With a tiny budget and a small group of volunteers, you can provide a regular supply of fresh, organic produce to your Food Justice Partner six months a year. Just imagine the impact you can have on a family who can’t afford vegetables at the grocery store! Your efforts nourish body, mind, and soul. Children need a nutritional foundation to grow and learn. Below is the path to get started.
Getting Started – Non-physical Requirements
If you are growing within an organization, having support from directors to volunteers will help the project succeed. Find someone within the organization to be your ally during general meetings, budget meetings, etc. The more the organization is on board, the more people you can feed!
A garden is nothing without a central contact point and strong leadership. As you plan your physical space, think about who will be involved with the leadership at your garden. It can be one person or it can be a panel of people or even specialized committees with clear roles and responsibilities. Think about what is best for your organization and the capacity of your garden. The bigger your project, the more hands you will need on deck. Here are many of the roles and responsibilities that you will need to consider:
- Volunteer Management: recruiting, scheduling, training, organizing and thanking
- Garden Planner: planning crops and supplies, purchasing all items needed
- On-Site Lead: planning and managing work during communal gardening time
- Communications: promoting garden and volunteer opportunities within your institution through social media, newsletters and events
- Food Justice Partner Liaison: developing partner relationship, responding to changing needs with partner, regular informal evaluating and annual evaluation of how things are working, delivering produce
- Liaison with Organization: communicating with organization including reporting on successes and challenges, coordinating garden needs with staff, ensuring organizational safety practices are in place, working with organizational schedule and calendar
Every garden has a different budget based on size and the type of produce being grown. Having a realistic idea of the initial costs, annual costs, and future costs will help the project grow organically. Understanding these costs will also help you request a realistic amount from your organization for the garden to succeed. Even a $100 year investment can result in hundreds of pounds of food going toward food security in your community. Our budgeting worksheet can help you plan out a budget and calculate the “profits” in the form of produce as well.
Each year, you’ll want to plan what you are going to grow for the year, and we also recommend a multi-year plan for how the garden will develop over time. Start small and grow organically! This could include composting systems, benches, gathering spaces, or even developing more growing space as you are able. Check out our worksheet on how to develop a garden plan.
Volunteer Gardener Network
Volunteer gardeners are what make the justice garden successful! Figure out who is going to be involved with your project, how you will get in touch with them, and, most importantly, how you will thank them for their work. Check out our detailed volunteer gardener plan here.
Communal Garden Work Plan: Weekly and Seasonal
Spring and fall planting time, final harvest, and close-down are ideal moments to bring together large groups of volunteers and raise awareness about your work. During the rest of the season, communal gardens can be easily maintained by a once-a-week work session. The main tasks each week include:
- Planting (as needed)
- Plant care — removing dead leaves, checking for diseases or problems
- Pest management
- Assessing and adjusting watering to plant and weather conditions
- Harvesting and Packaging Produce
- Community time
Getting Started – Building Food Justice Partner Relationship
Initial Partner Interview
Meet with your food justice partner to go over the ins and outs of donation. Figure out who the contact person is, the capabilities of the pantry, and the best packaging for donations to arrive in. We have a sample list of interview questions you can use to begin this conversation.
What to Grow Survey
Figure out what your partner’s guests will want to eat. Once you have an idea of what is feasible to grow in your garden, communicate with your food justice partner to survey the guests and what produce they’d like to have. Every community is different and will have preferences for what they want grown. This ensures the food you are growing is appropriate, will be used, and nourishes the community fully. Find an example survey on our website here.
Produce Capacity Checklist
When meeting with your food justice partner, see what they are able to handle in donations. How much space they have, how often they need donations, if they have cold storage, and so on. It’s also helpful to understand how food is distributed to guests. We have some sample questions available here for you to view.
Food Safety Checklist and Training
Donating food can be daunting when you want to ensure your produce is the best it can be. We have resources available on our website that walk you and your Gardener volunteers through food safety from planting to harvest. Good Samaritan laws will protect you legally in case of issues, but good practices can avoid any issues from the start. ***Food Safety Checklist
Getting Started – Physical Requirements
The first step to starting your Food Justice Garden is finding land to grow on! It doesn’t have to be big. The best growing spaces are open and flat. If your organization doesn’t own the land, make sure you have the proper permission to use the space.
Plants can’t grow without water, so you need a source close by. If you don’t have a spigot on your proposed garden space, consider putting in a new water line. In terms of budgeting, this will cost $3,000 on average, but can be more or less depending on the closest water line connection. Collecting rainwater is another option, but it has to be used properly. Also, having a consistent water source is important for times of less rain or for setting up irrigation lines. In general, 1” of irrigation or rain is needed each week. More specifics can be found on our Basics of Irrigation.
Some food-bearing plants need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, but plants like tomatoes or peppers will want as much light as possible. Take a look at your spot at different times of day to get an idea of how shady the area gets. If there is shade, afternoon shade is easier to grow in than morning shade. If your spot does not get at least 6 hours of consistent sunlight, you may need to consider another location.
Before growing, you’ll want to conduct a soil test. Even if you plan to use raised beds, it’s important to have an idea of the ground they will be on. A standard soil test will let you know how fertile the soil is and if you need to make any adjustments. It’s also a good idea to test for lead. If the test comes back with high amounts of lead, this isn’t a major obstacle but does mean you will need some additional precautions. Lead in soil is a risk for anyone coming in direct contact with the soil, not only for the crops that may absorb the metal itself. This means extra precautions for cleaning up after gardening, more monitoring with child gardeners, and avoiding growing root crops that directly contact the soil. Your local Cooperative Extension office will do a soil test for a small fee. Add Agriculture Extension Office Information here
When thinking about growing for your community, consider where the produce is going at all points from harvest to donation. Depending on the time between harvest and delivery, you may need to consider cold storage. For harvest, you may need harvesting crates, tables to hold produce, and bags to package the produce. Please view our food safety handout about the best way to collect and distribute produce!
The size of your growing space and potential crops will determine what tools you need. Check out our basic tool checklist with pictures and descriptions of the best tools for harvesting and planting a wide variety of crops.
Food Justice Partner
If you aren’t planning to grow for your own food distribution, you’ll want to find a food justice partner. This could be a local food pantry, a soup kitchen, any organization that distributes food to community members. The closer the partner is to your physical gardening space, the more impact you can have on the general community. To find a food justice partner, look at online resources or ask a larger partner if they know any organizations close to your growing site.