How to Start a GreenThumb Community Garden
For those interested in starting a new community garden or farm, please keep in mind that there are already more than 550 community gardens and farms registered with NYC Parks GreenThumb across New York City. If you are not able to locate an existing garden in your neighborhood, here are the steps that we can take together to establish one.
Your first step should always be to contact GreenThumb. If you are located in a neighborhood that isn't currently served by a community garden, there is a good chance that we have already been thinking about how to start one there. You can contact us to determine what efforts might already be underway, or to get some guidance on where to begin. We're always excited to work with New Yorkers who are interested in starting a new community garden, and together we'll take the following steps toward starting a new garden or farm to help beautify, feed, unify and strengthen your neighborhood and our city.
Find Available Land
You'll have to start by finding a place to start the garden and getting permission to build it there.
Identify a vacant lot
Finding space for a new garden can be a challenge, but with a little research and a thorough walk through your neighborhood, we may be able to find a suitable spot. This is also a good chance to meet some of your neighbors to find out who might also be interested in pursuing this project with you. Remember – its takes a community to start a community garden. City-owned lots are best, and you can view available city-owned lots that are available and potentially suitable for urban agriculture here. This list changes periodically, so be sure to check back from time to time if you don't see a potential lot immediately. You can also use 596 Acres' Living Lots NYC website to find other known vacant lots in New York City. Regardless of how you find it, pinpoint the site's location and write it down. Be sure to note the exact location of the lot on the block, including the address of the next door building or house.
Determine the ownership of the site
If you can determine the address, or block and lot numbers, of the lot(s) that you are interested in, then you can determine their ownership by visiting the Department of Finance's Digital Tax Map. You can also visit Oasis NYC and use the mapping system to find this information using the “identify” lot function. GreenThumb can help you with this step.
Before you start planning a garden, we need to make sure that you will have permission to use the space. If the lots that you've identified are on publicly-owned property, GreenThumb will facilitate the process with the City agency that has jurisdiction to determine if they are willing to allow it to be used as a community garden. This process can take some time, so speaking with GreenThumb first will help get things moving more quickly. If you're pursuing a private lot, make sure you have the consent of the owner first. GreenThumb will only register community gardens that have written permission to be there.
Build a Community for the Garden
If it looks like the site you've located might be available and suitable for a community garden, then it's time to start building a group.
Community gardens need more than one person to care for them and insure that they thrive. The more neighbors you are able to get involved, the better chance you'll have of succeeding. If you don't already have members, you can reach out to neighbors and local organizations to find other New Yorkers who might be interested in starting a community garden. One of GreenThumb's Outreach Coordinators can support you in that effort - that's what they do every day!
Draft a proposal
Now that there is a group, it's time to begin translating the group's vision into a reality. A written proposal demonstrates that the group is organized and ready to take the next step. The group's proposal should include specifics such as how the group will be structured, how the garden will be planted and used, how decisions will be made, how resources will be obtained, and much more. GreenThumb has experienced staff ready to support the group with this effort.
Seek support for your project
Gaining local support is essential for the success and sustainability of the project. Community Boards have Parks, Open Space or Land Use Committees that directly address their area's public space issues, and a letter of support from the community board shows that the group has local support, which is instrumental in gaining support from other agencies and organizations. By attending community board meetings, especially those of the Parks Committee, the group will be able to understand community needs and learn about potential resources for your community garden. Please visit the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit to find your community board. GreenThumb will meet with the community board with you to make the request for support and answer any related questions.
You have a lot and your community is behind you. Great! Now it's time to prepare the site for a garden.
Gain access to water
Plants need water. The group can develop its own rainwater harvesting system, or with GreenThumb's help the group can reach out to the NYC Department of Environmental Protection to request a hydrant use permit. Or, the group can reach out to GrowNYC to learn more about capturing rainwater to feed your plants.
Make healthy soil
Healthy plants grow from healthy soil. All edible plants must be grown in a raised growing beds. The group can work with the NYC Urban Soils Institute at Brooklyn College to test the soil and work with the NYC Compost Project for opportunities to produce and use compost. And, now that your group is working with GreenThumb, we can deliver lumber and topsoil to the site for raised beds and provide additional support and resources.
Find plants to grow
Brush up on plant knowledge by finding out what's in bloom, and get the seeds to start growing. GreenThumb provides free plant starts each spring for its network of registered community gardens, so check our events page and mark the calendars. You can also attend GreenThumb workshops and reach out to other organizations such as local botanical gardens to inquire about other opportunities.
Elbow grease is the universal currency of community gardening, but from time to time garden groups need funding to continue improving the garden and expanding the public programming. GreenThumb hosts numerous workshops on fundraising each year, and we can introduce you to a number of partners and resource providers who have a long history of supporting gardeners and farmers. Please visit our resource page or contact us to learn more.
Help Your Garden Group Grow
Learn more and grow more
Knowledge is power. Start by regularly attending GreenThumb's free workshops and signing up for our newsletter. Check our events calendar to find free workshops all across NYC.
Engage your community
Just as with plants, the garden group needs to develop and deepen its roots in the neighborhood in order to grow. Reach out to neighbors, schools, tenant groups, community-based organizations, other gardens and others to get started. Contact your local elected officials to share the work of the garden group and join the New York City Community Garden Coalition, which promotes the preservation, creation, and empowerment of community gardens.
Complete the GreenThumb Registration and build the garden
Your group is almost done! Now that the group has created a garden, we're looking forward to having you join our growing community of gardeners. To receive resources from GreenThumb, the group must register the garden and comply with the registration requirements.
Cut the ribbon
After all that work, the garden group deserves to celebrate. GreenThumb can help the garden group with planning a ribbon cutting, organizing programming, and inviting community members and elected officials to celebrate the garden's opening.
Interested in starting a school garden? You can learn more by visiting the Grow to Learn Citywide School Gardens Initiative.