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Friday, May 17, 2013

Is There A Community Garden I Can Join?

This is the time of year when I get a lot of phone calls and e-mails from people who want to get involved or get a plot in a community garden.  They call me because my phone number is the only one listed on-line for community gardens in  New York City. If you search for community gardens in New York City on OASISNYC there are no contact names listed but my work phone and e-mail are as the data provider. Someone who is searching for community gardens in NYC solely on line will probably end up contacting me. Maybe that is not the best way to go about finding a community garden to join.

"Garden Beds" College Avenue Community Garden, Bronx, NY
Some community gardens have their own website which will have information about joining, list meeting times and open hours and even have a garden history. If a community garden does have an extensive website that is up to date the group is probably very organized or at least has one very organized member. Much of the business of the garden may be done via the internet like paying dues via PayPal, signing up for assignments on a Google doc or sharing news and information via a Yahoo or Google group or an e-mail list. If this is the case and you are not comfortable with this technology then this may not be the right garden for you.

If someone does call me one of my recommendations is to take a walk around the neighborhood and visit the garden that they are interested in joining. This way they can talk to the community gardeners and get a feel for what the group is like. Just like finding a job or a college, a face to face interview or or a visit goes a long way toward making the right decision.

Can you make a wrong decision? Probably not but I have heard stories about folks who wanted to join a community garden and for one reason or another did not get along with someone in the garden, were not welcomed by one or more of the gardeners or were treated badly by someone in the garden. While these scenarios are rare, they do happen and this is all the more reason to meet the gardeners face to face before joining a community garden. As part of a garden lease or license, most community garden programs stipulate that the garden must be open to all. That may not be the reality.

There is also the matter of garden rules or lack of them to consider. There may be rules that are too stringent for your liking or the rules may be too lenient. Everyone has a different comfort level from anarchy to dictatorship and those governance systems and everything in between can be found in different  community gardens. Look to see if the garden rules are posted somewhere in the garden or ask a gardeners about the garden's rules.

If you want to grow your vegetables but do not have the time or the inclination to help with the common areas, composting, watering or keeping open hours there may be a community garden out there for you but I doubt it. You should expect to be asked to help with the community part of community gardening. If you are not interested in these community chores you may want to rethink your interest in joining a community garden.

For some the idea of being part of a community garden is very appealing. It would be a shame if their ideals were shattered because they did not find the right community garden to join. Then again even if the first garden you join is not the right match, you can always join another garden or start a new garden. Just remember that community gardening is not solely a virtual activity. You will get your hands dirty and develop relationships with your neighbors with whom you may not normally connect. Those are a couple of the personal benefits of being a community gardener.