Image Source: DC Greens. Source License: CC BY-SA 2.0. Adaptations: cropped.

A community garden is a plot of land collectively gardened and cultivated by a group of people or an organization. The land may be an individual plot or shared plots under public or private ownership. Community gardens are often used to produce fruit, vegetables, and/or ornamentals and can be found in neighborhoods, schools, connected to institutions such as hospitals, and on residential housing grounds.

Why is this important to your community?

One of the recommended strategies of the CONNECT Public Health Working Group is to increase access, visibility, and affordability of fresh, healthy foods, in an effort to provide better options for healthy foods, as well as to help lower rates of obesity and reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases. The potential benefits of successful and well-managed community gardens are numerous – directly increasing access to healthy produce, reducing blight and vacancy, teaching job skills, educating children and adults about food systems, and encouraging physical activity. Several studies have found that households with at least one participant involved in a community garden are 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits and vegetables every day than those without a gardening member. The presence of community gardens has also been found to increase property values and household income (one study found a 9.4% increase in property values of adjacent properties within the first five years of operation).

increase in property values of adjacent property to community gardens within the first five years

How does it work?

Community gardens can be built at any scale – from a single vacant lot to a large plot of land – any designated plot of land maintained by a group can be a community garden. Community gardens vary in purpose. Some basic types include:

  • Plot gardens, often located in urban areas, give away or lease plots to individual community members to grow their own crops or plants.
  • Cooperative gardens, often associated with a civic group or a faith-based organization, consist of one large garden that is farmed collectively.
  • Youth gardens are typically large gardens maintained by a group of young people associated with a school or other youth-based organization. Youth gardens are often used for hands-on teaching or study and can help shape healthy eating habits.
  • Entrepreneurial market gardens help community members learn basic business skills and gain a greater understanding of where the food they consume is produced. They may include a farmers market or CSA associated with the garden.
  • Therapeutic gardens, located near hospitals or senior centers, provide a space for active gardening or reflection.

Regardless of the type of community garden, there are a number of considerations when starting a community garden, including finding a plot of land, financing, determining the correct growing zone, and leadership. Starting with a local resource such as North Carolina Community Garden Partners, can help organizations plan and locate funding for community gardens.

Ready to get started?

Using the Tool

  • Meet with interested community groups (e.g., service providers, community groups, youth organizations, etc.) to determine the feasibility and logistics of starting a community garden or a community-wide community garden program. A community garden program may be developed by the municipality, or with support from a local government. Groups should work together to determine:
    • The type of community garden – plot gardens, cooperative gardens, youth gardens, entrepreneurial market gardens, and therapeutic gardens.
    • Identify leadership and planning committees (planning, financing, operations, etc.).
    • Determine who will be responsible for garden administration (communications, liability, adding new members, etc.)
    • Select and acquire or lease one or more plots of land.
    • Develop a budget that includes cost of materials, marketing materials, and insurance/waivers.
    • Approach sponsors and research funding sources (state and local assistance, non-profit grants, low-cost loans, in-kind).
    • Recruit volunteers from inside and outside of the organization.
    • Design and build the garden(s)! This includes selecting the materials for any plots, determining the need for fencing, selecting the right types of plants for your growing zone, preparing the soil, and planting.
  • Groups should be aware of and prepare for inherent challenges, including neighborhood complaints, theft, maintenance, and pests (from Japanese beetles to deer). By working with neighbors and building relationships, organizations can minimize potential issues with neighboring properties. Ensuring that volunteers or members properly weed, control overgrowth of plots, and utilize proper pest control, can reduce maintenance and pest control issues.
  • Provide community groups with assistance throughout planning and operation. Consider:
    • Providing information on available funding resources at a local or state level
    • In-kind donations and/or marketing support
    • Supporting zoning that permits the creation of community gardens
    • Creating a municipal community garden program (P-Patch Community Garden Program)
    • Forming a municipally-funded non-profit organization to support community gardens (NeighborSpace – Chicago)
    • Including community gardens in neighborhood and comprehensive plans
    • Creating an inventory of all vacant public and private lots and open spaces and identifying those that have good “community garden potential”
  • Ensure that the larger community is aware of active community gardens in your neighborhood or region.

