ACTION PLAN: Starting a Community Garden in Indianapolis (from someone who has been there)

The Keystone-Monon Community Garden launched as an idea in early 2015, and it took an entire year of planning, building our garden community, drafting proposals, securing land, and raising funds before the first garden bed was planted. As we enter our fourth growing season, we’ve found that the most important thing to fully embrace throughout the lifespan of any community garden is this: without community, it’s just a garden (and probably not a very successful one at that).

At our core, we strive to be a community organization rooted in gardening. We welcome all in our neighborhood and recognize that every person brings something of value to the table. Even as you work to build a garden, cultivate your plot, and harvest your gorgeous produce, the more important thing to cultivate continually is community.

So what’s your action plan? 

  1. GATHER your community and establish whether there is a critical mass committed to both gardening AND community. Discuss community organizing topics, such as Asset Based Community Development and Assume Positive Intentions, and ask people why they are there and what they hope to get out of creating a garden.
  2. ESTABLISH your organization’s mission and vision. Don’t rush through this part, and make sure your mission and vision are developed collaboratively by all.
  3. EXPLORE land options. Some options include vacant lots, parks, churches, private land – any unused or underused space. Be creative, and be sure to consider access, parking, and, most importantly, water. The Indy Urban Garden Program is an example of our city supporting turning vacant lots into urban garden production. The Keystone-Monon Community Garden identified Arsenal Park as our desired space due to its central location and its popularity as a gathering space for all in our community.
  4. DESIGN your space, considering light, access to water, placement within your neighborhood, and any site-specific considerations, such as busy roads. Our design team developed two phases, allowing us to grow slowly, building off successes and giving us the chance to rethink any missteps.
  5. DEVELOP your proposal. Because we work closely with Indianapolis Department of Parks and Recreation, we developed an extensive proposal, including our mission and vision, goals, design plans, annual schedule, maintenance plans, and risk management tactics. While many locations might not require such an extensive proposal, this guidance document has been extremely useful as we have built the garden, established partnerships, and applied for funding.
  6. BUILD partnerships. Truly, you cannot talk to enough people, organizations, or businesses. Look to everyone in your community, and listen to their needs and services. Schools, businesses, non-profits, hardware stores, churches, restaurants, neighborhood development corporations and associations, other community gardens: all could potentially serve as partners or provide guidance and support.
  7. RAISE funds. In addition to a nominal per-bed fee (waived for anyone who is unable to pay), we have raised funds through grants, individual donations, donations from churches and businesses in our neighborhood, neighborhood garden tours, and seedling sales. We have also received in-kind donations of wood and supplies, free mulch from tree service companies, and the donation of a Bobcat from a neighborhood tool rental business to move soil.
  8. FINALIZE land agreements and ACQUIRE insurance. Each year, we submit reports and renew our agreement with the city. The American Community Gardening Association also recommends community gardens acquire general public liability insurance, which we established through Farm Bureau Insurance.
  9. BUILD! This is when you get to really activate your community in a very tangible way! During the spring of 2016, we hosted multiple volunteer days, moving mountains of mulch, building 20 garden beds, and putting together our storage shed. These are also some of the most fun, rewarding projects for volunteers who can walk away seeing what a huge difference they have made.
  10. MANAGE the garden. Applications, participant waivers, regular gardener communications: your group will need to decide how to manage everything.
  11. EDUCATE and CELEBRATE early and often. Offering educational and social opportunities rooted in gardening and celebrating your community help continue your positive momentum and involve all in the neighborhood, even if they aren’t gardeners.

If you read the steps above and felt like you could never accomplish it all on your own, you are probably right! But when you have a strong community of people who are willing and encouraged to speak up; share their skills, ideas, and connections; and empowered to take action, you can accomplish anything. And each person involved will make everything you do that much stronger, better, and easier to accomplish.

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