Gardening has become extremely popular in recent decades, especially as the farm-to-table craze continues to gain momentum. And it’s not just for homeowners with yards anymore. Cities like Seattle, Long Beach, and Honolulu are leading the way when it comes to providing community gardens. Supporting the most community gardens per capita, these cities have been hard at work converting vacant lots and underserved neighborhoods into urban botanical paradises.
Following this trend, many renters are seeking out apartment complexes that allow residents and staff to maintain a thriving community garden. It is vital for property managers to recognize the added value these gardens bring because the usual amenities like gyms, pools, and tennis courts may soon not be enough to entice the masses.
Hold a meeting with those interested in participating and decide, as a group, on the basic logistics:
1) Location. Choose a spacious spot on the apartment complex grounds that gets a lot of sun and would be easy for residents and staff to access.
2) Types of plants. Discuss the kinds of produce or flowers that are known to thrive in your city’s climate. Take the extra step to find out what type of soil you have. Plants grow best in soil that is “loamy,” which means the minerals it contains are balanced. In contrast, plants grow poorly in soil found in dry regions, which tends to have a high saline content. If your soil is less than ideal, you can condition it with a layer of compost before planting.
3) Designing individual plots. Most community garden programs work best when individual growers maintain and harvest from their own distinct plots. Before planting anything, section off the garden into equally-sized plots using two-by-four strips, leaving walking paths between them.
4) Occupancy fee. Discuss whether residents should pay an occupancy fee each month. Collecting a small fee will help offset the garden’s start-up and maintenance costs and will attract growers who are committed to a successful community garden.
5) Equipment. Draft a start-up budget to cover the cost of any machines or supplies as well as discuss which tools residents will need to be responsible for keeping themselves.
6) Compost. Start a compost heap and get everyone in the habit of saving compostable waste from their homes, such as coffee grounds, egg shells, and vegetable scraps.
7) Maintenance. While individual growers will maintain their own plots, you’ll want to devise a rotating schedule for general maintenance purposes. Elect a few garden organizers who can routinely monitor the garden and communicate with individual growers about what needs to be done.
8) Rules. Establish and distribute a list of community garden policies so that everyone adheres to organic gardening principles, as well as to seasonal patterns of planting, weeding, harvesting, and so forth.
Once your community garden has been operational for a few months, consider using a portion of the proceeds from the plot occupancy fees to enroll your garden in the American Community Gardening Association. Membership provides your community garden participants with access to workshops, liability insurance, and other gardening resources.
If the resident-growers have been harvesting lots of delicious produce, why not set up several booths for a weekend farmer’s market? Residents can sell produce to their neighbors and trade with other growers, as well as donate a portion of the harvest to underserved neighborhoods.
If your apartment complex has operated a community garden for several years and you are ready to take it to the next level, begin expanding it as far as your grounds will allow. In some cases, you might consider allowing residents to garden a patch of soil near their units. Draft an agreement for renters to sign that limits the size of the garden patch and the types of plants they plan to grow. This is a good opportunity to collect a small fee and increase your property’s revenue.
Do you have ideas for starting a community garden? Share them in the comments below.
Before you go, check out our post on The Rise of Eco-Friendly Apartments.