by Kristi Willis
Photography by Whitney Arostegui
Nothing quite compares to the taste of a juicy summer tomato plucked from the garden or a fresh, crisp cucumber cut straight from the vine. Unfortunately, not everyone has a suitable place to garden at home. Community gardens can fill that gap—providing a space to plant for those who don’t have one, as well as creating a community for both new and experienced gardeners.
Austin boasts more than 30 community gardens dotted around the city. Some have been around for decades, such as Sunshine Community Gardens and Deep Eddy Organic Community Gardens, and some have blossomed over the last decade with more than two-thirds sprouting since 2004. Much of that growth can be credited to the work of the Sustainable Food Center (SFC) and the Coalition of Austin Community Gardens, as well as increased attention from the City of Austin through the Sustainable Urban Agriculture department.
The gardens vary greatly in size—from the vast plots at Sunshine and Festival Beach to the small four-plot garden at Travis County Southeast Metro Park. Some programs charge a membership, or rental fee, which can range from $30 to $100 per year, while others ask gardeners to give back with their labor—pitching in for general upkeep outside of the maintenance of their own plot.
Several gardens, such as Alamo and Blackshear, host potlucks and garden dinners, and others, such as New Day Community Garden, conduct cooking workshops. Novice gardeners might consider joining a larger community with more experienced gardeners from whom they can learn, or taking one of the Grow Local classes sponsored by SFC.
To find the best community garden fit for you (and which have openings or lengthy waitlists), consult the Community Gardens in Austin Google spreadsheet (see Resources box below).
Don’t see a garden in your neighborhood or have a unique idea for a community garden? Start one! SFC’s Grow Local program offers a leadership training class that teaches the ins-and-outs of starting a community garden. Urban Patchwork and Food is Free both offer technical assistance on how to start a neighborhood farm network, and Shared Earth hosts a database of landowners who will offer their space to gardeners—and of gardeners who are looking for land.
If the garden is for a community center, underserved group or school, Green Corn Project offers grants and technical assistance, including volunteer labor, to start new gardens. Whether in your own backyard or at a shared neighborhood space, there are plenty of options to ultimately get your fingers into the dirt and start to harvest!
Community Gardens in Austin Google Spreadsheet
Comprehensive spreadsheet containing the contact information, history and membership details for each community garden. edibleaustin.com/communitygardens
Coalition of Austin Community Gardens
A group of local gardening organizations working to facilitate the creation of more community gardens in the greater Austin metro area. The coalition also hosts an updated list of gardens and resources. communitygardensaustin.org
Food is Free
A nonprofit that teaches people how to connect with neighbors to build front yard community gardens for free using salvaged resources that would otherwise be headed to the landfill. foodisfreeproject.org
Green Corn Project
A nonprofit organization that provides the labor, materials and education to establish gardens at homes or other living environments, schools and community centers. greencornproject.org
A faith-based group that ministers through gardening with nine plots in Austin at refugee centers, senior living facilities, the Dell Children’s hospital and more. http://rivercityhopestreet.org/grow-together-community-gardens/
A website that hosts a free database that connects landowners with gardeners and farmers. sharedearth.com
Sustainable Food Center’s (SFC) Grow Local Program
A program that offers organic gardening resources and education to enable children and adults in Central Texas to grow their own food. sustainablefoodcenter.org/grow-local
An organization that helps families and neighbors in small communities turn unused yard space into gardens and connect neighborhood gardeners in order to share their harvests. urbanpatchwork.org