What Is a Community Garden: Why & How

A Garden for Everyone

In one of my previous posts, Top 10 gardening Trends for 2021, I discuss the massive growth in popularity that gardening is currently experiencing.  More people than ever are discovering the benefits of gardening and are getting in on the trend.

The increased interest in gardening is excellent news, but what do you do if you live in an apartment or don't have land for a garden?

A popular, fun, and socially responsible 

solution is a community garden.

A well-designed community garden will transform a local community with shared resources, growing fresh, healthy vegetables, and fruits.  A community garden can make positive changes that will last.

What is a Community Garden?

A community garden is a piece of land that's set apart within a neighborhood. The land is gardened collectively by a group of people.  It all simply begins with a person or a group of people who decide they want a community garden.

Community gardens consist of one individual plot or shared plots on private or public land. They can produce fruit and vegetables or consumption and plants for their attractive or decorative appearance.

Cost of a Community Garden

As of this post's writing, community gardens starting costs vary from $3,750 to $7,500.  The costs of establishing a  community garden may include contractors, insurance,  city fees (maintenance), and water fees. 

A large community garden (12 -acre or larger) can cost as much as $30,000, but on the other hand, that same garden can generate as much as $50,000 per year.

These expenses can vary significantly from garden to garden; however, you can expect a community garden's costs in a highly populated urban area to have higher operating costs than those in less populated areas.

Five types of Community Garden

  • Plot Garden - Divided into separate plots, mainly individual plots. The plot costs are around $35 per year, with approximately $20 for plot rental and $15 for covering the water.
  • Cooperative Garden - One large garden that one team works on voluntarily together.
  • Youth Garden -  Youth gardens provide hands-on education for school gardens to help all children feel accepted and make conscious choices and become attendants of the environment. They also share their culture and increase community resiliency. School gardens can provide students with a real-time look at how food is grown. It is an effort to get children out of doors and put more vigor and intensity into their schoolwork.
  • Entrepreneurial market garden - Primarily designed to sell produce.
  • Therapeutic Garden - Gardens that offer mental health therapy. A therapeutic garden is an outdoor garden space designed to meet people's psychological, physical, social, and spiritual needs.

Starting a Community Garden?

How a community garden is structured requires some careful consideration.

Some typical factors to contemplate when starting a community garden:

  • Picking out an appropriate plot
  • Getting permission from the landowner
  • Securing support from your neighbors
  • Is the garden going to be open to a community or for a set of selected individuals?

Individual Gardening

For instance, individual gardens are plots that are not shared. The plots are cared for by an individual who chooses what to grow and how to care for those crops.

Open Gardening

There typically will be no assigned plots with an open community garden, and volunteers can work on any part of the garden they choose.

There typically will be no assigned plots with an open community garden, and volunteers can work on any part of the garden they choose. They can also pick whatever vegetables they want to grow.

A group starting a community garden also needs to decide what they want to grow, just vegetables, fruits, and/or flowers. It is always good to plan on having several meetings to discuss what will populate the community garden and a schedule developed to determine if the work will be done communally or individually.

Above all, no matter what form the association takes, it is critical to have written rules to help keep order and peace in the garden.  How detailed the guidelines are is highly dependent upon the participating gardeners.  I recommend the less familiar the participants are and the more precise the rules should be to mitigate disagreements.

The following community garden rules and regulations are from New Jersey's South Branch Preserve.  These are great rules to incorporate into your community garden guidelines.

