Rebuilding Community with a Garden

Email us here or directly to permaculture.visions.net@gmail.com Playful image of Smoke signals asking questions. Illustrated by A Sampson-Kelly

Community gardens are a fantastic way to enrich community health, food security, and forge positive relationships. They also empower, upskill, and foster inclusivity. Through the act of shared care, we develop social skills and pioneer gentle conflict resolution. But don’t think you have to work with your formal community. You can set up a garden on your street that serves the community passively. Even your street garden can peacefully offer free flowers, food, and entertainment.

All around the world, from remote towns to highly-populated cities hide buzzing pockets of community gardens. Permaculture design thinking enriching these structures by applying both physical design tools as well as the principle of care of people. Overall, the best approach for community projects like these is to always act with kindness.

Jill Cockram coordinator for Mossvale Community Garden NSW Australia

10 Tips for Starting a Successful Community Garden

  1. Build Support

Successful community gardens usually have a small, but committed team. Long before you start designing the growing space, build a supportive social network of like-minded folk. Luckily, there are many old hands and spades of advice from community garden associations.

Discover the diversity of skills in your team. Some people will have skills in marketing, fundraising, or seed-saving and composting. By learning from one another, skills are transferred to others and this reduces the risk of burn-out whilst increasing the resilience of the whole group.

Remember to keep everyone well informed so they have the chance to contribute, and celebrate the milestones.

Consulting builds relationships and community resilience
Consulting builds relationships and community resilience
  1. Gather Ideas

Community gardens can take on many different shapes but all need access to sunlight and water. Now that you have the support to make this dream a reality, brainstorm what you want it to look like. How big will the grow space be? How will inputs and harvests be handled? Where will infrastructure like communal gatherings, classes, shed and facilities work best? Gathering this information will help to build your group design.

  1. Check the Paperwork

Paperwork isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. You’ll want protection in case someone gets injured while in the garden or distributing food. Look for insurance options provided by parent organisations.

If you don’t want to do all the start-up paperwork, join a nearby community garden that would benefit with your support.

Put Down Roots

  1. Find a Space

Finding the physical space for the community garden might be the most challenging step. Thankfully, you can start a garden in all sorts of environments, from backyards to abandoned lots. Not all community gardens are formally contracted. Some are on private land, generously supplied by a friendly benefactor. Some may be simply on a space owned by a small group of neighbours with a common boundary.

On the other hand, if you plan to lease the space, opt for a contract that runs at least three years. Because many plant varieties take several years to establish. You don’t want all of your hard work to go to waste if you have to relocate in a hurry.

However, don’t despair, relocatable gardens are also possible as long as you factor this into the design.

  1. Recruit Members

Now that you and your team have a vision, it’s time to enlist help from your community! Reach out to schools, hospitals, clubs, and other organizations to see if anyone is interested in getting involved. In addition, be sure to list the benefits and potential member requirements.

Permaculture Sydney Institute PDC design student delivering the group design
Designing the garden for multi-use, minimal impact and optimal use of natural resources

Permaculture Design Boosts Plans

  1. Plan and Design

Firstly, design to optimise the space for shared resources. Instead of everyone having separate plots, separate goals, aim for healthy conversations, and a shared vision.

Community gardens that share the work and harvest have a far greater total yield. Shared spaces build conversations and deeper cultural understanding.

Then, consult the users in the development of the design. Productive designs fit the landscape shape to make use of gravity and natural resources. Moreso, adaptable design encourages ownership and expertise from the users.

Design for multi-use community garden space

Set Meaningful Goals Rather than Olympic Dreams

  1. Meaningful Goals

What do you want to achieve from this venture? What role will the community play in creating resilience in your area? Listening to the concerns of the project members, the wider community and surrounding neighbours fulfills both permaculture ethics to care for people and care for the environment.

Stronger Together

  1. Build Relationships

Community gardens are often started by passionate individuals hoping to create a beautiful growing space. However, relationships will grow further by inviting people to enjoy the garden, even if they’re not interested in growing anything. So, keep the space flexible. Design for flexibility to support a range of uses. Open the community garden to complementary programs such as outdoor yoga, children’s camps, music performances, or poetry readings. The design for adaptability broadens the yield.

