Community Gardens – Urban Agriculture in Suburbia

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Community Garden in Warren, New Jersey

What exactly is a community garden? If you’re reading a site called Plant Lady you probably already know, but in short it’s an area of land made available to the public to grow food for home use (i.e. not commercial production). Different rules and policies vary among them, but typically they require a nominal fee to join and a certain amount of volunteer hours towards the upkeep of the property. Some have sections devoted to growing food for local food banks – which is an awesome way to donate food that isn’t the reject canned goods from your cupboards!

I come from a gardening family, and for a few years as a kid we had a community garden plot. Eventually my dad, the primary gardener, (my mom doesn’t understand why we can’t just get produce from the grocery store where they’ve got everything already…sigh) scaled back to a backyard garden, but I remember going to the one at Miller Field in Staten Island. (I plan to do a post on my family’s backyard garden by the way – you’ve never seen so much produce grown in a mini NYC backyard!)

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Gardeners add their own raised beds and structures

I had my own community garden plot in Warren, NJ two summers back, and will be starting a new one this spring…as soon as the ground thaws (its currently snowing out). A couple things that surprised me about New Jersey community gardens, in particular:

  • There are a lot of them! I’d been living in New Jersey for about 5 years before I realized I should try a community garden (I’m an apartment dweller). I had never noticed any in passing before, but once I started searching for them they were everywhere! I guess isn’t called the Garden State for nothing.
  • They are really hard to get a spot in! I’d just assumed I’d get a spot in one of the first gardens I’d contacted (I didn’t know anyone else that did community gardening in NJ – how popular can they be?). I was calling the winter before and one garden told me they had over a 100 people on their waiting list for their 40-plot garden. Once you are a member of a garden, you get to keep your spot from year to year if you want (assuming you followed the rules), so these gardens must be retaining a lot of gardeners. The garden I will be at this spring put their available plots up for registration at 9am, and all were sold out in a matter of hours. Thankfully I was up and refreshing the registration page like a lunatic at 9:01.
  • They really put the ‘community’ in community garden. Aside from serving local food banks like I mentioned, they also organize garden classes & informative talks, have pot luck dinners, and want their new gardeners to succeed. Must be why it’s so hard getting a spot as a new gardener…

I wanted to get into some fun facts about the history of community gardens, but I actually had more to say here than here than I thought, so great excuse for a Part 2. Here are some highlights from my first community garden, as you dream of spring & summer..

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At the height of summer

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All bell peppers start out green, and then turn yellow, orange and red as they ripen

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The glamorous part of the all the hard work

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I’d just like to point out this is what my garden plot looked like when I got it…not too shabby of a transformation –

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