How to Start a Community Garden in Your Neighborhood

by Rev. Peggy Clarke

Onatru Community Garden in Lewisboro

Community gardens are springing up all over the county with more being planned, or at least dreamed of. While many people wish that they could start a community garden, they may fear the cost or feel overwhelmed by the idea of organizing one. But founding these gardens needn’t be an expensive or complicated endeavor.

The first and largest challenge is to locate the land, and the easiest way to do this is to use land that’s already available. Prime examples include houses of worship or public properties like a town park or the lawn outside city hall. Schools are usually very open to starting community gardens (see article on next page), and some people are even approaching country clubs with the idea. Those who aren’t concerned about longevity might also look into unused commercial space that can be temporarily repurposed. Of primary concern is finding a space with access to water that gets a lot of sun during the day.

Once the land is secured, it must be prepared (land often needs to be plowed), fenced in and connected to a water source. Professionals may suggest testing the soil and adding nutrients, but these steps are not necessary for non-professional gardens, since the yield is lower and the toll on the land is minimal, especially in organic or natural gardens.

Deer fencing is necessary in much of the county, and this often constitutes the greatest expense. I suggest fencing that drops 18-24 inches below the surface to discourage diggers.  When creating our InterGenerate Community Garden at Marsh Sanctuary, we made fence posts from the trees were taken down to make room for the garden. This was not only cost effective, but it also added to the aesthetics of the garden.

The much needed water can come from a variety of sources. If the garden isn’t near a house of worship, school or city building, a solar or human powered pump can be connected to a nearby pond, or a rain capturing system can be devised. Visit Lasdon Arboretum in Somers or Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown for some wonderful examples.

Once the land is prepared and the water secured, garden organizers need to adopt a usage model. Some gardens simply offer individual plots for members. Others feature individual plots and Giving Gardens, in which each member helps to provide food for those in the community who lack access to fresh produce. Still others create one large garden that members tend together, and some offer workshops, camps or harvest suppers.

Most community gardens are inexpensive to run, and all have rules and expectations for behavior. Checking out some of the most successful gardens and talking with the organizers is a great way to get started. Onatru in Lewisboro is one of the oldest in the county, and it’s run by the Lewisboro Garden Club. InterGenerate, with both community and communal gardens, is committed to helping new gardens succeed. There’s no need to fear, since the joy of building a new garden lies in the community that forms around it, making every endeavor a success.

Rev. Peggy Clarke, is Co-Founder of InterGenerate, in Westchester, NY. For more information, visit

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