Monday, December 19, 2011

Different Types of Community Gardens

In the last installment of our community garden series, we are presenting the most common types of community gardens. A community garden can take many shapes and forms depending on the desired benefits and objectives as well as the available land. A community garden may be a place to grow plants, vegetables, herbs or flowers among the company of neighbors and friends. It could also be a collection of individual plots that are each tended by an individual gardener or a sanctuary where individuals can learn or heal. There are many ways to organize a community garden, but there are a few methods that are the most common, including neighborhood gardens, allotment gardens, donation gardens, school gardens, therapy gardens and market gardens. A community garden can be one of these or a hybrid of several styles of garden.

Neighborhood Gardens

A neighborhood garden is a plot of land that a group of neighbors tend together as a group. These gardens often consist of both edible and decorative plants and are frequently viewed as something akin to a park for the community. A neighborhood garden strengthens community bonds while also beautifying the neighborhood.

Allotment Gardens

Allotment gardens are typically vacant lots that are divided into individual plots. These plots are then assigned to individuals who tend the plots in whatever fashion they like. These gardens are popular with individuals who enjoy gardening but do not have a yard of their own. The result is a beautiful patchwork of different gardens that provide fulfillment to individuals and natural beauty to the community as a whole.

Donation Gardens

Donation gardens focus on growing edible crops for philanthropic reasons. The resulting food is given to local food pantries and homeless shelters. Most donation gardens focus on organic produce and rely on natural fertilizers and organic soil conditioners for a healthy, robust yield. These gardens also often produce their own compost using left over food stuff and vegetation. Because the garden is city-central, we recommend the Bokashi compost fermentation system rather than traditional decomposition, as it is much faster and does not emit foul odors into the community.

School Gardens

School gardens give urban children a chance to experience horticulture in a way that is normally unavailable. These gardens focus on teaching children about sustainable agriculture, science, and applied mathematics in a hands-on gardening atmosphere. The interaction also provides personal growth, as they develop their ability to work as a team, learn life skills, and develop social skills. The result is a more knowledgeable child with a strong sense of accomplishment. Schools can also benefit from collecting cafeteria wastes and converting it into soil amendments. These types of projects help children learning recycling and growing plants. Because there is less waste going into dumpsters, there are less hauling costs.

Therapy Gardens

The purpose of a therapy garden is to provide emotional, spiritual or physical rehabilitation to those who need it. These types of community gardens are popular with hospitals, elder care facilities, therapy centers, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, and special needs schools. Therapy gardens are based on the principal that humans crave connectedness with nature. A green space encourages exercise and introspection, both of which are healing.

Market Gardens

As demand continues to increase for fresh local produce, so does the demand for market gardens. A market garden is a community garden that is farmed for profit as a source of supplemental income for lower income families. These gardens allow needy individuals to raise their own cash crops for sale to restaurants, individuals and at farmers markets.

Rooftop and Balcony Gardens

In many urban areas, space is limited...or so one would think. One just need look up to see there are acres of surface area that can be converted to food-producing areas. These farms can supply local produce to fit any of the above types of gardens. They also help provide much needed oxygen and clean air in these urban areas. Several cities, New York and Chicago in particular, are boasting multiple rooftop gardens. The sites are selected for a variety of reasons such as location to low rent and a strong roof. Soil is hauled up to the roof and beds are developed for planting. Irrigation lines are installed and a farm is set up on top of a building. Areas are left for composting and collecting rainwater as well.

Friday, December 16, 2011

How to Start a Community Garden

Our recent post on The Greenbelt Overhaul Alliance of Levittown’s (G.O.A.L.) land remediation projects generated a lot of interest in community gardens. After years of over-industrialization and economic hardship, many inner city communities are undergoing a Renaissance of sorts. Urban dwellers are reclaiming their neighborhoods, supporting local businesses and courting responsible development. Part of this movement is the inclusion of community gardens. Increasing urban green space not only infuses the community with natural beauty, but it can reverse ecological damage, improve property values, and impart a sense of community and connectedness.

The following is a quick 10 step guide to starting your own community garden using ecologically sound methods.

