Shared and Community Gardens

Learn how to turn your yard or a vacant lot into a community garden.

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With half of the world's population living in cities, growing food locally requires us to find space between buildings, parking lots, and streets. Available land exists in many places—vacant lots, undeveloped regions, and private yards. Together, these spaces constitute a large amount of land and could feed significant portions of urban populations, if shared and cultivated.

In addition to meeting our need for food, urban gardens bring a variety of benefits to our communities, such as creating habitats for birds, insects, and native plants and creating a beautiful setting where people can socialize and build community.

Sharing Your Garden With Neighbors

When people with yards get together with people who love to garden, many sharing arrangements are possible:

  • Several neighbors might get together to plant and tend a vegetable garden in one neighbor's yard.
  • A group of neighbors could agree to help each other garden and share their harvests. One neighbor grows a lot of tomatoes, another has three fruit trees, and a third has a large herb garden.
  • A garden matchmaking website or organization can connect garden enthusiasts and people with yard space to share.

EXAMPLE: A group of volunteers in Berkeley, California recently collected names and addresses of 300 city residents, each of whom had either a yard to share or an interest in gardening in someone else's yard. They held meetings and divided attendees into groups based on neighborhood. From those meetings, many informal garden-sharing relationships formed. Similar organizations in Portland, Oregon and Canada have created websites to help link people interested in sharing a garden. For an example of such a match-making website, see Portland’s YardSharing website.

  • A neighbor might invite everyone on her block to four Saturday gardening parties, with a promise to share the harvest with everyone involved.
  • A homeowner could invite a local nonprofit garden organization to use his front lawn to grow vegetables and create a community demonstration garden.

Before offering to share your yard, be sure to have a clear agreement with everyone who will be involved. Your agreement should cover the specifics of the arrangement, including what will be planted, how you will share costs, how you will share vegetables, fruits, flowers, and the like, and anything else that is important to you. The Sample Garden Sharing Agreement shown below is appropriate for larger-scale community gardens, but it gives you a good place to start. A useful book on the subject of garden sharing is Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, by Heather Coburn Flores (Chelsea Green).

Starting a Community Garden

A community garden is a place where people can come together to help grow food or transform a city landscape into a garden paradise. The gardens educate, provide food, and create a pleasant space for people to be together.

There are many different ways to set up community gardens. Some community gardens are overseen by nonprofits and have volunteers help in all aspects of gardening. Other gardens are divided into individually assigned plots of 25 to 100 square feet.

Even in the most populated cities, there are vacant lots everywhere, many owned by the city itself, others by private landlords. To get started, contact a local community garden organization or your local city government and find out whether there are plots available.

If there is nothing currently available in your community, check out the American Community Garden Association website for advice and resources on starting a community garden.

How to Prepare a Garden Sharing Agreement

Whether you will be sharing the garden in your yard with others or making a vacant lot available as a community garden, all people involved in the arrangement should enter into a written agreement, such as the Sample Garden Sharing Agreement shown here (this one is between a small group of individuals and a landowner).

Sample Garden Sharing Agreement

This garden sharing agreement is made between Marcel Paez (“Marcel”) and Leticia Houston, Reyanna Carabay, and Robert Mayhem, (collectively referred to as “Gardeners”). Marcel owns a vacant lot located at 12461 Ethel Avenue in Van Nuys, CA. Marcel thinks that a garden would be a nice addition to the neighborhood. Gardeners are a loose affiliation of friends with an interest in farming and a desire to plant a vegetable garden on Marcel’s lot.

1. Marcel agrees to allow Gardeners daytime access to the lot for the purpose of installing and maintaining a small vegetable garden beginning on the date this agreement is signed.

2. Gardeners will plant and tend vegetables, fruit, and herbs on the lot year round.

3. Gardeners have made separate arrangements with a neighbor to use that neighbor’s water and store hoses, gardening tools, and supplies in that neighbor’s shed.

4. Marcel agrees that Gardeners may invite guests onto the lot to visit the garden or to help with the garden, as long as at least one of the Gardeners is with the guests at the garden. If Gardeners wish to give anyone else regular and unsupervised access to the garden, they must first receive Marcel’s permission. Marcel encourages Gardeners to invite and include neighbors in the garden project. Gardeners may invite neighbors to periodic “garden parties.”

5. Gardeners may construct raised beds on the lot. Construction of a shed or greenhouse must first be approved by Marcel and by the local building department (if necessary).

6. Gardeners are responsible for all costs related to the garden, including but not limited to, soil, tools, water, seeds, seedlings, and fertilizer.

7. All fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown on the lot will be consumed by the Gardeners, shared with Marcel, given to neighbors or friends, or donated to charity. Gardeners will not sell the produce and do not intend to profit from the arrangement.

8. Gardeners agree to tend the land responsibly and use organic farming methods if possible. Gardeners will take care to ensure that water runoff, dust, or noise do not bother neighbors. Gardeners will maintain a tidy appearance on the lot. Gardeners will take care to remove hazards from the lot, including but not limited to holes, sharp objects, or items that could cause people to trip and fall.

9. Gardeners, as consideration for the right to garden on Marcel’s land, agree not to make a claim against or sue Marcel for injury, loss, or damage that occur on Marcel’s land, including for injury, loss, or damage arising from the negligence of Marcel. Harvesters agree to indemnify, hold harmless, and defend Marcel from all claims, liability, or demands that Harvesters or any third party may have or in the future make against Marcel for injury, loss, or damage arising from gardening on Marcel’s land or consuming food grown on the land.

10. Marcel or the Gardeners may terminate this agreement at any time, with or without cause. Gardeners understand that at some point in the future, Marcel may want to sell or build on the lot.

11. At the termination of the agreement, Gardeners will remove all possessions from the property. Marcel will not require removal of the plants, but Gardeners may remove plants in order to plant them elsewhere.

12. If a conflict arises between us that we are not able to resolve through discussion, we agree to attend at least one mediation session with a mediator we all agree on, and to share the cost of the mediation.

_______________ Signature _____ Date

_______________ Signature _____ Date

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