Six things Staunton can teach us about community gardens

Sears-Bridge-2-1024x833Article by Allison Profeta/StauntonInsider.com

Fall has descended on Staunton.  Most gardeners are planning to put their gardens to bed in the coming weeks, however winter allows us the time to start planning for spring.  When your seed catalog arrives, bring it over to a neighbor’s house and consider planning a community garden!

Staunton has three community gardens of which I am aware.  The Sears Hill Community Garden, Burress Community Garden, and Newtown Community Garden all serve to make Staunton even prettier, while also fostering meaningful connections and friendships among residents.  I am thankful to have been given tours of Burress and Sears Hill by local Staunton fan Ed Scerbo, and found myself struck by the beauty and peace each garden brought to their neighborhood. Each garden is well cared for and you can’t help but recognize the symbolism found in its roots. I don’t think anyone would argue that the gardens represent our desire to plant similar deep, well-tended roots in our community in the hope that those roots help our families grow and flourish.

So, while cooped up during the winter months, think about planting your own roots.  Meet your neighbors and start planning your own community garden.  Here are some tips to help get you started and to keep in mind during the planning process:

  1. Where to plant: The first thing to consider is where you and your neighbors will plant the garden.  If one of you has some extra space that is easily accessible to neighbors, and is willing to offer it up for use as a community garden, you’re one step ahead.  However, if there is an empty lot or plot of land nearby that you are considering, be sure to first check with the owner(s) prior to digging.  Starting up, only to find out you have to relocate, can take the wind out of everyone’s sails. If you are unsure of who owns a particular plot of land, contact Staunton’s Zoning Department.
  2. Be sure to set goals: Garden participants and planners should talk about what the goals of the garden will be.  Do you want to donate all of the produce to a food bank?  Or perhaps just a percentage? Do you want to attract honeybees to the area? Do you want children on your block to learn something from the experience? Setting out with some clear goals in mind can help steer the planning process and keep everyone on the same page.
  3. Come up with a set of rules: Take the time to come to a consensus on rules prior to starting out. You don’t want the entire project to fall apart midway due to a disagreement. Consider who will be allowed to participate. Will the garden be open to the entire community? Only residents of a certain street? Will there be membership fees?  Decide on the layout of the garden. Will each member be limited to a particular bed? If so, what happens if that member has to withdraw midway through the season? Who can pick what and when and how much? While you may not be able to anticipate every potential roadblock, having these conversations before Spring arrives can help ensure a smoother first season in your community garden.
  4. Share, share, share: Set up a Facebook group (it can be private or public) or email group for garden participants. Keeping the line of communication open during the season will help ensure success. Share gardening tips, successes, news of pests sighted in the garden, photos snapped of new growth, etc. Aside from keeping everyone informed of what’s happening with your project, this will also help to foster your connections with each other.
  5. Meet regularly: There’s no point in a community garden if you aren’t shouldering the work together.  That’s what makes it fun! So be sure to plan occasional group work days to pull weeds or thin rows. These meetings not only bring together neighbors and friends, but can also spark new conversations about progress, goals, and any problems that may have arisen or changes you can all agree on for moving forward.
  6. Celebrate: At the end of the season, be sure to come together to celebrate! Even if you’ve been donating all garden items, set aside some of your harvest for a small potluck at the end of the season. Take stock of what you’ve accomplished. Read aloud the goals you all set out to accomplish at the beginning of the project. Put a triumphant check mark next to all the ones you achieved as a group, and decide which ones you want to set for the following year. No matter what, remember this: you did it! And even if the first year is a bumpy one, your garden is sure to be a benefit to the entire Staunton community.

So what do you think? Have you dreamed of starting a community garden? I’d love to hear what your plans are.  And be sure to contact Staunton Insider if you do start a community garden! I am hopeful there will be at least one new community garden for all of us to read about next Spring!

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