Start a Community Food Garden: The Essential Handbook

Start a Community Food Garden: The Essential Handbook

by LaManda Joy


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Start a Community Food Garden: The Essential Handbook by LaManda Joy

Recommended by the American Community Gardening Association

Community gardening enhances the fabric of towns and cities through social interactions and accessibility to fresh food, creating an enormously positive effect in the lives of everyone it touches. LaManda Joy, the founder of Chicago’s Peterson Garden Project and a board member of the American Community Gardening Association, has worked in the community gardening trenches for years and brings her knowledge to the wider world in Start a Community Food Garden. This hardworking guide covers every step of the process: fundraising, community organizing, site sourcing, garden design and planning, finding and managing volunteers, and managing the garden through all four seasons. A section dedicated to the basics of growing was designed to be used by community garden leaders as an educational tool for teaching new members how to successfully garden.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604694840
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 12/30/2014
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 635,485
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

LaManda Joy is an award-winning Master Gardener and the founder and executive director of Peterson Garden Project, which manages seven community gardens and nearly three thousand gardeners in Chicago, Illinois. A nationally recognized expert, lecturer, and writer on urban edible gardening, she is the author (with Theresa Gale) of Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland, and creator of the acclaimed blog The Yarden. LaManda also serves on the board of directors of the American Community Gardening Association, was the recipient of the Robert Mondavi Growing through Giving award, and featured in the Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Grow Inspired film series. She has lectured on historical Victory Gardens at the Library of Congress, the Field Museum, the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, and the Seed Savers Exchange Annual Conference.

Read an Excerpt

Preface: Lot Lust, Rosie the Riveter, and Corporate Burnout—or Why I Became a Community Gardener
Community activism, in the form of community gardening or any community activity, wasn’t something I had planned for my life. After studying musical theater in college I ended up, curiously, in the marketing world and, for almost twenty years, worked my way up from being a project manager in boutique marketing agencies to being an executive at a large event company. My teams within all these jobs were creatives—designers, producers, directors. I loved how creative-team ingenuity could come up with incredible solutions to our clients’ marketing and communication dilemmas. But as I climbed the corporate ladder, traveled more, and had less time for my friends and family, I began to realize that something was missing. I longed for a connection with others and a more grounded lifestyle.

Food growing had always been my happy place. My father taught me to garden while I was growing up in rural Oregon. Many years later, as an urbanite in Chicago, I realized that this food-growing ability meant a lot to me—as a way to have the best produce, but also as an escape from my increasingly challenging career. After seven springs, suffering miserably as a gardenless gardener living in a condo, my husband woke up one late-winter morning and said, “Should we go look for a house? Wait. Should we go look for a yard?” And so we did, and we found our yard, with a house attached to it.

Our yarden, as I liked to call it, quickly transformed from 3,500 square feet of lawn and little else into an organic, heirloom garden paradise. I was so excited to be able to grow food again, I wanted to share my experiences and connect with other food gardeners in Chicago. So I started a blog called The Yarden to reach out to other like-minded people. Sadly, I found that there weren’t many who knew how to grow their own food. Lots of people were interested—even desperate—to learn this skill, but few were practitioners.

Around this time we were exploring our new neighborhood and my lot lust (when you see an empty lot and want to turn it into a garden) flared up. Living on the congested North Side of Chicago, there weren’t a lot of empty lots to lust after, so I fixated on one very close to my house at Peterson and Campbell Avenues.

A little relevant background: both of my parents were actively involved in World War II. My mother was a Rosie the Riveter and my father was with the Allied occupation forces in Japan. Like many people of their generation who had lived through both the Great Depression and World War II, my parents were very self-sufficient, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of people. I was inspired by them, and much of that ethos rubbed off on me. However, the overdeveloped sense of responsibility I credit to (and sometimes blame on) my parents, was burning me out at work. I had become tired of using my talents to make money for companies whose values I didn’t share. I was looking for a way to contribute in a meaningful way to my community. You could call it midlife crisis, I suppose. But instead of buying a very expensive car or getting a divorce, I started a community garden.

Back to that empty lot. While shopping at Muller Meats, our local butcher shop, I noticed a photo on the wall of a World War II victory garden. I asked the proprietors, Ruben and Irv, about the photo, and they explained that it was a large garden on Peterson Avenue during the war. I was familiar with the concept of victory gardens—how people during past war times had been forced to augment their families’ food needs. But seeing that photo, on that day, as a hungry gardener-transplant—well, I got very curious. In Oregon, many people know how to grow their own food; this agricultural know-how is part of the state’s heritage, and was still strong when I was growing up. I wondered if it was the same in Chicago in the 1940s. Did those city dwellers have a cultural history that predisposed them to know how to grow their own food during the war?

They say curiosity killed the cat. In my case, it was obsession that almost did me in. I became engrossed in the story of how Chicago fed itself during the Second World War. Much to my surprise, I learned that 90 percent of the people who grew food then in Chicago had never gardened before. They weren’t landscape gardeners who changed their tune and tried growing vegetables. They were flat-out garden rookies. And there were lots of them: Chicago led the nation in victory gardens during the war, with 1,500 community gardens and more than 250,000 home gardens. The largest victory garden in the United States was in Chicago.

The city was able to teach its citizens how to garden through a concerted educational effort, utilizing newspaper and radio, live demonstration gardens, classes, and an organized system of block captains, who were citywide garden leaders. This juggernaut of information and support created an atmosphere in which community gardens thrived, tens of thousands of home gardens sprouted up, and, some say, more than 50 percent of the produce consumed in the city during the war was homegrown.

Fast forward to 2010—to me and my yarden, my “if you don't like something, do something about it” upbringing, that empty lot on Peterson and Campbell, and that photo on the butcher shop wall—it all came together in one explosion of ideas and excitement on a spring day in 2010 as I drove by that empty lot once more, and realized it was the site of one of the victory gardens in the photo at the butcher shop.

I got an idea: What if I recreated a food garden almost 70 years later on that same spot? I could do exactly what was done during the war—revive the victory garden concept and teach people how to grow their own food. I talked with our alderman (a local government representative in Chicago) who got permission for the land from the owners, a local nonprofit. I started reaching out to neighbors and local businesses. I thought it would be great if twenty people wanted to garden together. As I was taking these fledgling steps with community leaders, nonprofits, and neighbors, little did I know that Peterson Garden Project would become the largest organic, edible garden in the city. Nor did I know that four years later it would encompass nine gardens, 3,000-plus gardeners and volunteers, and a full-blown education program—and that it would completely alter the course of my life.

I tell you all this because you, too, may be ready to take the plunge into becoming a community garden leader. Your journey may not be as life-altering as mine was, but I promise that your experience with the community garden process will change you—most likely, for the better.

The idea for this book came about because I’m asked a lot about how to start a community garden. Usually the focus is where to get the lumber or how to secure land, but, as you’ll learn while reading this book, a community garden is much more than the building materials. A community garden is an exercise in humanity, transformation, and joy.

It is my sincere wish that your community garden thrive, that you learn from the mistakes that I and other community garden leaders have made—and from the best practices those missteps have fostered. I also hope that your good work, wherever you are on this planet of ours, changes empty lots and empty lives into something remarkable: the beautiful place I like to call community.

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