

Your clipboard list might include answers to questions such as:

  • What’s the neighborhood like?
  • Does it changes at night?
  • Would gardeners feel comfortable going there alone?
  • Will theft and vandalism be issues?
  • Will fences are necessary?
  • Are there nearby schools, community centers or senior facilities that might hold potential partners?
  • What’s the history of land use on the site?
  • Is it easy to reach by public transportation, by bike, by car?
  • Are traffic patterns likely to change?
  • Is there room for parking and for trucks to make deliveries?
  • Does the site get adequate sunlight?
  • Will any nearby trees grow to shade the growing spaces?
  • Which way do the prevailing winds blow?
  • How’s the soil?
  • Will testing for contaminants be required?
  • Does the site drain adequately?
  • How much work will be involved in making the soil fertile?
  • Does the site have access to water?
  • Is there a master plan for the area that might affect the garden? 


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