JOIN/CREATE A COMMUNITY GARDEN

Whether you are motivated by growing your own food, creating a gathering space for socialization between neighbors, or have a desire to donate food for the hungry, UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County is here to help! Community gardens offer many benefits, including improved access to nutritious food, physical activity, and supporting our local food system.

Are you ready to begin your community garden adventure? Choose an option below to get started!

Creating a Community Garden in Sarasota County

Click on a step/item below to learn more about actions to take (show all steps/items).

Step 1: Learn about our program!
  • Complete an Extension interest form. (Volunteer)
  • Review our program handbook for a better understanding of our program. (Volunteer)
  • Enhance your gardening knowledge by taking advantage of our many free or low-cost classes offered throughout the year. This will give you an opportunity to learn more about local Extension programs and staff. Topics such as Growing Edibles Locally, Container Gardening, and Victory Gardens will get you primed and ready for your garden plot! (Volunteer)
  • Find your kindred spirits! Connect with other interested parties in your area. Upon completion of the interest form, the Program Coordinator will help you make contact. (Volunteer, Program Coordinator)
  • Visit an existing Sarasota County Community Garden to learn from others. (Volunteer, Program Coordinator))
Step 2: Digging Deeper

Still interested in creating a new community garden? In recognition of the many benefits provided by community gardens, Sarasota County’s Comprehensive Plan encourages the creation of gardens within county parks. Since an existing, sustainable framework is well established for daily operation of gardens within parks, you may find that this represents the simplest approach. However, that’s not to say gardens cannot be located at other sites, such as churches and common areas in neighborhoods.

Note that “developing a new garden is a complex process that requires time, fundraising, planning, and community support … Partnerships also play a vital role in the creation and sustainability of community gardens.” (Portland Community Gardens)

  • If you haven’t already, now is the time to connect with the Program Coordinator, by phone 941-861-9815 or email.
  • Consider potential available sites and choose the best one. The University of California Cooperative Extension suggests "…you identify at least three potential sites because one or more might not be available for you to use for various reasons, and you want to end up with at least one that works out.”
  • Evaluate sunlight, water access, fencing and shed placement, neighborhood support, underground obstacles, easements, ownership, and more. The site should be large enough to accommodate a minimum of 15 plots and common areas, or roughly a quarter-acre. Work with the Program Coordinator to identify hurdles early on. (Volunteer, Program Coordinator)
Step 3: Raise Awareness

When it comes to community gardens, it really does take a village! Get others involved to help lighten the workload and to provide support. Starting a garden takes a lot of work and you should have several others ready and willing to participate. This project should represent a collective group vision to be successful over many years to come.

  • Attend neighborhood meetings to raise awareness of your project. Use a sign-up sheet to obtain names and email addresses of all interested parties. (Volunteer)
  • Track all of the time you and other volunteers spend working on this project, for grant-reporting purposes. (Volunteer)
  • Schedule monthly meetings with interested parties to delegate tasks, provide updates, and continue recruiting interest. The earlier that people get involved in this process, the more vested they will be in seeing it through to completion. (Volunteer)
  • Visualize! One of the topics at your monthly meetings should involve designing the garden space. Will it be circular or linear? How can you maximize production from the area? Where will the shed, compost bins, and gates be located? Many questions will arise and your primary group should be fully engaged in finding solutions for planning and setup. Measure the site and use a to-scale map to locate various elements. Photos from websites and magazines can be very helpful in demonstrating various ideas and generating enthusiasm.
  • TIP: Make plots big enough to supply enough JOY, PRODUCE, AND WORK to the members. Small plots can result in unsatisfied and, eventually, unengaged gardeners.
Step 4: Raise Funds

Typically, gardens in our area require around $10,000 in start-up costs. (Expenses will vary depending on size and other factors.) It’s time to consider potential funding sources. (Volunteer)

  • Contact Friends of Sarasota County Parks to obtain a Chapter designation if the garden will be located at a County Park. This will provide an authorized location to store monies raised through fundraising and grant efforts. (Volunteer)
  • Develop a project budget, including shed, fence, compost, irrigation, well, tools, etc. Obtain quotes from authorized vendors (contact CG Program Coordinator for assistance). (Volunteer, Program Coordinator)
  • Contact Sarasota County Neighborhood Services to determine grant eligibility. Attend a Neighborhood Grant workshop if eligible. (Volunteer))
  • If eligible for a Neighborhood Grant, the project will be routed to pertinent county staff for review, with final approval required by the Board of County Commissioners. (Other Party)
  • If needed, alternative grant applications should be pursued. Also consider fundraising ventures, such as collecting donations from local businesses. (Volunteer)
  • Detour! If your site is located on private property, then a lease, liability insurance, and other legalities might be required. We suggest you visit the American Community Gardening Association’s Web page for further advice. (Volunteer)
  • TIP: Don’t give up! Our gardens have typically taken one year or more to create. After several months of planning, attending meetings, and researching, you may find that the group’s enthusiasm is waning. Try to remain positive, continue communicating, and concentrate on the progress you’ve made. (Volunteer)
Step 5: Ground breaking!

Once you have obtained approval for the use of the space, sufficient funds to cover start-up budget, and a minimum of 20 potential new members, choose a date to begin work. (Volunteer)

  • Develop a timeline for all construction activities. (Volunteer, Program Coordinator)
  • Have Extension test the soil for pH and nutrient content. Determine which amendments will be needed to create successful growing conditions. This is especially important in Florida’s sandy environment. Note that raised beds can help reduce soil concerns.
  • All work on county-owned properties should be coordinated with the Program Coordinator to ensure required permits, insurance, etc. are properly addressed. (Volunteer, Program Coordinator)
  • The Program Coordinator will provide Membership Agreement forms to register gardeners, along with collecting program fees. (Program Coordinator)
  • Once the opening date is known, a grand-opening ceremony should be planned! (Volunteer, Program Coordinator)

Enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Note: Parenthetical items in blue font denote the party to take action.

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