04/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How To Get Started In Community Gardening

The following is an excerpt from Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community by Heather C. Flores. It has been adapted for the Web.

What If I Don't Have a Lawn?

For people who are lucky enough to have fertile soil in their own yard, starting a garden is easy. For those who don't have good soil--or don't have a yard at all--starting a garden takes a little more effort. Most soil, especially in urban areas, responds well to organic improvements, and it usually makes more sense to build soil on a convenient spot than to travel far from home to garden in an area that is already fertile.

But what if you don't have a garden space at all? Ultimately city dwellers' best resource is neighbors, so tap into their hearts and minds, and don't hesitate to share your own.

Rent a Plot in a Community Garden

Many cities have some sort of community garden program. Ask at the local university, Agricultural Extension Service, or gardening store, or try doing a Google search--just type in the name of your city and "community garden."

Most of these programs lease ground from the city and rent out small plots to local gardeners on a seasonal basis. If you can't find a program locally, would you like to start one?

Community Greenhouse/Nursery

You can build a greenhouse big enough for a whole neighborhood's vegetable starts with just one pickup load of recycled materials. Divide up the space among the people who helped build the greenhouse, or just volunteer some time to fill the space with seeded flats and give the starts away to whoever can use them. Here's what we did:

A supportive neighbor had a driveway but no car, and since she was renting she didn't want to tear up the driveway to put in a garden. Instead she donated the space to a community greenhouse project. A local awning company donated a six- by twenty-foot aluminum frame; we built supports out of recycled pallet wood and covered the structure with a piece of surplus plastic from a local farm.

Over the next two years we grew and gave away more than a thousand vegetable starts, grown from donated seed, in donated pots--all for free, all organic. Local garden centers donated the seeds and potting soil, and people took turns watering the starts until they were ready to put out on the street to give away. When the renter moved we transferred the small greenhouse to our farm, and we still grow seeds and food in it today.