Community gardens are an incredible community resource in areas that may otherwise have poor access to fresh food and green spaces. They are places to not only grow local food, but cultivate deeper, more fulfilling relationships between community members and their neighborhoods. Community gardens come in all shapes and sizes, from small informal planter boxes at community centers to larger gardens with multiple rows of crops, permanent structures, and irrigation systems.
Establishing a community garden can be a rewarding process that brings people of all ages together. It is important to understand up front the level of involvement that it will take to establish and manage a successful garden. Be realistic about the scale and time commitment you and other community members are ready to volunteer and what partnerships you can leverage in order to get things going.
Stage 1 – Planning For Planting!
The first stage in establishing a new community garden is to prepare a basic plan that helps you address what type of garden you would like to cultivate, how it will be managed, possible sites for the garden, and how to establish a budget and identify funding sources. This phase is important to determine who will be involved in the garden cultivation and management, as well as how to fund your project long-term.
STEP 1 – LEARN
There are many local organizations that provide training and other resources that you can contact to get started, a few of which are listed below. It’s always a good idea to visit other local community gardens to see how others have gotten their community gardens off the ground.
To begin planning your garden, the first step is to ask a lot of questions and learn what will be required to make it successful. Some important questions to ask are:
- Who will be involved in the garden? Who will help get the project started and manage the garden long term?
- Who does the garden serve? Is there a membership model for people to join the garden and cultivate their own plots? What are the rules for community members who want to use the garden?
- What type and what size of garden do you want to grow (see Step 2)? Do you see the garden growing larger over time or do you want to keep the garden a set size?
- Do you have a site in mind for the garden (see Step 2)? Who owns this land and what type of agreements and City permits may be required to use this site as a community garden?
- How much time can you and other members commit to building and sustaining the garden?
- What is your overall budget for the project and where do you think you can get funding?
- Do you have a fiscal sponsor for the project? Many grants can only be given to eligible non-profits (including churches) specifically 501(c)(3) organizations.
STEP 2 – SELECT A SITE
Once you have researched the basic of starting a garden and begun to pin down who the garden will serve and who may be interested in being involved, the next step is to find an appropriate site.
Who owns the site? There are several vacant lots around the International District that may be available for a community garden, depending on ownership. If the site is private land, is there a possibility that the owner will grant permission to use the site as a garden? Some organizations, such as religious institutions, or local non-profits may be willing to lease the land for use as a garden. Albuquerque Public Schools has its own community garden program for starting gardens at APS facilities (contact Kateri Sava, APS Garden Specialist at [email protected]).
How big is the site, and how many garden plots do you envision? Community gardens can range in size from 1 square foot planter boxes to a full acre or more. You should also consider the types of plants you might want to grow and the space requirements that are needed per plant. Don’t forget that you may also need space for walkways, storage sheds, compost areas, etc. (see Step 4).
What are the physical conditions of the site and do they pose any challenges? You should consider:
- Water: is a water supply available directly to the site or nearby? Is there a place to collect and store rainwater for irrigation purposes?
- Sunlight & Solar exposure: is the site shaded by nearby buildings/trees? Will the garden plots get adequate sunlight? You will need about 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day for your garden.
- Soil: What is the type and quality of the soil? Will soil remediation be required or can raised garden beds with imported soil be considered?
- Drainage: Are there any drainage concerns associated with the slope of the site?
- Adjacent Properties: Are they any adjacent properties that may be affected and are there any required setback areas (see Step 5)?
Stage 2 – Designing Your Garden!
Once you have selected your site, and identified who is interested in supporting the project, it is time to design the site, secure funding, and obtain any required permits. Depending on the size and scale of the garden, a formal site plan may need to be submitted to the City or County for approval before construction can begin.
STEP 3 – DESIGN & ESTIMATE COSTS
Designing the community garden space is one of the rewarding aspects of establishing your community garden. This is the phase where you get to decide what to do with the site you have selected, including how and where you’d like to plant, whether or not the site should be irrigated, where to place sheds, compost, seating areas, and other site features. There are several DIY sites available that include information on how to construct your own planting beds, compost bins and install other site features.
- Planting Beds (e.g. planter boxes or rows)
- Permanent Structures (e.g. shade structures or sheds)
- Compost areas
- Maintenance and parking areas
- Grading and erosion control
There are several tools that can help you design your garden site. Depending on the complexity of the site, and the permits required, you may be required to draft a site plan that is to-scale (see Step 5, below). This is most easily accomplished with computer draft programs such as AutoCAD or SketchUp.
- SketchUp and other computer drafting programs
- Hand drawn plans using graph paper or a sketchbook
- Online tools such as https://www.growveg.com/account/
STEP 4 – ESTABLISH A BUDGET & SECURE FUNDING
Once you have established the overall goals, scale, and site for your garden, it is important to develop a budget and begin to secure funding. Based on your budget and the scale of the project, you should consider multiple streams of funding to establish your garden and sustain operations over multiple years.
The cost of materials, construction, permitting and other expenses to start a community garden can vary widely, depending on the size, scale, and other design considerations of the site. To help you develop a realistic budget, we have created a local Budget and Cost Estimate Tool to identify the primary costs (materials, irrigation and water, labor costs, equipment, etc.) you will need consider. Also consider the various annual operational costs, such as water, materials, maintenance, electricity, etc., which will vary, depending on the type and scale of the garden.
