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Table of Contents
- In the Beginning
- Building the Gardens
- Garden Operations
- Garden Promotion and Public Relations
The Coppell Community Garden was established in 1998. Coppell is a small suburban city outside of Dallas, Texas with a population of 40,000. Our City Manager and a City Council member wanted a community project that would be visible and positive for the city. They became inspired by the idea of a community garden that would donate produce to a worthy cause and become an important part of the fabric of our community.
Inspired by this vision, the City Manager hired Amanda Vanhoozier to lead the community garden effort. Amanda brought a passion for organic gardening and a commitment to create a garden that would feed the hungry. Over the years Coppell Community Garden has established two garden locations and has donated more than 160,000 pounds of fresh produce to local families in need.
Having a visionary, go-to person and fellow gardener like Amanda has been essential to our success. Without Amanda’s leadership, determination and passion we may have built the gardens, only to end up with a field of weeds in a few years. Building the garden is the easy part; sustaining and expanding the output year after year is harder. If you intend to establish your own community garden, we hope our story and the lessons we have learned and share with you here will help you do just that.
The following narrative was written collaboratively by many of our gardeners, and is designed to provide information about how we have made our garden successful. Our story is not intended to convey that this is the only way to make a community garden work; it is just the way we have approached it.
I. In the Beginning
The idea to start a community garden was discussed by Jim Witt, City Manager, and Council member Marsha Tunnell as a positive project to bring the community together. Mr. Witt contacted Amanda Vanhoozier to discuss the possibility of starting a garden project where the food would be donated. Amanda was contracted January 1998. She brought extensive experience in school gardening, as the Outdoor Learning Environment Teacher at Stringfellow School, and in management, as a Board Member of Gardeners in Community Development (a Dallas Community Garden Organization).
The first garden site was chosen by the City Manager because it had high visibility right next to the Town Center. The barriers typical to most community gardens – such as city policies, land, water, liability insurance, and support of city officials – were eliminated because the request came from the City Manager, Mayor and Council. The initial focus was to organize community volunteers to build and maintain the garden. Amanda followed the principles described in “Growing Communities,” presented by the American Community Gardening Association. The first public meeting was held at the library, and brought together those interested in community gardening. It was advertised in the town paper, flyers around town, and direct invitations to key stakeholders: the Food Pantry Manager from Metrocrest Social Services, a local chef, the Director of Services from Wellington Place (low income housing), and friends from the Stringfellow School Outdoor Learning Environment. The meeting was a success. Thirty attended and twelve signed up to be on the Steering Committee.
The Steering Committee met every other week, researching other community gardens in the state, looking for donations (in-kind and materials), getting publicity out, and making decisions about the garden layout and organization.
The key decisions made by the Steering Committee were to:
- Donate produce to Metrocrest Social Services food pantry
- Have gardeners adopt plots instead of creating a common garden
- Be inclusive in accepting gardeners
- Garden organically
- Form a non-profit organization to accept donations
- Build a second garden
Finding space for the second garden came easily. One of the Steering Committee members worked at the Post Office and knew they were maintaining a strip of its property, so he got permission to build a second garden and we would maintain it with a community garden. The Steering Committee felt it was important to diversify by making sure there would always be another garden. Names were selected for each garden. The initial garden was named Helping Hands because of our mission to be a donation garden. The second garden was named Ground Delivery because of its close proximity to the local Post Office. We broke ground at Helping Hands by Town Center in April 1998 and Ground Delivery by the Post Office in July 1998.
After the groundbreaking event at Helping Hands, we held another event to sign up gardeners. The event focused on family activities, for example, squeezing your own lemonade, planting sunflower seeds, digging in the dirt, and a garden book story time. Those who adopted plots at the event, plus those who were interested from the first meeting, were the first gardeners. In May, these “pioneers” helped install the irrigation, dug the beds, and planted the entire garden in black-eyed peas as a summer cover crop.
Initially, we received help from many community organizations:
- The City of Coppell donated $1,100 for a load of compost and paid the consultant fee and the city attorney fee to draw up the non-profit organization paperwork.
- Many neighborhood businesses donated: mulch from tree trimmers; irrigation materials from an irrigation company; boards from a building company; and a shed from a shed company.
- Volunteers brought tools from home.
- Eagle Scouts built an arbor at Helping Hands.
- A foundation donated $3,000 per year, for the first few years.
- Additional donations came from civic organizations and churches.
Some of the lessons learned from these activities were:
- Starting two separate gardens was almost too much to take care of for a new organization.
- Everyone comes to the table with a different idea for a community garden. Compromising and mediating meetings was difficult, but well worth the effort in the end.
