From Eric Hess:
“How does a community garden work? Typically, the city or program (some are run by private developers) sets aside a patch of land—portions of parks, undeveloped lots, etc—ranging anywhere from 2,000-200,000 sq. ft. in size. The land is parceled into individual plots ranging from under 100 sq. ft. to over 400. Individuals pay under $100/year for a plot. Each location may have different specific requirements, but they generally make sure gardeners are actually using the plot.
Heralded as one of the US’s best urban gardening programs, the P-Patch program has more than 70 gardens over 23 acres—used by 3,800 urban gardeners with another 2,000 on wait lists (which take anywhere from three months to five years). Over half of the gardeners are low income, and the program donates 7-10 tons of fresh produce each year through Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program.”
“Yet despite all the positive press and demand, I have to question the ability of p-patches to make a large impact on our food systems. A dedicated community garden owner on 200 square feet might produce a substantial portion of their vegetables (see end note), but a hobbyist on 90 square feet may simply contribute some tasty additions to their spring and summer suppers. And with an average of only 5 plots per 1,000 residents of the biggest Northwest cities, the programs have a long way to go before they are a major part of our food system or a solution to poor nutrition.
Instead, I think of community gardens along the same lines as food carts—maybe the measurable benefits aren’t so great, but they have an important place in a vibrant urban culture: they often fill land that would otherwise go unused; provide green spaces in some of our cities’ densest neighborhoods; contribute a significant chunk of fresh, healthy produce for those who otherwise might lack access; give kids hands-on experience to understand where food comes from and how ecosystems work; and, as I mentioned before, add a certain je ne sais quoi to dense, urban living by providing non-homeowners with one of the more fun advantages of having a yard.
Perhaps most importantly, there’s an enhanced sense of community when a group of neighbors get together and dig into the earth. Certainly the Victory Gardens of both World Wars provided a morale booster to civilians who felt like they were contributing to war effort (if Wikipedia is to be trusted—and it probably isn’t—they contributed 40 percent of the US’s vegetable consumption). Maybe community gardens provide a similar morale boost for those engaged in the slow-motion sustainability revolution.”