  1. No Man is an Island – Organize a Community Garden Group

    A group as small as 3 can start a community garden, but – in general – the more individuals you involve, the more the community will support the project. With permission, post notices in local coffee shops and business windows. Invite neighbors, local tenants, business owners and the like. Utilize existing organizations and civic groups. Some great volunteer resources include neighborhood centers, youth groups, schools, seniors groups, congregations, homeless shelters and even rehabilitation / treatment centers. Look for folks invested in the community and looking to make a difference.

  2. Get Organized – Determine the Project’s Leadership and Scope

    Determine who will lead / plan the initiative. This should be a group of 3 to 5 people who have the organization skills, time and enthusiasm to make the project a success. They will be responsible for fund-raising, scheduling, delegation, construction planning and overall communication, so they should be up to the task at hand. The leaders should also organize collective meetings where the project scope is hammered out.

  3. Define Who You Are – What Kind of Community Garden Will You Create?

    Determine the type of garden the community requires. Should it be a vegetable or flower garden? Perhaps a combination of both? What purpose does the garden serve? Is it purely a beautification project? Or should it be a place to teach children about sustainable agriculture? Will it be organic? If it produces foodstuff, who should benefit from the harvests? Next, brainstorm ideas for fund-raising and set rules for the garden’s use and participation.

  4. Take Root – Choose a Garden Site

    Contact your local municipal planners about possible sites. Visit each site and determine the best location. Some things to consider when you visit a site include sunshine exposure, water access, and soil quality. I recommend testing the soil for prohibitive levels of pollution. Once you decide on a location, find out who owns the land. Will they allow your community garden team to lease for at least three years? (Often they will for virtually nothing… especially if the prospective garden space is adjacent to an income-generating building – as a garden almost always enhances the building’s attractiveness.) Lastly, find out if public liability insurance will be necessary.

  5. Find Your Strength – Identify What Resources the Neighborhood Has At Your Disposal

    Contact local horticultural societies and see if they can provide information on the best plants for the region and garden conditions. Call local landscaping and gardening companies and see if any are interested in providing pro-bono horticultural expertise. These types of organizations / business are often the best partners a community garden can have.

  6. Get Funded – Find a Sponsor or Develop an Alternative Funding Model

    There are a number of creative ways to fund a community garden initiative, including regular fund raisers and long-term sponsorships. Do a sweep of all the local businesses and explain the project and its objective. They may be able to offer their support in one way or another. If one or several businesses offer to sponsor the project, your garden might feature an official plaque in their honor. Some community gardens self-fund with small monthly dues or occasional fund-raising projects.

  7. Prepare for Success – Prepare the Garden Space

    This is the labor intensive part. Chances are, your space will require considerable preparation. Organize a team (or teams) to clean the space and clear away debris. In most cases, the soil will be very low quality so it is important to prep and churn the soil with an organic soil amendment that will bolster the overall nutrient level. Because of the plot’s general isolation from the natural world, you should treat the ground with a quality microbial inoculant product that will reintroduce all the beneficial soil organisms necessary for a healthy ecology. This will result in soil that is hospitable to plant life and resistant to both drought and water erosion.

  8. Plants Need Neighborhoods Too – Organize the Garden

    Decide how the garden will be organized and map out the plot arrangement. A common method for marking different flower bed zones is to use string and stakes to create visual lines or boundaries. Be sure to section off an area for a shed where you can store and lock away equipment. Also keep an area where you can collect food wastes from the members and compost them or make worm castings. It is nice to include pathways between plots and to surround the garden with beautiful flowers and shrubs. Try to find ones that have bright colors and are scented to attract beneficial insects and people. It goes without saying, but it is important to make the area look pleasing so that it becomes a beloved feature of the community. Once the garden is properly planned, assign areas to different subgroups and begin planting.

  9. You are a Community – So Be Sure to Communicate

    The community garden will require consistent attention and seasonal updates so it’s important to keep the community in contact. A monthly email newsletter is an easy method for staying in touch. Some community groups create websites for updates and forums. Consider monthly meetings as well to establish schedules and bolster the sense of community. You may even identify new community projects to undertake as a group in the future.

  10. Look to the Future – Seek Out Other Ways to Improve Your Neighborhood

    During your monthly meeting, brainstorm other possible garden locations or projects that may contribute to the development of your neighborhood.

To find out more about community gardening, visit the American Community Garden Association and the Urban Harvest websites.

Friday, December 02, 2011

G.O.A.L. Successes With Effective Microorganisms®

G.O.A.L. (The Greenbelt Overhaul Alliance of Levittown) is a non-profit organization, founded in 2009 by Dale Frazier, in Levittown, Pennsylvania. GOAL is dedicated to cleaning Levittown, PENN greenways and tributaries of debris; elimination of waterway damming by debris; removal of undesirable plant species with replacement by desirable species; and the ongoing maintenance of these remediated areas through education, participation of the public, other interested parties.

Over the past 2 years, G.O.A.L. has applied EM•1® Microbial Inoculant in the planting of local riparian buffers in the Levittown, Penn, USA area in order to remediate the local green zones and stream banks. Leaves and other debris have accumulated in drainage ditches causing odors and pest problems. Fertilizers and road runoff from the surrounding area run into these ditches as well. The ditches were so plugged they would often flood. As water sat in the plugged ditch it would go stagnant. This water eventually flowed (trickled really) into Silver Lake, bringing with it any pollutants that had accumulated in the water.

G.O.A.L., along with members and volunteers, has removed over 300 cubic yards of trash and invasive plant species, planted over 850 native trees, removed 1,000 tires from the area, and planted native wildflowers within riparian buffers.  Robert Nix, President/CEO of B Organix, Co. Inc, is the acting soil and planting specialist working with G.O.A.L. He has been volunteering his time and donating the EM•1® in these projects.  Robert Nix has been using Effective Microorganisms® products for the past 15 years for many uses.  Mr. Nix has been a long-time customer of TeraGanix and has worked closely with the company on various applications of EM Technology®, including the G.O.A.L. projects. At a recent watershed management seminar, Dale Frazier announced that they have achieved a 99% success rate for the riparian buffer restoration projects that Robert Nix helped accomplish.
Finding Hardpan

This project first started with taking some soil samples.  There was a hardpan about 16 inches below the surface.  In the photo on the right, Mr. Nix pulls a chunk of hardpan which would prevent proper drainage around the trees if not cracked through.  He found that years of misuse resulted in the lack of soil percolation, low levels of organic matter that needed to be replaced.

Mixing Soils For Tree Planting
Once the soil type was assessed, Mr. Nix determined what would be used in a custom soil mix.  The mix included Activated EM•1®, perlite, organic peat, a humate/mychorrizea mix from BioAg called VAM+ Activator  (Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi) and TM7, and a proprietary mix of wild mushroom soil developed by Mr. Nix's company, B OrgaNix.   The need for EM•1® Microbial Inoculant in the soil formulations used for the projects was determined in the first soil inspection made by Robert Nix.

Water Wagon Spraying AEM•1® & Nutrients
Mr. Nix recommended G.O.A.L. continue watering with EM•1® to improve organic breakdown and help control pathogens along with possible toxins from runoff in the area. The improvement of these factors added to EM•1®’s success rate.  In order to do the watering, G.O.A.L. made a "water wagon" that had a nutrient solution with Activated EM•1®.

A groups of volunteers came and removed all the trash and invasive species.  After that the area was mowed and raked clean.  Then holes were dug for the native trees to be planted.  The soil mix with Activated EM•1® and EM® Bokashi was added to the holes and trees were planted.  The trees were then mulched with additional soil mix.

Trees Planted By GOAL Volunteers
A few days after the planting there were no signs of transplant stress.  During the week that followed, there was an incidence of vandalism where an ATV was driven, ripping the soil.  Several of the trees were pulled out as well.  After a little more help, the soil was fixed and the trees re-planted.  Even though this was done, there was still a 99% survival rate of the trees that were planted.

The last step in the project was to plant wildflowers.  All the species of wildflowers are native to the area.  Some include sunflowers with a variety of bright colors.  This fall they bloomed in a brilliant display of colors along the neighborhood.  The project has helped clean the area of debris, treat runoff pollutants, and prevent erosion along the drainage ditch.  It has also helped beautify the neighborhood.

G.O.A.L., with the help of B OrgaNix, is expanding the use of EM•1® in the community in order to promote environmental education, reduction of food wastes in landfills, natural water quality, and overall environmental health.

Wildflowers In Bloom