Arkansas Community Gardens
Your local county extension office is loaded with resources on gardening. From fact sheets on each vegetable we grow, to a garden calendar telling you what to grow when, there is a lot of information on the website at http://www.uaex.edu. You can also have your soil tested free of charge at the county office, and if you do have problems, agents are available to help diagnose the situation, or send it off to our disease diagnostic lab. Many counties also offer classes on vegetable gardening. And if you want to take it a step further, you could join the Master Gardener program. Currently there are programs in 62 of our 75 counties. Trainings are conducted at different times throughout the year, but you can sign up at your local county extension office and find out when the next training is occurring.
Vegetable gardening is cool again! Local food movements, back to earth, whatever you want to call it, people of all ages want to try their hand at growing vegetables. This is actually the third year of an increased trend in edible gardening nationwide.
Some community gardens are just that—they are growing all produce to be donated to soup kitchens or food banks. In Jefferson County, a huge vegetable garden is used as a teaching garden, where Master Gardeners work with school children to show them how to grow vegetables. Canning and food preservation workshops teach families what to do with the produce once they get it.
How do you get started with a community garden? First, you have to find a spot with an available water supply with full sun. Arrangements need to be made with the landowner over what is expected and who is paying the water bill. You need to find interested gardeners. In the case of one local church in Little Rock, their church board decided to build it and see if anyone would come.
One of the downsides to community gardens is that sometimes people's expectations don't mesh with reality—or in the case of last year, the weather. What sounds like a wonderful idea in the cool month of April can be a bit daunting in the extreme heat of July and August. When gardeners abandon a garden, someone needs to be able to step in and decide what to do with it. If a garden festers, diseases, insects and weeds can multiply and move over into adjacent gardens. Those in charge need to come up with a plan on how to handle this—in some cases, other gardeners can take over the plot, or some groups simply plow the garden in if it becomes abandoned.
If you are a member of a community garden, explore the opportunities to not only garden, but share the work load. You may find a great deal on compost and one person may have the trunk while the other has a stronger back. You may have a crop failure of squash while your neighbor has no peppers—share your strengths.