Community Engagement

A Little Free Garden Movement

It’s been very exciting to see the popularity of Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods around the country. Today I’d like to propose a counterpart, Little Free Gardens.

Two years ago, while planning out our ever-growing city garden, a scripture popped into my mind. Today that scripture came once again, along with a thought-provoking quote from W.E.B. DuBois, by way of my Sojourners daily Verse & Voice email:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.

– Leviticus 23:22

To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.

– W.E.B. Du Bois

The response two years ago was to plant a community free pick corner. The result has been conversations with newly met neighbors, opportunities to coach others in starting their own gardens, and a realization that there are many reasons why some right now can’t start a garden but still would like fresh produce. We’ve heard from some that they are poor in time: they are new parents, they commit long hours to volunteer or to public service, they’re new to the area and are just getting settled in. They may be poor in health: injuries or age make it difficult to maintain even a small garden. They may be poor in geographic resources: they have a small yard, or a heavily shaded yard. Meeting new people, learning a little about their lives, and sharing a little about our lives, happens because of necessity a Little Free Garden needs to be someplace where your neighbors can readily gain access. And it requires you to spend time in that space where neighbors have access to you, too.

What would our neighborhoods look like if we took a small section of our front or side yards and opened them up as a Little Free Garden?

Here’s a few thoughts if you’re thinking of getting started:

  1. You can start very small. A few plants can go a long way to getting a feel for things.
  2. Start with extended harvest fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Go for varieties with optimal taste and nutrition rather than those bred for durability during transport. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, and herbs have all been popular. We have a few children and young people in our neighborhood who just love to come pick a few mint leaves to add to their water.
  3. Be ready for the cost, be ready for the benefit. One neighbor wondered aloud how I can manage it, given anytime I go out to do a 10 minute job multiple conversations may turn it into a 2 hour activity.
  4. Use signs to help people know what to harvest when. Many people may never have seen a tomato or squash on the vine and won’t know when to pick them. Small signs with hints (pick when fully red, when about 6-9″ long) can be very helpful.
  5. Complement the Little Free Garden with a Little Free Library to not only share gardening books, but recipes and gardening tips on note cards.

Give it a try and provide a comment on your experiences!

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