Start a Garden
Do you want to join with your neighbors to grow healthy food, create and tend a
green space, and bring people together? Then this page is for you! Forsyth Community
Gardening (FCG) receives dozens of inquiries about starting new
gardens every month. We created this page to help new groups assess their resources
and needs, and take important first steps toward starting or revitalizing a garden.
Please explore the steps below to decide if creating a garden is something you’d
like to commit to, and have the community support to undertake. Many of the resources
referenced below can be found in FCG’s packet of worksheets on Starting or Revitalizing a Community Garden. Once you have
a core leadership team together and potential sites identified, you may contact
Forsyth Community Gardening and request a meeting to discuss next steps.
As you Get Started...
Patience, patience! Plan to spend time building community support, inviting input into garden organization and design, and securing land and resources. Allow at least six months from the time you begin organizing to the time you build and plant your garden. If you hope to begin a garden in the Spring, start organizing the previous Fall. If you begin organizing in Spring, the earliest you should expect to build and plant a garden is Fall (and there are many opportunities for productive, fall-planted crops in NC!).
Please note: Due to the volume of requests for assistance and our commitment to community engagement and thoughtful garden planning, Forsyth Community Gardening is not able to support rushed garden development processes. Thanks for your understanding!
Consider partnering with existing gardens. Before beginning a new garden, check FCG’s Gardens page to see if there are gardens in your area that you might partner with. Many gardens need more members, and may be happy to welcome additional gardeners and programming you hope to do. In turn, you would benefit from established infrastructure and connections with experienced gardeners. On the other hand, if there aren't accessible gardens near you, or if you have a large group of committed gardeners, starting a new community garden may be the best option.
Participate in FCG’s Community Garden Mentor Program! You can learn more and sign up to receive information about the next Mentor training on our Programs page.
Step 1: Form a Leadership Team
A community garden is, first and foremost, a community of people! Nurturing this community takes time and effort. For this reason, Forsyth Community Gardening encourages garden organizers to focus first on engaging members and understanding their interests and gifts.
Start by talking with friends, neighbors, and local associations to identify people who are interested. You can adapt FCG’s Community Garden Interest Survey or School Garden Volunteer Interest Survey to identify potential participants' skills, availability, and learning needs with respect to gardening.
When you have at least 5-10 people committed to the garden, organize an initial meeting to determine the feasibility of a garden and – if you decide to move forward – plan next steps. See the University of Missouri’s Community Gardening Toolkit (p. 10) for a list of questions that should be addressed at an initial meeting.
Step 2: Find a Good Site and Secure Tenure (permission to use the land)
As you assess potential sites, use FCG’s Community Garden Intake Questionnaire to think through site selection and tenure considerations. Here are some tips:
Locate a suitable garden site. A community garden site should:
- Be easily accessible for intended gardeners (within their neighborhood, or located on the land of an organization they visit frequently, such as a faith community)
- Be relatively flat
- Get 6-8 hours of direct sunlight in spring, summer, and fall
- Have access to water
- Have soil that is free of contaminants such as heavy metals (or be suitable for constructing raised beds with imported soil)
Identify the site owner and obtain written permission to use the land (a lease).
- Use the Forsyth County GeoData Explorer to verify the owner of any potential site.
- Inquire with the owner if s/he will grant the group written permission to use the land for at least three years. Review the sample lease on pp. 8-18 Change Lab Solutions' Ground Rules: A Legal Toolkit for Community Gardens for things that should be included in a lease to protect the interests of both the landowner and the garden group.
Inquire with the Planning Department if you need to apply for a Special Use Permit.
- Permits are required for most gardens in the City of Winston-Salem not located on the same lot as the gardener's house. Review the Planning Department’s Urban Agriculture website and Urban Agriculture Toolkit to learn about the permitting process and for appropriate contact information.
- If needed, complete the application and prepare the required site plan and evidence for the hearing (for example, garden rules and gardener agreement forms showing that your group is committed to maintaining the site well – see Step #3!)
Step 3: Organize the Garden
Discussions about garden organization will occupy several meetings. Here are some key tasks:
Craft a garden mission statement to clarify your goals for the garden, and guide garden design and activities.
Decide how the garden will be managed. Will it be an allotment garden (members have their own plots), a communal garden (members plant and maintain the garden together and share the harvest), or some combination of these two models?
Develop leadership roles, committees, and garden guidelines. You can use FCG’s sample Garden Organization and Rules document for ideas.
Develop a plot-holder’s agreement, in which each members commits to follow the guidelines, contribute to maintaining common areas, and serve on a committee that benefits the whole garden. FCG has a sample Plot-Holder’s Agreement you can adapt for your garden.
Step 4: Design, Prepare, and Plant the Garden
Make a site map and design the garden through a participatory process. Invite broad input on what garden members would like to see in terms of plantings, paths, and infrastructure (such as toolsheds or compost bins). Then work together to map these onto the site plan.
Identify and secure resources to prepare and plant the garden. This will include services (such as initial tilling of a new site), equipment (things you just need on Build Day, and could borrow), and materials (things that will stay in the garden, like lumber, hardware, and soil for raised beds).
Organize work crews, then host work parties to clean up and plant the site!
Step 5: Sustainable Horticulture and Active Programming
Once the garden is established, this is only the beginning! To keep your garden productive and vibrant, strive to learn and use sustainable horticultural practices, and maintain active programs that bring people together.
Sustainable Horticutral Practices:
- Check out FCG’s Printed Materials page for a wealth of information on building health soil, crop planning, managing pests, and more.
- Sign up for the Bulletin Board to stay informed about upcomingand other horticultural programs offered through Forsyth County Cooperative Extension.
Active Programming: To make the most of your community garden, be sure to plan and hold collaborative workdays, educational workshops, and other events (such as arts and cultural programs, or social gatherings). Here are a few resources to get you started:
Explore these more comprehensive community garden resources for guidance and ideas on creating and sustaining your garden: