Join a Community garden or CSA!
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Q. Hi Mike: I live in a townhouse, don't have any land, and my attempt at growing tomatoes in containers was an abysmal failure—so I am interested in community gardening. Do you know if there are any listings of community gardens in my area? Thanks.
---Barbara in West Chester, PA
I love Community Gardens—vacant lots or other open areas that have been turned into mini-farmettes so that otherwise concrete-bound resident scan have a plot of their own to dig in. Almost everyone in the nation has a community garden or three somewhere within a reasonable distance of their work or home—but finding them can take a little digging. (Get it? "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 have a list of all the local offices.) The agents what staff these offices often have lists of local community gardens and people to contact about joining them. (And if you're feeling ambitious about that vacant lot tantalizing you from across the street, your local agent might help you start a new garden!) The people in charge of your local Parks and Recreation offices are also good resources for such lists.
But a lot of the community gardens in your area won't be on anyone's list. The fastest path to dirty-hand success is often to drive, walk or bike around the neighborhoods in which you live and work on a nice Saturday, look for community gardens and ask the people you see working inside who you should contact about getting in.
The best national resource is the American Community Gardening Association, a thousand-member organization whose website can connect you with THE people who know where these gardens are just about everywhere. Go to www.communitygarden.org, click on "join ACGA email list", follow the instructions, and then send an email out to the group asking for help. Your plea will be seen by lots of ACGA members—and many 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: "Looking for a community garden in Nashville" Or Waco, or Cherry Hill, or wherever you happen to be. Write a nice paragraph, re-identify the city and state in which you're interested, and remember to say thank you at the end or Adam from the Clinton Community Garden in NYC's Hell's Kitchen will yell at you.
Q. Last year on the show you talked about how to purchase locally grown organic veggies directly from the farmer. I'd like to try that this year, and recall you saying that I should place my order before the planting season begins. How can I find the local growers that participate in such programs? Thanks.
---Mike in Wilmington, DE
You're talking about "Community Supported Agriculture" or CSAs. Essentially a form of subscription farming, CSAs are a great way for non-gardeners to enjoy fresh produce all season long. You purchase a share at the beginning of the growing season and then receive a heaping helping of farm-fresh goodies each week. Every farm's details are a little different, but one thing is the same—you'll be joining other like-minded people in your community or place of business in supporting organic agriculture and local farmland preservation—and you'll enjoy the wonderfully natural rhythm of eating seasonally. Delicious dividends!
In general, a 'share' is enough produce for a family of four who eat several home-cooked meals per week, but this can vary greatly. Some farms guarantee a certain amount of food per week; others deliver an actual 'share' of that week's harvest. Pick the protocol that most appeals to you personally. And if a full share is too much, ask about buying 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 options and pick the one whose delivery schedules and drop-off sites best fit your needs. Check nearby states if you're near a line; a farm the next state 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 the USDA for many years, but budget cuts took that list down. Apparently, war trumps watermelons. But the Center has created an excellent list of their own.
A 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 only listed at one of the sites. So take the time to check both and see all your options.