- It was good to have gardeners commit to adopt specific plots instead of having a common garden and trying to excite people about working across all the crops.
Establishing a Non-Profit Organization
Within the first year, the City of Coppell attorney helped the Steering Committee submit the paperwork to incorporate our organization as a 501(c)3 non-profit. Founding bylaws were written from the mission and objectives that came from initial meetings of the Steering Committee.
In 2003, five years after breaking ground, we changed leadership from a Steering Committee model to a formal Board, and re-wrote the bylaws to incorporate this change. In 2005, the Coppell Community Garden accepted the Coppell Farmers Market under our non-profit organization. This transition caused some leadership turmoil and a board development consultant was brought in to help re-structure our organization.
In 2005, Keep Coppell Beautiful, a board appointed by the City Council, started giving the Coppell Community Garden improvement funds to help manage and promote the gardens and the farmers market, and to provide public education about the environment.
The City of Coppell is the primary source of revenue for the Coppell Community Garden through a community improvement fund agreement. Additional funding is received through grants, donations and Coppell Farmers Market stall fees. A current budget report can be requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Year three was the hardest for the organization because the excitement of starting the gardens had passed while a realization set in that the organization needed to be sustainable.
- The Board was made up of only gardeners and the Food Pantry Manager, and the meetings became more like a garden club talking about gardening. We began recruiting other people to fill Board roles and tightened up the agenda.
- We should have recruited an accountant as Treasurer in the first few years.
II. Building the Gardens
What follows is a recap of how we built each of the two gardens that make up the Coppell Community Gardens. The initial garden was named Helping Hands because of our mission to be a donation garden. The second garden was named Ground Delivery because of its close proximity to the local Post Office.
Helping Hands Garden is 60 ft. x 120 ft. and is located by Town Center. The first thing we did was dig out the Bermuda grass. A pool company dug down a foot and removed soil and Bermuda roots. This was not a good idea for at least two reasons: we lost the top soil and it packed down the underlying soil, transforming the garden into a hardened “bowl” that held water like a swimming pool. Next, a tractor tilled in leaves, compost and grass clippings. Volunteers who had adopted a plot used a trencher and installed irrigation pipes with a riser at the end of each plot. A company that had put porous pipe in a polo field wanted to test their product in raising vegetables, so they donated all the pipe, fittings and controllers. This system was removed three years later as the gardeners needed to water their plots individually, due to the diversity of produce being grown.
The initial 24 plots were laid out to be 4 ft. x 20 ft. We shoveled the soil in mounds from the 32 inch pathway and mulched the pathway heavily with chipped tree trimmings. The first summer the whole garden was planted with black-eyed peas as a cover crop to build the soil. The first donation of 22 pounds of peas delighted Metrocrest Social Services! The first summer we also planted drought tolerant and native plants in a bed next to the parking lot as a demonstration garden.
After three years we decided to edge the plots with cedar boards. A local Eagle Scout troop took on the project. They used 2 in. x 8 in. x 18 ft. cedar boards with screws in the corners. Later we found that an L bracket on the outside held the boards together longer. These cedar boards have lasted over 6 years and can be functional even longer. The pathways continue to be mulched, and after just two years some really nice humus was dug out of the pathways and put in the raised beds.
In 2005, another Eagle Scout project built a 40 ft. x 40 ft. addition to the garden with 12 new beds and a compost area. This time we took a different approach in dealing with existing Bermuda grass. We laid plastic sheeting on top of the grass for several weeks to smother the grass before our planned build day. After removing the plastic, we layered cardboard and newspaper over the surface. This worked extremely well and we have not had invasive Bermuda problems in this area. Other additions to the garden were a handicapped-accessible raised bed at the entrance, a pavestone path, accessible picnic tables, a worm bin, an arbor with a built-in shed (custom built by gardeners), an additional shed (also custom built by gardeners), and a sidewalk to the Town Center Elementary for the kindergarteners to walk to the garden to tend their plots. The newest shed has a pitched roof, which allows us to collect rain in a barrel and water the garden.
Ground Delivery Garden is 75 ft. x 240 ft. and is located on Post Office land. Coppell Community Garden has a letter of agreement with the Post Office establishing that we can garden and maintain the space. We set the garden back from a major thoroughfare for safety reasons. The clay soil was so hard that it broke a tine on the chisel plow. In the hottest part of the summer of 1998, volunteers dug the original pathways and mounded the dirt into 4 ft. x 30 ft. beds. They trenched and put in all the irrigation with a riser between two beds. The City Manager arranged for a city water meter to provide water to this garden. In the second year, the garden was expanded by adding 24 more plots and a composting area. A donated arbor was placed between the garden and the road to cover the main pathways, and a sign was erected to inform the community about the purpose as well as the supporters of the gardens.