Where has it worked?

Robinhood Road YMCA Community Garden - Winston-Salem, NC

Image Source: North Carolina Alliance of YMCAs;.



About the Program

In Northwest North Carolina, one in six people struggle with hunger, one-third are children. Youth teams from Forsyth County Day and Calvary Baptist Day School, advocating for healthy food access, won the NC Alliance of YMCA’s Real Food, Active Living Bill Awards in February 2014. Three teams were awarded a $3,000 grant to support a key need within their community. The two teams from the Winston-Salem area chose to address healthy food access through a partnership with Second Harvest and the Robinhood Road YMCA’s community garden project. Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) provided training to help the youth groups advocate for community health issues. Following this training, the youth worked with a volunteer designer and Robinhood Road Y volunteers to plan and build a community garden at the Robinhood Road Y. The garden now includes 16 raised bed planters maintained by volunteers, and 4 raised beds within a children’s garden.

Why it works

The youth teams and volunteers spent more than 300 hours planning, building, planting, and harvesting the community garden. In the first summer, the group harvested over 40 pounds of produce including squash, peppers, eggplant, melons, and tomatoes. The fresh produce was then donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank for distribution to the more than 300,000 people served by the food bank throughout the area. Throughout this process, the youth groups learned how to work with and communicate with communities and policy makers to provide healthy foods to residents in need. Students researched a variety of techniques to improve the efficiency and increase harvesting in the garden, including a new irrigation system.

Community Garden Grants Program - Cornelius, NC

Image Source: Smithville Community Coalition.



Karen Ulmer, PARC

About the Program

The Cornelius Community Garden Grants program is under the jurisdiction of the Town’s Parks, Arts, Recreation and Culture (PARC) Department. The town issues a Request for Applications (RFA) to assist initiatives for the development of suburban agriculture and community gardens in the Town of Cornelius, increasing local food production, and providing community benefits. The Community Garden Grant program’s goal is to license and/or support suitable (vacant or underused) properties for the cultivation of plants, herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables by Cornelius citizens. Applications can be made to:

  • Use currently vacant or underutilized Town-owned properties with the goal of producing fresh healthy food for personal consumption, or
  • Obtain funding towards development of a community garden on privately owned property.

Applications can be submitted by qualified individuals, businesses, homeowner associations, property owner associations and/or nonprofit organization. Local community members are encouraged to submit applications and/or develop partnerships with local community organizations. Operation of all gardens receiving grants is regulated by municipal ordinances and plots must be made open to all residents of Cornelius.

Why it works

The idea for community gardens started in 2013 as a local community project. The Town of Cornelius worked closely with the Smithville Community Coalition to develop a community garden on Catawba Avenue, within the historic community of Smithville. The project was a resounding success. According to PARC Director Troy Fitzsimmons, “in [the garden’s] first year of operation, all plots were sold out, and there was still interest from other town residents to get a plot.”  As a result of the community interest, the town decided to expand the program, offering grant money and candidate sites to qualified individuals or groups. Eleven additional park properties were identified in Cornelius where a garden can be established based upon sufficient open space, parking and the availability of water, and an RFA for grant funding was issued.

The Town of Cornelius issues agricultural use licenses to applicable town-owned sites for a period of 3 years, at no cost to the growers. Licenses can be extended on a rolling basis. Through its grant program, the Town provides funding, up to $10,000, and construction support for community garden site amenities including gravel, mulch, topsoil, fencing, irrigation, timber, signage, and pay Charlotte Mecklenburg Utility bills for irrigation water and storm water fees during the initial term of the community garden. The Town also may assist with parking, signage, foot paths and fence installation. The Town may also provide technical assistance for irrigation installation. The Town will coordinate comprehensive grounds maintenance and turf management services including mowing, edging and trimming for the site outside of the fenced garden area. The Town can also assist in the promotion of the community garden through the PARC website and e-newsletters.