Gardens are growing within communities

| by Teena Hammond
Gardens are growing within communities

If you plant it, they will come. And in the case of 15Thousand Farmers, the hope is that 15,000 will come, dig their hands into the dirt and start gardening.

Gary Heine, co-founder of 15Thousand Farmers in Louisville, Ky., began the non-profit organization in February 2010 and already has close to 2,000 farmers signed up. And the term "farmer" is loosely defined — it can be someone with a pot of herbs on their back porch, a few tomato plants or a full-fledged garden.

"We thought, how do you get hundreds and hundreds of people interested in growing their own food," Heine said about the founding of 15Thousand Farmers. "People can start small with one pot, one small garden."

The goal of 15Thousand Farmers is to get people interested in growing their own food and even develop an interest in other locally produced food to help support local products at farmers markets and restaurants. Each month, the volunteer-run group meets to share information and teach about gardening. Methods taught include using cedar beds for square-foot gardening, based on Mel Bartholomew's book All New Square Foot Gardening, as well as traditional row gardening and lasagna beds, a no-dig method that incorporates layers of newspapers and leaves to create a fertile nest for seeds and plants.

Other communities have expressed interest in the concept, with calls coming in from as far away as the United Kingdom. As a result, Heine is writing a book that he'll offer at low cost in order to teach other communities how 15Thousand Farmers has created such an effective method of gardening community-wide.

"It will make it a lot easier for people," Heine said.

Heine also operates Breaking New Grounds, a non-profit founded in 2006 and that produces compost from coffee grounds from Heine Brothers Coffee, which Heine co-owns, and from other fruit and vegetable waste, cardboard, straw and woodchips supplied from businesses and individuals throughout the city. This year, Breaking New Grounds expects to compost more than 100 tons of food waste.

As a result, composting is another skill taught to participants, with five-gallon buckets used to simplify the method, Heine said.

Popularity of community gardens expanding

Other areas are growing community gardens, such as the six gardens found at Daybreak, a new sustainable housing development just outside of Salt Lake City. Homeowners rent out the gardens for the season, said Cameron Jackson, marketing manager for Kennecott Land, developer of Daybreak.

In Teaneck, N.J., a community garden offers 93 plots available free of charge to residents. That particular garden has been in place for several decades, but was in dire need of a facelift, so the city is cleaning up the land to create neat 16-foot squares in a module format.

Craig Jenkins-Sutton, owner and president of Topiarius Urban Garden and Floral Design in Chicago, works with condos and high-rise developments to create community gardens.

"A garden allows the residents of the condo, building or area a place to grow food and/or ornamental crops and to relax and enjoy the outdoors," Jenkins-Sutton said. "This is a precious commodity for many urban and suburban dwellers that do not have their own space to garden. Providing even a small space to have a container can really be a huge quality-of-life improvement for people living in condos."

Community gardens also create a greater sense of community and allow residents to interact and socialize with one another. Creating basic ground rules and setting expectations is key to a harmonious garden.

"The best way to establish these rules is to reuse what others have already done," Jenkins-Sutton said. He suggested looking online to read about other community gardens to learn from their experiences.

In Harmony, Fla., a green community with 500 houses already occupied started a garden this year with 16 families from the Harmony housing development participating, said Greg Golgowski, Harmony conservation director.

At Harmony, the lots are relatively small, at 1/5th of an acre each, Golgowski explained, so to compensate, there is plenty of open green space for residents. Approximately two acres of land has been divided into 10-foot x 25-foot garden plots.

"The deal is that folks can simply sign up for one of them if they live here, as long as they keep it up and maintain it," he said.

"The philosophy is that people live better when they live in regular contact with nature, so we're trying to create opportunities for that to happen," he said.

Topics: Gardening & Landscaping, Going Green, Landscaping

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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