It occurred to me today, while I was harvesting tiny cherry tomatoes and tufts of parsley, that I haven’t written a garden update in months. This is quite a change from the first few months I had my plots: I took photos of virtually every change: sprouts peeking through the soil, leaves unfurling, vines climbing. I celebrated each pea pod and jalapeno as though it was the first I’d ever seen. And why not? I’m growing some of my own food! A feat that would hardly be possible without my two little community garden plots.
I’ve always thought the idea of community gardens was a great one, but having now experienced one first-hand, I’m a total convert. I wish every neighborhood, subdivision, and city block could have one. Many of you probably don’t have a community garden easily accessible to you… but many of you might. And if you have any interest in learning to grow a little food, I highly recommend you join.
Need some convincing? Well. I can talk all day about why community gardens are great. But these, certainly, are the top ten perks.
In no particular order:
It’s Really, Really Affordable
Every garden is a little different, but most charge “plot-owners” a small monthly or annual fee for space in the garden. The fee at my garden is almost mind-bogglingly small: $12-$25 per year. Per. Year. The garden is funding, primarily, from grants, donations from local garden clubs, and the North Carolina State Extension Office. Many of the seeds and seedlings that we plant are provided by fellow gardeners with greenhouses, and rich compost is donated to the garden a couple times a year. Aside from stakes and cages for vines and tomatoes, my out-of-pocket costs have been almost non-existent.
Our garden has a shed full of shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, and gardening gloves. We have an onsite well with hoses long enough to reach all corners of the garden. The entire garden is encircled by a deer fence. Do you have any idea how much it would cost to buy those things just for me? Neither do I. But I know it’s A LOT. Sharing supplies not only saves each gardener lots of money, but the benefit to all of us is greater than what we could afford on our own.
There’s No Better Place To Learn
I’m a frequent victim of my own overly-ambitous plans, so I appreciate that my 4’x10′ plots keep me in check. These small plots are large enough to grow a variety of foods, but small enough that they are easily manageable. Plus, and I know this sounds awkward, the relatively small financial investment helps me deal with my failures a little more easily. I just brush off my slightly-bruised ego, replenish the soil, and put something else in the ground to see how it works instead.
Speaking of learning: I consult a lot of web forums, gardening books, and blogs for info on growing food. But the best sources of info, hands down, are my fellow gardeners. Many of them have been growing food for decades, both in small gardens and in vast fields. And here’s the truly amazing thing: after just a year, I sometimes surprise myself when I am able to answer the questions of gardeners even newer than me.
I’ve frequently heard growers lament the fact that summer vacations are virtually impossible. Plants must be harvested, watered, and weeded every day or two from the day the seeds go in the ground. Lucky for me, there are two dozen other people who garden within feet of my plots, and a quick e-mail to our listserv ensures that my plants won’t die while I take a two-week vacation in July.
A Daily Dose of Outside
A day in the box office can be stressful. Phones might ring off the hook, deadlines rapidly approach, and it’s shocking how much one nasty customer can ruin your day. But at the end of each day, I can take a few minutes outside. A few minutes to take care of my plants, to listen to the birds and crickets flitting about the garden, and to put in just a bit of physical labor dragging hoses all over the place after spending all day at a desk. I won’t lie, there are some days I wish I could just go straight home, but after arriving at the garden, I’m always grateful I didn’t skip the trip.
This should really go without saying, but it’s definitely a major reason I love my community garden. I’ve been tracking my harvests, and to estimate their values, I’ve been comparing the harvests to what I would pay for the same thing at the farmers markets. The results are staggering. In 80 square feet, I’ve harvested almost $500 worth of produce since January. Fresh, organically grown, produce. In addition to the food I’ve planted myself, we have a giant wall of blackberry bushes along the fence, and blueberries as well. A fig tree planted this year should fruit within just a few seasons. These fruits, impossible to grow in each owner’s plot, are available to all of us.
The Sense of Accomplishment
Or really, it’s the actual accomplishment. There’s nothing quite like the excitement of cultivating a plant from a tiny seed to a mature, vegetable-producing machine. Or the thrill of pulling up garlic that’s been in the ground for eight months to discover that IT WORKED. Yeah, there are failures (I’ve lost my zucchini plant two years in a row), but successes have far-outweighed the failures.
I joined my garden when it was very young. It still is. But our collection of plots occupies a tiny corner of a large plot of land, and the plans for the future of the garden are incredible. An orchard, a demonstration garden, an outdoor pavilion for garden meetings and celebrations, more plots for even more gardeners to grow… I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
I sought out a community garden because I thought it was the best way I could grow food while I was living in an apartment. And it is. However, I was not expecting to so enjoy thecommunity part of that garden. I look forward to our monthly garden meetings as much as any other social gathering. It’s great to see a friendly face or two when I’m out watering, to hear about their plots, and to swap some produce if each of us has something extra. We celebrate together as a group, collaborating on harvest dinners and volunteer days. We struggle together against colonies of ants, vicious squash bugs, and a wily groundhog. We learn together how to help tomatoes survive the heat and how to pickle okra.
Community gardens are catching on. Empty lots in urban areas are being reclaimed and now flourish with flowers and vegetables. If you do have one near you, seriously: check it out. See how long the wait list is. Or be really bold: join up with your neighbors and see about starting one of your own! I do hope that someday, I’ll have enough space that I can garden at my house, with more space, to grow even more of my own food. But at the moment, I couldn’t ask for a better deal.