“The Yield Is Truly Unlimited” Graham Bell

  1. Connect With Partners
Build something to crow about

If we calculate the potential of a project in merely energy terms, the potential yield may look quite limited. But actually, the yield is not just measurable in kilojoules. In truth, a garden yield is not the simple sum of the energy-in subtracted from the energy-out. In fact, biology has explosive potential.

Graham Bell stresses that our yield is unlimited because life has exponential growth.

As a result, the yield from a community garden has the potential to be far greater than the effort invested.

And the social implications are immeasurable.

Furthermore, partnering with local businesses and organizations helps to magnify the yield potential. For example, a local business could regularly supply high-value organic waste (such as coffee grinds from nearby restaurants). Eventually, the community garden requires fewer inputs and the partnering business builds a powerful awareness of the value of their waste. The business owners may decide to use their waste to make an onsite garden.

As a consequence, success grows beyond the walls of the community garden.

Mossvale Community Garden beside tennis courts runs food festivals and farmers markets
Mossvale Community
Garden
  1. Establish New Community Ties

Share your message all around the local area. Let people know there’s a local space where they can grow food and friendships. You may be surprised by how many people want to get involved. If you’re lucky enough to have too much food on your hands, find ways to donate leftovers to vulnerable people.

In the end, community gardens provide healthy food and healthy physical activities. They also offer security and self-reliance in uncertain times. Best of all, these social connections nurture our mental health.

Text Coauthored by Emily Folk

Thanks to contributions from Emily who is passionate about environmental sustainability. More of her work can be found on her site, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter for her latest updates.

Permaculture Community Garden Design

have a giving spirit

Permaculture Design For Community Garden by A. Sampson-KellyBuilding Blocks of Permaculture

There are two basic goals in a permaculture site plan: Use natural energies to increase our productivity and make the key features serve multiple functions. A permaculture design for a community garden would address some key steps to build resilience and long term success of the community garden:

  1.  Choose a site with a good position. Check there is a gentle slope.  A slope that greets the morning sun can provide lots of growing time. If there is too much sun, shade plants will help to reduce the glare.
  2. Ensure the entry has good visibility. Make signs and gates that look welcoming.
  3. Plan and implement good water filtration and re-use.
  4. Include strategically placed perennial food plants for windbreaks, privacy screens and shade in hot summer months.  A typical western community garden has a lot of annual plants. Aim to include carbon-sequestering perennials. Perennials need less maintenance. These food plants are good structural plants and last for several years and sometimes decades. The space will mature and be enhanced as it ages.
  5. Native animals and insects would be encouraged to help with pest control and increase biodiversity. Position some big trees on the far corners of the sun-less side of the site. These trees will trap condensation. They will also provide tinder for cooking, mulch for the garden, sticks for small trellises or plant ti-pis, a shady corner for nursery plants and habitat for wildlife.
  6. Encourage participants to learn to cook and eat what grows easily rather than force the landscape and climate to grow what they are in the habit of eating.  The notion of re-educating our palette can be very helpful for us to cope with climate uncertainty.

Strengthening Community Heart

Include spaces to enhance the social unity in your community garden.
Create spaces to:

  • meet andHello there! exchange ideas (this can also be a stage) Northey Street City Farm has a small outdoor stage under a mature tree.  For decades this space has served as a great space to hangout day and night.
  • share tools and enjoy harvests together
  • Entertain one another and have fun. In our recent design here for a Permaculture community garden we have made the whole site in the shape of an amphitheater. This demonstrates the true creative spirit of permaculture – to serve many functions!

Stacking The Action

A multi-functional community space like this can run events throughout the seasons and at different times of the day. This is the stacking principle taught by Bill Mollison. When we stack different plants together we utilise the vertical space and when we put things into the space at different times of the day or year, we are utilising the 4th dimension – time.