Not Just in My Back Yard
Spring is just starting here in central New England. The daffodils are starting to appear. Pear Kun has lots of buds. The rhubarb is racing out of the ground. I am carefully plotting and planning what I will plant where in the Food It Yourself garden. Mr. Food It Yourself and I will probably start some seeds this weekend, also. Beyond planning my own garden, I am working with some pretty amazing people in my community get more locally-grown fruits and vegetables to more people.
An Eagle Scout candidate in the worship community to which I belong needed a project; he ultimately offered to build the congregation a community garden. That is fantastic, because several of us in the congregation want to start a community garden. I have volunteered to run a rototiller over the ground. Another congregant is loaning some extra hand tools. Our Soon-To-Be-Eagle is organizing his fellow scouts to build and fill the raised beds.
Why start a community garden? It gives people who lack the space, experience, or financial resources to garden at home the opportunity to grow things. Extra produce can be given to food pantries, soup kitchens, or shelters. They pretty-up the neighborhood (especially if you are taking over a vacant lot). There really is no down side to starting a community garden. Here are some really good resources if this idea has piqued your interest:
- Here is a great list of questions community garden organizers can ponder prior to breaking ground. It was formulated by the Agricultural Extension of Texas A&M.
- University of Missouri has an amazing PDF tool kit for community garden planning.
- The USDA has this highly practical garden planning guide. It even has suggestions for what crops to grow.
We are playing our community garden by ear, to a great extent. What will we plant? Will we ask congregants to donate extra seeds and seedlings? Will there be gardening and nutrition lessons in the congregation’s nursery school? All these questions and more still remain. However, what I know we have is a dedicated group of people who want to grow yummy things. The details will be worked out in due time.
But, what if there simply is no plot of land for you to till into a shared garden? What if you cannot get a group together to sponsor and sustain a community garden? Not a problem, because there is yet another way you can share your home-growing skills with your neighbors. The Agricultural Commission in my home town (of which I am a member) has decided to promote a “Grow and Extra Row” program. We are encouraging gardeners in our town to grow just a little more than they usually do and to donate the extra to our town’s food pantry. It’s like sneaking zucchini on to your neighbors’ porches, but on a larger scale (and not sneaky).
There are plenty of resources on-line for this type of event, also. The most important thing you can do is make sure your target recipient can take fresh produce. Some food pantries and group meal sites do not have the space to store fresh produce. Or, they may be able to accept long-keeping foods (potatoes, apples, citrus fruits, winter squash) but not highly perishable ones (lettuce, tomatoes, grapes). I am not sure if every state prohibits the donation of home-canned foods, but I know Massachusetts does. Make sure you know what can be donated before you ask for donations.
We are very lucky that our local pantry has an ample refrigerator. They did ask that we collect donations close to their distribution date, though. (They distribute on the third Tuesday of each month, so we will collect fruits and vegetables on the Sunday before.) We are planning to collect produce in August, September, and October. If you choose to organize this kind of food collection, keep in mind the peak harvest times in your area.
Due to the pandemic, gardening has become very, very popular in the US of A. Unfortunately, the pandemic has also tanked the economy, leaving more of our neighbors in need of assistance and fewer able to provide donations. Community gardens and fresh produce donation programs can help everyone get the fruits and vegetables they need. Have you ever used your DIYet skills in service to your community? Share your story in the comments section!