A recent survey by the National Gardening Association found that 300,000 households participated in and enjoyed the produce of a community garden. Fifty million households reported having no involvement with a community garden, but 13.5 percent of them expressed interest in becoming involved if one were nearby. This is where you come in. Why not take the initiative and help start a community garden in a vacant lot near you?
Those involved in community gardening get to combine a love for nature and knowledge of gardening and horticulture with a sense of responsibility to help others. Many nonprofit “urban greening” or community gardening projects are devoted to both restoring unused land and providing environmental education for the people who live there. When working for one of these projects, you may be required to work in youth or after-school programs that promote nutrition through cultivating healthful foods. You should be willing to pitch in and do some tough labor: cleaning and clearing vacant lots; maintaining sheds, benches, and picnic tables; composting leaves and unsalable produce; and, of course, weeding, planting, and harvesting in the gardens. As a horticulturist for one of these programs, you may be in charge of coordinating horticultural education by preparing workshops, on-site demonstrations, and training sessions. You may even spend some time staffing a garden's farmers' market, selling your produce to restaurants, to local markets, or directly to the public. And, although in the middle of a city, you could end up working in a variety of agricultural settings, such as a small farm, a garden, a greenhouse, a tree nursery, or an outdoor classroom.
Eventually, you may find yourself moving out of the garden and into a more administrative position within the project that hired you. You may wish to become involved in helping communities set up gardens, rather than setting them up with your own hands. In this capacity, you will recruit, instruct, and support volunteer leaders as they create and maintain productive community gardens. You will provide advice on starting a neighborhood garden project over the phone or through newsletters or a Web site; relay accurate information on food growing and preservation; put neighborhood gardeners in touch with local gardening resources; distribute donated seeds, plants, and gardening supplies and tools; and seek funding or sponsorship from sources both private (companies and individuals) and public (local, state, and/or federal governments). While many of the people who head these groups have higher degrees in education, horticulture, or community development, extensive hands-on experience will allow you to make contacts with these groups and pursue any opportunities that arise. Community college courses or training programs in education, community development, or horticulture/agriculture would be a plus. Since these gardening groups are nonprofit, you will not earn very much money. The real reward of this work is seeing a neighborhood transformed, both physically and emotionally.
The Goals of a Community Garden
- Increase residents' access to fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables
- Decrease families' grocery bills
- Beautify the neighborhood and create a safe, communal gathering place
- Foster youth and community leadership and organizational skills
- Foster entrepreneurial skills and forge business-community ties by marketing and selling surplus produce
- Provide young people who are interested in agricultural or horticultural careers with valuable work experience
- Provide young people with a positive, productive, after-school activity
- Build strong community ties and increase social interaction and civic participation
- Encourage neighborhood self-reliance
- Increase self-esteem, self-confidence, and education of young people
- Promote healthier communities
Get out there and dig! Any relevant experience you can get by working at a nursery or in a greenhouse will help you pursue this career.
The ability to work well with others in a learning environment is also essential. While some programs may seek those with degrees in education, relevant experience and dedication is usually a good substitute. You should start getting practice in this area through community service, youth development, summer camps, or youth ministry programs. Communication skills are also very important. Volunteer or try to get a paid internship with an established urban greening program. Once you have your foot in the door and prove to your supervisors that you are a hard worker and a good organizer, keep an eye out for paying jobs that may open up.
The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that urban gardeners involved in its programs grow about $16 million worth of fresh food annually.
A survey by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension found that 13 percent of respondents felt that a community garden had improved their neighborhood by cleaning blighted areas and increasing neighborliness.
Ninety-five percent of employees and patients participating in a Center for Health Design study of hospital gardens claimed that gardening had therapeutic benefits, such as making the gardeners feel more productive and healthy, less stressed, and more able to tolerate treatment and medicine.
The Greening of North America
(For more success stories, visit www.cityfarmer.org.)
- Puerto Rican community gardeners in New York cultivate vegetables, fruit, and medicinal and culinary herbs. They also construct one- and two-room wood frame structures known as casitas, or “little houses.”
- Lettuce Link improves the nutritional opportunities of low-income people in Seattle through garden development in low-income communities, basic garden education, seed and plant distribution at food banks, and coordination of produce donations.
- In 2000, volunteer garden leaders in Cleveland coordinated the planting of 206 community gardens covering 33 acres of previously vacant land. Over 80 percent of the gardens are found in Cleveland's poorest neighborhoods.
- Vacant lots are a common sight in big urban areas. In Philadelphia, one of the largest comprehensive urban greening programs in North America is working to turn these blights into a source of pride and sustenance. The Philadelphia Urban Gardening Project reports that community gardeners eat produce from their gardens five months of the year, food is shared with neighbors and relatives on a weekly basis, and 40 percent of the gardeners share food with church or community organizations.
Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCool Careers Without CollegeURBAN GARDENER - Description, The Goals Of A Community Garden, Bearing Fruit, The Greening Of North America