For people who live in apartments, duplexes, tiny houses or houses with tiny yards, community gardens are the 21st century’s version of a micro homestead – one that usually comes with amenities such as raised beds, decent soil, and shared maintenance of common spaces. But the biggest amenity is, of course, a garden community. Gardening doesn’t have to be a solitary activity, and the need for community is as basic as our need for food.
There’s no deed for a community garden plot, but once you commit to a garden bed, it’s generally a use-it or lose-it proposition – you get to keep it for as long as you cultivate it.
The City of Olympia provides two community gardens with a total of 135 plots, most 5 by ten feet, with some slightly smaller ones that are ADA accessible. Yelm has one in a city park that’s a partnership with a local nonprofit called Bounty for Families, and another nonprofit, Garden Raised Bounty (aka GRuB).
The City of Lacey’s Parks, Culture and Recreation Department will conduct a public survey this fall to gauge interest in a site in a city park, and to determine whether to provide individual plots, focus on recruiting volunteers to grow food for low-income people or both.
There are also numerous grassroots community gardens that provide individual plots; you can find some of them if you Google “community gardens near me,” but it’s not a full listing. Asking around may still trump the internet as a communications strategy.
Each community garden has its own rules and culture, and each has its own process for allocating space. Some charge an annual fee, and some are free. The City of Olympia gardens are $29 a year, with scholarships for low-income people that reduce that to $7.50. Olympia takes space reservations in January.
There are also people who like to garden but don’t want the commitment of their own plot, and those who would like to grow food for other people. Anyone can donate surpluses from our own gardens by taking them to the Thurston County Food Bank, but there are also plenty of volunteer opportunities in established gardens.
GRuB hosts a Victory Farm for veterans who grow food for the Food Bank and others. It also has many other well-organized volunteer opportunities centered in Olympia with fringe benefits that include celebrations, training, meals and free vegetables.
Our Common Home Farms also has community gardens where volunteers raise food for people in need, educate students, and promote climate resilience.
The oldest and most well-established garden volunteer program is the Olympia Kiwanis Foodbank Gardens, which started in 1990. Kiwanis now cultivates just under two acres spread over four locations. It harvests and donates between 25,000 and 35,000 pounds of vegetables each year.
All of these programs were started by people who cared about both community and gardens. If you share those two values, you could start something too. If there is a vacant lot near you – even if it’s on city land – there’s a reasonable chance you could get permission to create a community garden.
Sustaining a garden community is a pretty big commitment, but it’s the kind of commitment that can help reweave the fabric of our frayed, divided country. Like Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” And gardeners are citizens who are uniquely qualified to change our little corner of the world for the better.
Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at jill@theJOLTnews.com