DExecuting the Plan
Choosing Target Neighborhoods
The mayor’s office identifies the neighborhoods where community gardens can have the most impact (e.g., areas where grocery stores and fresh produce markets are not available). Look for densely populated areas of the city, such as apartment housing zones, as these residents may be in greater need of a communal gardening space than residents with backyards. Choosing a location near a school increases the opportunities for partnership and engagement with the teachers, students, and families connected to the school. Map grocery store locations across the city and note any zones where stores are not within walking distance, paying special attention to those zones where poverty is high. These neighborhoods are most likely to have the greatest benefit from Let’s Grow. When prioritizing target locations, consider whether there is access to public transportation, which can make it easier for volunteers to commute to and from the site, and site topography, as hills can pose a challenge for gardening.
Coordinating City Agencies and Services
The mayor’s office coordinates the available services of city agencies such as the department of public works, parks and recreation department, urban development or planning department, waste management, water and sewer department, and USDA extension office to establish a community garden initiative. These agencies can offer insight into existing garden-related programs and resources in the city, and can provide services critical to establishing the garden initiative such as:
- Identifying public land or vacant lots available for community gardening;
- Facilitating the permitting process to secure the land for such use;
- Advising on local growing conditions, including soil testing;
- Ensuring access to water;
- Helping to secure materials such as hose bibs, compost bins, raised garden plots, seeds and seedlings, soil and mulch, a tool shed, garden tools and supplies, and fencing; and
- Providing trash removal services.
The mayor’s office can serve as a liaison between community garden stakeholders and city agencies.
Identifying Local Partners
Community garden initiatives require ongoing administration and maintenance. Most successful community gardens have rules that cover the use of resources, conditions for membership, plot assignment and management, alcohol and other community use policies, pesticide use, tool sharing, maintenance, and distribution of harvests. Should a mayor’s office not have the capacity to fully manage the initiative, it may want to partner with community organizations that can support the administration and maintenance of the gardens.
Some best practices from around the country demonstrate the importance of partnerships. For example, the Mayor’s office in Kansas City, Kansas is partnering with Community Housing of Wyandotte County. This group is responsible for building and managing the garden as well as recruiting neighborhood residents and other volunteers to support the garden. In Phoenix, Arizona, the Mayor’s office depended upon many strong partners, particularly HandsOn Phoenix and the Valley Permaculture Alliance, for volunteer recruitment, garden design, and garden maintenance. In Little Rock, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service provides expertise in locating garden spots, understanding planting and irrigation requirements, and supporting composting and the need for beneficial insects to suppress undesirable bugs that harm the plants.
Any community garden initiative requires land suitable for gardening, access to water, gardening supplies, equipment, and funds for the garden to be established and maintained. There are four key requirements for a suitable garden site: sufficient space for garden plots, abundant sunlight, healthy soil, and access to water. Too much water may pose a challenge, so be mindful of sites that flood easily. Community gardens can be hosted on a variety of land types, including vacant property, alleyways, parks, and school grounds. Many cities work closely with their municipal land banks to identify appropriate parcels of land that can be repurposed for gardening.
Some jurisdictions may also need to address issues such as leasing and insurance to secure the property.7 In instances where gardens require liability insurance – which may carry high fees that could preclude community-based organizations from starting community gardens – local partners may be able to help.
In Let’s Grow gardens, the core group of volunteers should be from the local community. At least one community-based volunteer should serve as the Garden Lead to help recruit, coordinate, and manage other volunteers for the garden. Volunteers are responsible for tasks as easy as lending a watchful eye over gardening activities and as intense as daily garden administration and maintenance. They and other volunteers can support the community garden initiative in a variety of ways:
- Site design and development
- Site cleanup
- Planting the garden
- Garden maintenance (e.g., weeding)
- Harvesting garden produce
- Garden administration
- Marketing and outreach
- Training on how to plant and maintain gardens
Youth can be excellent volunteers: younger children can assist in basic tasks like weeding, while older youth will benefit from exposure to tasks with more responsibility like tending to the garden. Ideally, the local partner will engage parents as well as their children in supporting the community garden. Community members with gardening experience can be valuable trainers; local experts in landscaping and gardening might be willing to donate their time as well.
Fundraising For Let’s Grow
Let’s Grow is a compelling funding opportunity for local foundations and corporate partners interested in increasing access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods where grocery stores and fresh produce markets are scarce. Many of the materials needed for fresh fruit and vegetable gardens can be secured through cash donations or in-kind donations of equipment, materials, gift cards, or services from local sponsors
A proposal to a local or national sponsor would typically include:
- An overview of the Let’s Grow initiative
- Information on how this initiative would increase access to healthy, fresh produce and positively impact the local community (e.g., number of individuals with increased access to fresh produce, increase in community wellbeing)
- Amount of funding requested and a description of how those funds would be used (e.g., paying for seeds, gardening supplies, or tools)
- Metrics that would be collected to assess progress
- Information on Cities of Service (this is especially helpful for national funders)
- Description of a recognition plan for the donor (e.g., logo on printed materials, branding on the city’s service website)
Be sure to provide sponsors with feedback on the results, including photos and metrics information about the positive impact of Let’s Grow.
Recognizing and Thanking Volunteers
Recognizing volunteers for their contributions to building and maintaining a community garden helps motivate them to stay involved. Consider sending thank you letters or providing updates to volunteers on the impact of the initiative (e.g., photos, number of citizens who now have access to healthy produce, amount of fruits and vegetables produced in Let’s Grow gardens). Thank you letters should also request that volunteers stay involved in maintaining gardens in future growing seasons. Volunteer recognition events at a community garden also offer mayors an opportunity to publicize the initiative’s impact, speak to the importance of eating a nutritious diet, and make a call to action for citizens to get involved by starting gardens in their own neighborhoods as part of Let’s Grow.