  • Gardeners will plant and maintain their garden plot between April 1 and November 30, 2019. If by June 1 there has been no sign of activity, your plot will be forfeited to the next person on the waiting list.
  • Use of non-organic pesticides or fertilizers is not allowed.
  • Gardens must be kept clean and well maintained:
  • The plot and area immediately surrounding it, including pathways between plots, must be kept free of weeds, invasive plants (such as mint), rotting vegetation, and all other debris.
  • The use of grass clippings is not allowed within the Community Garden.
  • Gardeners must plant and keep all vegetation within their established plot.
  • The garden gate must remain closed at all times and locked upon leaving the garden.
  • A few wheelbarrows and tools are available in the garden shed for gardeners to share. No personal garden tools may be stored in the garden shed.
  • Tall crops are to be planted where they will not shade neighboring plots. No trees or permanent garden structures are allowed.
  • Gardeners may only harvest from their own plots unless permitted by other gardeners.
  • The Community Garden's water is non-potable and is only to be used on the plots. Water spigots must be securely turned off after every use and hoses wrapped & secured.
  • Organic garden waste materials not used within the plot may be placed in the designated compost area for use by other gardeners.
  • All trash must be removed from the garden by the gardener.
  • All guests brought into the Community Garden are the responsibility of the gardener.
  • All gardeners are encouraged to participate in the fall cleanup of the Community Garden.
  • No plants considered contraband under state or federal law is allowed within the Community Garden.
  • No alcohol, chewing tobacco, or smoking of any kind is allowed on the premises.
  • No firearms are allowed on the premises.
  • No radios or barbecues are allowed unless for an organized Community Garden event.
  • No pets are allowed in the Community Garden.
  • No vehicles are permitted on any paths and must be parked in the designated parking lot.
  • If a gardener must abandon their garden plot for any reason, they must notify The Land Conservancy of New Jersey promptly.
  • Vandalism and other damage within the garden should be reported to the Mount Olive Police Department (973) 691-0850 or The Land Conservancy of New Jersey (973) 541-1010.
  • Gardeners are encouraged to volunteer on a committee.
  • Returning gardeners must notify the Land Conservancy by November 30 and pay by December 31 if you wish to renew your plot.
  • The Land Conservancy of New Jersey reserves the right to render a final decision concerning any dispute related to the Community Garden, Rules and Regulations, and Volunteer Activities.
  • Ways to Improve Your Community Garden?

    • Provide educational opportunities
    • Give space for the elderly. ( keeping the rows wide enough to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs)
    • Don't forget the birds and the bees. Plant flowers that are specifically for attracting birds and bees. Be careful with the birds they can create havoc in your gardens, especially the crows.
    • Add showstoppers like garden art or a water feature.
    • Listen to every idea.
    • Host a summer camp.
    • Plant a giving garden. Grow food specifically to donate to food banks and other organizations.
    • Plant communal fruit trees such as apple trees,  pear trees, cherry trees, plum trees, apricot, peaches, and figs.

    Pros and cons of a Community Garden?


    • Increased access to fresh foods
    • Improved food security
    • List Element
    • Increased physical activity
    • Improved dietary habits
    • Decreased risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases
    • Promotes relaxation and improves mental health
    • Builds community
    • Increases community pride
    • Turns blighted property into vibrant green plot spaces
    • Improves the quality of life for everyone in the neighborhood not, just the people who work in the garden
    • Evidence shows that having a community garden can increase property values in the neighboring area.


    • Some community gardens have a waiting list of up to one year; depending on where you live, it can be challenging to obtain a plot.
    • If you are not in good physical shape, all the digging, kneeling, stooping, bending, and repetitive movements can be hard on joints and muscles.
    • If your garden isn't well- organized, problems such as jealousy, disagreements, and disorder can occur.

    Your State - Your Garden

    One of the best ways to learn about starting or joining a community garden is to contact successful gardens in your area.

    I have researched all fifty states to identify resources in your state to help you get started.  This list is in no way exhaustive but will, at the very least, help you get started.

    Go Plant Something!

    Being part of a community garden takes time but is well worth it in the long run. Hopefully, you can find an organization or garden in your city that inspires you.  Even if your area doesn't have a robust gardening community, don't let that stop you from organizing one of your own.

     See you in the garden! 

    If you enjoyed this post, check out our other gardening posts: