Lesson 3: Community garden: a way to produce and consume locally

Urban gardening is an expression of small-scale and communal usage of urban spaces and has been established to provide an opportunity where citizens can increase their personal well-being in urban space.

A community garden could be defined as a plot of land in an urban area, cultivated by a group of people from the direct neighborhood or the wider city, supported by public agencies, and to which there is a collective element (e.g. shared responsibility or collective ownership). Apart from the engagement in cultivation, a broad definition could also include gardens in which people buy vegetables rather than grow them.

The first community gardens emerged in 1970 in New York, where people tried to re-appropriate their neighborhoods by planting plants illegally in abandoned areas. Those communal projects aimed to improve inhabitants’ well-being, and to revitalise and activate living spaces.

The concept of community gardens is connected to that of urban agriculture or gardening, meaning food production in urban areas.


With over 70% of Europe’s population living in cities, in times of overpopulation, urbanisation, long transport routes, and over usage of pesticides, there is an urgent need to promote sustainable urban development with green spaces. Community gardens are valuable elements of green infrastructure with a series of benefits:

  • soil fertilisation and plant pollination
  • increase in local food production, affordable and convenient access to locally produced fresh food and sustainable food systems (fresh and highly nutritional seasonal production)
  • health benefits (enhanced fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, mental wellbeing)
  • neighborhood interaction and bonding, community building, co-creation, social inclusion
  • meaningful usage of abandoned areas and connection to nature
  • educational tool (“open-air classrooms”)

The group: Search and find likeminded people who want to do urban gardening with a group. Use social media and other forms to communicate within the group.

Finding a place: Ask your local council, local associations and institutions such as schools; they may have spaces that are not used. You can also look around and ask people and. Once you have identified a place, find the owner.

Permissions: Your garden may need to be accepted by the local communities and authorities if it is located in a public space. Permission of the landowner is also needed for a private space. Establish contacts and build good relationship with local groups by suggesting that the community garden will contribute to improve the quality of the neighborhood.

Funds: You may need some funds to cover some basic expenses. There are funding bodies with a focus on social research and innovation, scientific research, etc. Another possibility would be to propose to local businesses to donate some money.

Managing a community garden: Agree a set of rules/guidelines within your group and consider whether the project will be institutionalized as an association or not. You will need skills to manage the team and the team needs to build the necessary skills to divide the workload.

Communication: Seek contacts with local organizations and attract the interest of local media and social media to promote involvement and promote the objectives the community project has set. Organize events that celebrate local products and present the achievements of the community garden to attract media.

Identify clear objectives: Discuss within the group and carefully plan the objectives of the project and its structure. The long-term success of the project may also rely on the clarity of objectives and how these are communicated to the local and, if relevant, wider public.

  • Are gardening activities, in means of being part of a social group, aimed at involving minority groups in local initiatives?
  • Is it a way to allow the elderly socialize and undertake physical activities?
  • Do you want to work collectively in the garden and share the products or do you prefer individual plots?
  • Is it about raising awareness about healthy food or food insecurity?

Each one of these objectives implies different paths of action. Furthermore, if clearly communicated, they will attract more approval from the local communities than a gardening project with no specific objectives.

Activity: Setting up a garden

Ideally, your garden should be:

✔close to you, in a flat area, with maximum sunlight, with good drainage

✔easy to reach their centre

✔raised beds (the best option for small-scale urban and suburban gardens) or in-ground beds (best if there is more space, tighter budget, and/or healthy soil)

✔make a list of the top 10 vegetables you want to grow, according to your taste, their difficulty levels and seasons and make sure to give them enough space

✔starts (recommended for beginners, cold climates and quick results)

✔seeds (cheaper, more varieties available)

✔wheelbarrow, shovel, rake, broadfork, planting Knife (Hori Hori), measuring tape, hose or watering can

Choose a sunny day and start planting your organic garden!

✔fill with soil and potting mix, make little holes for your seed to rest, plant about twice the size of the seed, cover with a lighter layer of soil, keep moist

✔choose between sowing seeds directly (must stay continuously moist until germinated and protected) and transplanting (better for cold climates and quick results)