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Join a Community garden or CSA!
No Room to Grow Your Own? Join aCommunity garden or CSA!

Q. Hi Mike: I live in atownhouse, don't have any land, and my attempt at growing tomatoes incontainers was an abysmal failure—so I am interested in communitygardening. Do you know if there are any listings of community gardensin my area?  Thanks,
            ---Barbara inWest Chester, PA

I love Community Gardens—vacant lots or other open areas that have beenturned into mini-farmettes so that otherwise concrete-bound residentscan have a plot of their own to dig in. Almost everyone in the nationhas a community garden or three somewhere within a reasonable distanceof their work or home—but finding them can take a little digging. (Getit? "Digging?" Oh c'mon—wake up out there; it's almost Spring!)

First, contact your local County Extension Office. (Just type the word"Extension" and the name of your state into an Internet search engine;one of the first hits should be your state's web page, which will havea list of all the local offices.) The agents what staff these officesoften have lists of local community gardens and people to contact aboutjoining them. (And if you're feeling ambitious about that vacant lottantalizing you from across the street, your local agent might help youstart a new garden!) The people in charge of your local Parks andRecreation offices are also good resources for such lists.
 
But a lot of the community gardens in your area won't be on anyone'slist. The fastest path to dirty-hand success is often to drive, walk orbike around the neighborhoods in which you live and work on a niceSaturday, look for community gardens and ask the people you see workinginside who you should contact about getting in.

The best national resource is the American Community GardeningAssociation, a thousand-member organization whose website can connectyou with THE people who know where these gardens are just abouteverywhere. Go to www.communitygarden.org,click on "join ACGA emaillist", follow the instructions, and then send an email out to the groupasking for help. Your plea will be seen by lots of ACGA members—andmany other people interested in community gardening.

Be specific in your subject line. Don't write something vague like"Help" or "Need Help" (We all need help; some of us more than others.)And don't leave that subject line blank. Type something like: "Lookingfor a community garden in Nashville" Or Waco, or Cherry Hill, orwherever you happen to be. Write a nice paragraph, re-identify the cityand state in which you're interested, and remember to say thank you atthe end or Adam from the Clinton Community Garden in NYC's Hell'sKitchen will yell at you.

Q. Last year on the show youtalked about how to purchase locally grown organic veggies directlyfrom the farmer. I'd like to try that this year, and recall you sayingthat I should place my order before the planting season begins. How canI find the local growers that participate in such programs? Thanks,
            ---Mike inWilmington, DE

You're talking about "Community Supported Agriculture" or CSAs.Essentially a form of subscription farming, CSAs are a great way fornon-gardeners to enjoy fresh produce all season long. You purchase ashare at the beginning of the growing season and then receive a heapinghelping of farm-fresh goodies each week. Every farm's details are alittle different, but one thing is the same—you'll be joining otherlike-minded people in your community or place of business in supportingorganic agriculture and local farmland preservation—and you'll enjoythe wonderfully natural rhythm of eating seasonally. Deliciousdividends!  

In general, a 'share' is enough produce for a family of four who eatseveral home-cooked meals per week, but this can vary greatly. Somefarms guarantee a certain amount of food per week; others deliver anactual 'share' of that week's harvest. Pick the protocol that mostappeals to you personally. And if a full share is too much, ask aboutbuying a half-share—or sublet your subscription and share your share!

You'll likely find a number of CSAs near you; look at all your optionsand pick the one whose delivery schedules and drop-off sites best fityour needs. Check nearby states if you're near a line; a farm the nextstate over might be closer than your state's nearest farm.

OK—now the lists:

The Robyn Van En Center had been linking up to a list maintained by theUSDA for many years, but budget cuts took that list down. Apparently,war trumps watermelons. But the Center has created an excellent list oftheir own. Click on this link: xand ignore all that stuff some engineer thought was important (no, youdon't need to have divined the name of the farm you're looking for,even though it looks like you do). Just enter your state and hit'search'.

Another fine list is available at the Local Harvest website, www.localharvest.org.

There's a lot of overlap between the two, but some farms are onlylisted at one of the sites. So take the time to check both and see allyour options.   

You Bet Your Garden   Question of the Week  ©2006Mike McGrath

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