Donations from community members, local organizations, and through fundraising (online and through events) usually provide the bulk of funds to get community gardens started. Other neighborhood organizations that may have funds to donate to your project include:
- religious institutions
- neighborhood associations
- local MainStreet associations
- community non-profits
- local businesses
Many community gardens use a membership model that asks for a small membership fee (~$25 to $100 per year) for each plot. Although a small source of revenue, these membership fees can support ongoing garden operations.
If you are considering applying for grants, it is important for your garden to be an incorporated non-profit or have a fiscal sponsor, such as a local non-profit, church, etc. that can apply for and manage any grant funding. A few grants that provide funding for materials, construction, and operations include:
STEP 5 – PERMIT APPROVAL
Depending on the location of your garden, you will need to obtain development approval for your garden from the City of Albuquerque or Bernalillo County. Each jurisdiction has its own approval process and requirements, which are briefly described below. If your garden includes structures, such as shade structures or sheds over 150 square feet (within the City limits), you will also need to obtain separate permits for these features.
Community Gardens are allowed in all zoning districts (Lookup a Site Online) except for industrial land. However, to legally develop your site as a community garden, it must have an approved site plan:
- Typically, this type of site plan is called a Site Plan – Admin that can be approved administratively. However, some larger or more complicated sites in certain areas may require a public hearing.
- Each site plan package must include a grading and drainage plan, utility plan, and an overall site plan to-scale showing existing and proposed structures.
- In addition, any permanent buildings over 150 square feet need to have separate building permits.
- Events such as farmers markets or grower festivals are generally permissive uses but may require an event permit before being allowed.
- Most residential zones allow up to 15 rabbits, chickens, and other poultry to be raised for non-commercial uses, and goats are allowed on sites that are at least a half-acre in size (see the City’s HEART Ordinance for more info).
- Double-check if there are any covenants in your neighborhood that would prohibit community garden uses.
City of Albuquerque Planning Department
Plaza del Sol, 600 2nd NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Phone: (505) 924-3860
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays
Community Gardens are allowed in most zoning districts within Bernalillo County but are a conditional use in residential districts. This means that unlike the City of Albuquerque, an additional approval is required in order to establish a community garden in a residential district within the County.
- Depending on the type of community garden (without structures), other requirements include the need for on-site parking, a business licenses, and special events permit for events (e.g. farmers market, harvest festivals) or portable bathrooms for advertised events.
- Structures such as hoop houses and greenhouses over 120 square feet also require building permits.
- Smaller temporary structures that are erected and taken down on the same day (such as a shade tarp or similar structure) are considered temporary and do not require permits if they are small.
- Requests for larger tents, as for events, would be reviewed through the Event Permit process.
- Also permissive is one sign per one acre of lot area announcing sale of “home-raised items”; each sign not to exceed 16 square feet in area.
- Double-check if there are any covenants in your neighborhood that would prohibit community garden uses.
111 Union Square SE, Suite 100
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87102
Phone: (505) 314-0350
Hours: Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Stage 3 – Planting and Managing Your Garden!
Once your design has been completed and approved, it is time to gather the necessary materials, tools, and community volunteers to prepare and plant the garden. This is the most fulfilling stage of the project and the stage that actively involves your community in the cultivation and management of the garden.
STEP 6 – SITE PREPARATION & GATHER MATERIALS
After obtaining approval and finalizing your design and planting plan, you are ready to gather materials to begin the preparation of the site for the garden.
If the site needs preparation before planting can begin. Remediation techniques include:
• Soil Sponges
• soil amendments
• temporary irrigation
• cover crops
The following is a list of vendors, free resources, and other groups that can help you obtain the necessary materials that would will need.
- Seed Libraries:
- Soil + Compost
- Sheds & Other Structures
- Irrigation Systems
- Others: Beehives, Rain Barrels, etc.
STEP 7 – PLANT!
Planting and constructing the garden is the most rewarding aspect of the process! It’s the culmination of all the hard work that goes into planning and preparing to start the garden. It’s also the time when everyone can come out together and construct garden beds, dig in the soil, install an irrigation system, and plant the first batch of crops.
There are several guides offered by the NMSU Extension Office on starting your own garden:
- NMSU Extension Office – Starting A Community Vegetable Garden
- NMSU Extension Office – Starting Plants Early Outdoors
- NMSU Extension Office – Hoop House Vegetable Production
- NMSU Extension Office – Home Vegetable Gardening in New Mexico
- NMSU Extension Office – Growing Zones, Recommended Crop Varieties, and Planting and Harvesting Information for Home Vegetable Gardens in New Mexico
STEP 8 – GROW & MANAGE
Getting your garden started is only the first step in the long-term life of the space. Longer term, you and your garden groups should consider formalizing the garden’s rules, management structure, obtaining insurance, and potentially incorporating as a non-profit entity.
Examples of community garden guides include:
Eat it! There are also many local organizations and businesses in Albuquerque that can benefit from the produce harvested from your garden including:
- SWOP: Project Feed the Hood
- Food is Free ABQ
- Street Food Institute
- Roadrunner Food Bank
- East Central Ministries
- La Montanita Coop