Tips for Faith Communities Starting Gardens That Give
Thoughts about naming your garden – If you want to reach out beyond your faith community and attract volunteers (and grants) from the general public, use care when choosing the name. Choose a name that captures the spirit of the ministry in a way that can be shared widely.
Also note some confusing terminology you may want to avoid: “community gardens” are generally understood to be public garden plots available for private rental for a season while “faith gardens” and “grace gardens” can suggest places devoted solely to prayer or a labyrinth walk.
- Host a forum where you talk to all parties involved. Potential food recipients, recipient organizations, potential volunteers, land owners, etc. You want everyone at the table. Determine what the true needs are, not what you think they are. Then intentionally keep those lines of communications open.
- Securing a sunny, level, well-drained, adequately sized plot of land in a convenient location. Remember to include space for community gatherings, composting, paths and signage.
- Look at drainage, shade, frost patterns on that land.
- City regulations – Check for any site requirements such as buffers between the garden and sidewalks or road ways
- Cost of infrastructure required to create and maintain a garden, including ongoing expenses such as water, garden tools and plants (unless you can solicit donations)
- Engaging a core group of advocates (who can become a board) with gardening expertise to spark communitywide enthusiasm. Try to get people with diverse talents and secure egos
- Outlining a clear plan and vision for the garden (though this will change)
- Hire/ acquire a gardener. Most gardens that do not have one, fail quickly.
- Site location – If good site for a garden is not available consider asking a landowner with a good site if you can garden there or “adopt” an established food pantry garden. They will be very happy to have your help!
- Timing – Initial planning for a garden is ideally completed before fall. The best time to start a new garden is in the fall. Start with soil preparation. Both till and no-till methods are best done in the fall in order to kill the grass before spring planting.
- Before digging – Call to have the location of underground cables, utility lines, etc marked
- Tilling ground. Sometimes you can find a farmer to do the initial tilling with a tractor – grass is hard to till with a rototiller. Or, you can mow an area very short, lay down old newspaper and large and overlapping cardboard, wet that layer, and add a thick layer of almost any mulch that has some weight and body. This can be done in a half-day with volunteers. If done in the fall, this will decompose somewhat by spring. Note, this method does not work quickly or well on heavy clay.
Initial material considerations generally include:
- Watering system (Use of an irrigation meter may lower municipal water costs. If you have a water source (stream, pond) you can pump water for the garden. Drip irrigation system, hoses, pumps, sprinklers, etc.
- Wood for raised beds if using these.
- Materials to make soil if using wood-sided beds.
- Pest / Disease control
- Fencing if critters are a problem
- Shed or tool storage area
- Tilling or plowing equipment (unless using no till methods)
- Basic gardening tools (depends on the method you use)
- Soil test (optional)
- A sign
- Optional – supply of garden gloves for new volunteers, seating, shade
Financial, logistical and legal questions:
- Do you need to raise funds or can you solicit donations to get started?
- Who will serve as the primary coordinator or contact person for the garden?
- Will your faith community’s insurance cover gardeners?
- Will you become a nonprofit or operate under a church’s non profit status?
These can be people who bring home some produce in return, who simply work as a service to others, who garden a plot then give away some of that, who help in exchange for gardening education and more. People who do not like gardening can be brought in in many ways – social media, PR, fundraising events, creating art for the garden, playing music at worktimes, cooking food for volunteer work times, etc. Potential Sources Boy Scouts, Church Groups/Corporate Groups, Neighbors, High Schools (particularly related clubs), local Colleges, Pantry Clients, etc.
Create a boiler plate safety policy document that everyone signs once a year.
Volunteer Supervision – Volunteers must feel engaged and appreciated. Have tools and gloves on hand if they do not bring their own. Have insect repellent, sunscreen, water and restroom facilities available. Most importantly, have a garden project for them to do in the time they have available. Provide clear instructions before every task to the new volunteer. Check-in with the new volunteer frequently to answer their questions. The supervisor should