In 2017, New York Communities for Change’s community garden grew 17 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs and distributed them to low-income families in the Village of Hempstead. The garden employed organic growing techniques, composting, and other environmentally friendly practices. We held interactive workshops for students from the Hempstead School District about the different varieties of produce, how to start and maintain a garden, and healthy nutrition.
What challenges did or does your project face?
Our community garden is one of several gardens in the area that support healthy eating in low-income, under-resourced neighborhoods. Unfortunately, many of these gardens close within a year or two because they lack volunteers and/or financial support. Since NYCC’s garden was launched in partnership with the Village of Hempstead in 2015, we have recruited an enthusiastic team of volunteers and won the support of the school district and broader community.
How are you working to overcome them?
NYCC and our fiscal sponsor New York Communities Organizing Fund, Inc. are raising money through foundations and corporations to expand the youth education effort and ensure long-term sustainability. At the same time, we are working to train and engage a team of volunteers to weed, water, and perform other maintenance work.
What did you or your project learn this season that might be useful to others as well?
The biggest lesson we learned is that it is critical to have a broad base of volunteers. Gardening work is labor-intensive; once you cultivate the garden and prepare it for planting, it needs constant attention so it does not fall into disrepair -- and educational programming requires many hours of additional staff time. The garden benefited from a tremendous amount of volunteer energy during the first season. We would advise others who are considering starting a community garden to make sure they have a volunteer coordinator, at least one consistent funding source, and a strong relationship with neighborhood stakeholders.