Monday, April 5, 2010

Why Communal? BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME. Here's why.

This is copied from Mike Giroux's blog at We've been talking a lot about this at our meetings lately, as we navigate the transition from last year into this year with new people and new ideas.

What Communal Garden? Why Communal Garden? When Who How?

A Communal Garden operates on the principle that all participants share in the work, and all share in the harvest. When we pool our resources, skills, and energy, the Whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. This is a way for individuals of all skill-sets, time commitments, and physical aptitudes to play on our strengths and form a common fabric of support to cultivate a successful and beautiful garden.

Farming has gradually receded from modern life, and more recently, quality has receded from the produce we are supplied. All of us know the frustration of slicing through a tomato only to find the middle icy and white. All the more disappointing considering we pay more than ever for this below-average food. It is this simple consideration which opens up many people to the concept of growing their own. And the fact remains, it’s impossible to buy Food You Grew Yourself.

Most of us have memories and ideas about Grandma’s Garden, or a friend who grew up with chickens, or even had the experience of growing up on a farm themselves. But the specific tasks, timing, and logistics may remain mysterious. Farming is an art which may take generations to master; but every journey begins with one step!

We aspire to re-think urban life, this time including neighborhood gardens that supply the predominant majority of the residents food. Land is now becoming available for this vision, and it is up to us to effectively use the space to grow delicious and healthy food! We choose Communal Gardening as the best option, and this letter is meant to explain why.

“So, the nice thing about having the whole garden be communal is that you can plant much more efficiently, keep track of crop rotations, and actually practice AGRICULTURE as opposed to Growing vegetables as a HOBBY. Like, we were on our way to making it sort of like a communal FARM, which would be a unique thing in Providence…” – Andrea Starr, Fertile Underground.

There are many reasons for gardening this way; we may even call it “Family Style” Gardening. There are a variety of chores on a farm, and as you know, a variety of skills available to different people, some more than others! But truly, there is something for everyone when it comes to the work of a farm. Much of it is simple meditative tasks, like watering plants and weeding. Other jobs come up which require the physical construction of the space, building beds, toolsheds, compost, and on. Designing water catchment and compost systems are other jobs for the thinkers and doers. And the enormous information on plant care: feeding, planting in companionship and proper soil conditions, timing of planting, transplanting, harvest. There is something for everyone, and the beauty of “family” gardening is that no one has to know everything! We are a full body, with working parts.

Gardeners usually enjoy sharing knowledge about plants while in the company of such plants and open ears. In our ideal Communal Garden, a resident ‘expert’ is there attending the crops and discovering their needs for the day. Willing members may listen to these needs and be shown the process of carrying out the work. Some may be slow at first, but there is plenty of practice to be had!

When we all work together, we all share the responsibility. This is virtually essential in the life-style we have. It is much simpler to attend to a garden that is next to your home; the necessities of making special trips to the garden every day from elsewhere in the city may become trying. When we share the work, we may visit less frequently, and then carry out a larger amount of work on the full space.

In farming there is an “economy of scale” when you may view crops in larger amounts than is available to the standard 4×8’ bed. As with so many things, once a rhythm is established, the working goes easier. Because of this, it is not much harder to care for a long row of plants as opposed to a short one. It takes more time, yes, but not much more thinking! As a group we can grow a large amount of food and there will be plenty for all.

Tending the garden as a whole gives us greater options and freedom as gardeners.

“…by communally gardening the whole site rather than individual beds, we are able to take advantage of the various micro-climates of the site, manage crop rotations, etc. Things that affect the bountifulness of the harvest. We got a LOT of food out that garden last year because we were able to plant relatively huge amounts of each crop we had, as opposed to just a few of each, which would have been the case if we tried to do “personal” or “individual” bed -style urban gardening. And I learned a lot about how we could improve on what we did produce, as I’m hoping others of you did as well.” – Andrea Starr

This letter was written by Michael Giroux on April 5th, 2010.
If you would like to join our group, the Fertile Underground, please contact Dauna Noble at (401) 480-6782. You may also sign up for our email list, for more information. We are located on Pearl Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Our open meetings and work-days are regularly Thursdays from 330-dusk, and Saturday from 1-4. Any day may find members there, between Pine and Broad Street. Feel free to visit, and consider to join!