As you begin your garden project, you surely have many hopes and dreams. Maybe you hope to grow enough to open your own food pantry, or you dream of providing job training as part of a farm market stand. Maybe you just envision a community hub where people grow, learn, and work toward justice together.  No matter what you’re thinking, we recommend starting small and having a plan to expand over time.

A garden plan is more than just thinking about what to grow in the upcoming season. It includes yearly goals for deepening and broadening your impact. We advise “growing organically,” letting the garden guide you in the ways it wants and needs to grow. No effort is too small, and you will be surprised at how much you can do with very little land, resources and time. 

First Year: What is feasible to begin with?

Since your primary focus is growing food, prioritize items like growing structures, tools, and spaces for food collection, rather than community structures like benches or gazebos. Think also of the community support you will have in the first year. Even if you have the budget to install a large gardening space, do you have the volunteer power to maintain it? Take a moment to think about all of the resources you have available and make a reasonable infrastructure plan for the first year. We recommend tending toward the cautious side – you will always have time to grow the garden more. Expanding in the second year is better for morale than being overwhelmed the first year. 

Third Year: How should we grow?

After the garden has gotten its start, think about how you want to grow and work towards larger goals that include community gathering spaces and justice work. 

Fifth Year: Building the space 

At this point, you’ll know how much space you need to grow the food. This is a good time to think about the longer term goals and community building aspects of a garden. Think about how you would like the nongrowing spaces to look. Do you want lots of picnic benches? Or do you want some kind of structure that could be used for programming, like a gazebo or a farm stand? These long term goals will also give an idea of financial needs your garden will have down the line. 

Example Plan:

First Year

  • 20’ x 20’ in ground growing plot 
  • Trellis 
  • Compost pile
  • Gardening tools 
  • Picnic table 

Third Year

  • 2 accessible gardening beds 
  • Extend growing plot by 5’ on each side 
  • Compost bin system
  • 2 picnic tables 
  • Tool shed 
  • Additional gardening tools 

Fifth Year 

  • 2 more gardening beds 
  • Gazebo 
  • Irrigation system 
  • 2 picnic tables 
  • Farm Market “stand” 

As you make your plan, try creating a rough sketch for the first year, third year, fifth year, and so on until you have an idea of what you want the final space to look like. Creating a drawing will help you visualize the space and what can feasibly fit. Also try to think of factors like shade, trees, existing structures, and water access.

In general, the garden plan should be tailored to your own garden team and space. The above is a general guideline, but may not follow the direction your garden is growing. Your plan should be flexible to adapt to any changes you may encounter, but still have structure for goal setting. Having a good plan will help with budgeting, fundraising, and getting organizational support. Every year, preferably in the winter months when the garden is quiet, take a moment to look over your plan and make adjustments as needed. Remember, the space will grow over time so there is no need to rush. Any amount of food justice is a major step in the right direction — even the smallest impact can change lives! 

How to Plan Growing 

Great news – growing for food security is one of the easiest gardens to plan. Because you are growing with the goal of food donations, it is best to focus on a few crops and higher yields. To determine what crops to grow, we recommend surveying your food justice partner. This will help you grow the most popular food and connect better with your community. 

In general, there are two to three growing seasons in the United States, depending on how warm your climate is. Usually the spring and fall have similar crops, and the summer has more heat-tolerant crops. Every state has an Agricultural Extension Office, and these offer great information on crops that work seasonally for your state. As a general rule, spring and fall see crops like leafy greens and root vegetables, whereas summer is the season for fruiting plants, like tomatoes, okra, and peppers. 

Once you know what you want to grow in each season, create a drawing of the space for spring, summer, and fall. Research how far apart the crops need to grow and break up your garden space depending on yields. Bigger crops, like okra and tomatoes, will need more space in your garden to produce high yields than a smaller crop, like collard greens and carrots. Again, you can find the appropriate spacing for crops on your Agricultural Extension Office’s website. Once you have your plan, ordering seeds and seedlings for the upcoming season becomes much easier!