How to start a community garden now! Yes Yes Yes!

How to start a community garden now! Yes Yes Yes!

Grow Your Own Zucchini Dreams!
An Un-Common-Sense Guide to Starting Your Own Community Garden
by Cathy Bussewitz and Aresh Javadi

Tired of eating genetically engineered food? Ready to grow your own peaches for breakfast? The community garden in your neighborhood may be the answer to your salad dreams. If your garden is filled for the season, as many are right now, you can request to have a space reserved for next fall or spring.

But if that’s too long to wait for your organic big apple bites, now is the time to dirty your hands planting the seeds of food revolution, and start your own community garden. Follow the steps below…your stomach will be happy you did.

Where can I plant? First, find your future garden. Once you’ve chosen a slice of land, you can find out who owns it by calling NYPIRG, or visiting www.cmap.nypirg.org or www.oasisnyc.net. In either of these sites, type in your zip code and you’re on your way. You should also talk to your local community board to determine whether there are immediate development plans. To find out which community board you are in, call the mayor’s office or visit www.nyc.gov/html/cau/html/cblist.html.

How do I start? If you want to play by the rules, talk to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and contact the city parks’ GreenThumb office for support. However, rather than talking to these agencies right away, we recommend the following program.

(1) Free the land. Buy bolt-cutters at the local hardware store and open the garden gates. Replace the lock with your own, and make extra copies of the key for your fellow future gardeners. Take pictures of the lot as it is, to document the beauty you bring.

(2) Plant the seeds in your community. Talk to your neighbors and care-taking residents of the block. Throw a party to clean out the trash and weeds from your new plot of land. Invite community groups and church groups to the event. Post fliers to attract as many people as possible.

(3) Beautify. Organizations such as Bronx Green-up and Brooklyn Botanical Garden can hook you up with free trees. GreenThumb will provide free plants after you have registered the garden, but you will have to do some planting in order to register. There are also mail-order nurseries which offer nice discounts. Don’t shy away from hitting up local nurseries for donations.

(4) Start the feeding frenzy. When planting fruits and vegetables, remember that city soil is toxic. If you want to test your soil to find out just how bad it is, contact the EPA or Green Thumb with your soil sample. Using bricks, stones, 2x8 planks, or your favorite found objects, shape and build your large planter. Fill it with clean soil, and plant the seeds. You’re on your way to better dinners!

• Decide the yummies you wish to plant, and follow directions on the seed pack.
• In the spring, April is a good time to plant long-growing vegetables like squash, tomato, peas, beans, herbs, watermelon, and corn.
• In the fall, plant bulbs for onions and garlic before the first frost.

(5) Sustain. Post a sign on the gates to tell others when the garden will be open, and invite members to get involved. Throw parties and cookouts, and take pictures. Invite schools to teach lessons in the garden. Donate a portion of the food to a food pantry or soup kitchen. Grow plants that will help alleviate asthma, like Mullen and Echinacea. Draft rules of membership. At your parties and plantings, invite everyone to sign a petition to make the garden permanent. Save photos and fliers in a garden portfolio.

(6) Make your garden permanent. Contact your community board, and get on the agenda for their next meeting. Win the approval of your council member by inviting him or her to your parties. Bring your portfolio, petition, and member lists to GreenThumb or the Trust for Public Land, to apply for permanent status. Contact More Gardens! Coalition at www.moregardens.org for their “How to Make Your Garden Permanent” book.

Enjoy your home-grown garden paradise!
To learn how to save your seeds to re-plant next year, visit www.seedtrust.com. For gardening tips, check out www.greenthumbnyc.org/links.html. Most importantly, as you’re plowing along on the way to healthier meals, share the trees, bees, and peas with your neighbors and friends. Gardens are for everyone. Take back the land!