A section of the garden lay under the shade of a neighboring tree, so that area was planted with peach and pear trees donated by a local nursery. Since then we have added a persimmon and pomegranate tree and a worm bin. A row of thornless blackberries was planted which has propagated another row next to it, as well as a row at Helping Hands. Starts from the bushes were sold at the annual Earthfest plant sale. The plant sale is now semiannual and includes many plant varieties started by gardeners.
The raised beds at Ground Delivery were built with 2 in. x 8 in. x 18 ft. cedar, making the beds 4 ft. x 27 ft. with a 2 ft. pathway between. See list of materials in the Appendix. This was not an organized project, so Ground Delivery originally had less structure as each gardener did his/her own bed. Some even had a flower box on the main path side, and one gardener’s bed was bordered with stone. As improvements were made, the garden became more uniform. Eagle Scouts built an arbor and picnic tables in front of the shed as a gathering place for the gardeners. Girl Scouts have added bulletin boards at both gardens and planted herbs.
- New beds filled with any purchased soil or compost mix still needs many additives. In the first few years, plants will be stunted and yellow due to lack of available nitrogen in the soil. We added sugars, organic fertilizers, and homemade compost to those beds to help build up the microbial activity in the new soil mix. We had to be patient with success during the first year or two, understanding that it takes time to build good soil for growing.
- Begin to make your own compost as soon as possible and always keep adding it to the beds, along with other organic soil amendments.
- Bermuda grass will continue to be a problem if you don’t smother it first then layer cardboard and/or newspaper on top before creating your plots and pathways on top. Dig the rhizomes to remove any that grows through.
- Water faucets near or at each plot location are important, although everyone must be diligent about turning them off. We do not allow gardeners to use watering timers, as a mechanical failure could create a flood and ruin crops.
- Mulch in pathways should be reapplied often to keep weeds under control.
III. Garden Operations
In this section we discuss the day-to-day operations of our gardens and how that has evolved over the years. We also reflect on some of the lessons learned along the way.
Having a core group of volunteers for the community garden has been key to our success. Well-placed flyers in popular city facilities, such as gyms and libraries, timely inserts into the monthly water bill, Coppell Community Garden newsletters, and articles in the local newspaper are effective ways we spread our message to the community. By placing the flyers in a variety of locales, we drew a diverse cross-section of the community. Aside from the group of core volunteer gardeners, we get weekly volunteers, such as teenagers fulfilling community service requirements, as well as one-time volunteers, such as Scout troops looking to earn a merit badge. In anticipation of these volunteers, a list of ongoing chores was created so that their time is effectively utilized. Additionally, church groups, businesses, and youth groups volunteer on a one-time-only basis. In such instances, large scale projects can be undertaken.
Our busiest day is Saturday. This is when we harvest and deliver our produce to Metrocrest Social Services. In addition to these activities, there are other regular chores (described below) that need to be done. It is helpful to organize these chores on an ongoing basis and have a rotating schedule of gardeners assigned to complete the chores. We have found it necessary to have a designated leader at each garden on Saturdays to provide guidance and direction as to what needs to get done that day. It is also helpful when all gardeners are aware of the role the weekly volunteers will play so that they can assist and lead as necessary. Weekly volunteers sign a form each time they help indicating hours volunteered and work performed.
Each February we ask all existing and new gardeners to sign up for their plot(s). A one-time processing fee is charged to defray administrative costs ($10.00 for residents / $20 for non-residents). All gardeners, both returning and new, are required to sign an Adopt-a-Plot agreement which contains a set of guidelines related to plot adoption. We limit all new gardeners to one plot during the first year to ensure they are committed to gardening and can be successful. It is important that the gardeners understand the mission of the garden and the time commitment required, approximately 10-12 hours per month. We maintain a database that records gardeners’ volunteer hours.
We help new gardeners become successful by providing a brief orientation at the garden and giving them a planting guide, organic amendments guide, garden layout, harvest sheets, pest control guidelines, a spreadsheet of information about the chores required, and their assigned work schedule for the common areas (which includes harvest duty and compost duty). These documents are updated and sent to all gardeners periodically. See Appendix
We feel it is important to bring gardeners together to help create a sense of teamwork and community. Accordingly, we organize an occasional social gathering, such as a potluck lunch after a Saturday harvest. We also have an annual Harvest Dinner in the fall to celebrate the season. These gatherings also serve as an opportunity to exchange ideas between gardeners with varied levels of experience. Each gardener’s stake in the overall mission of the garden is enhanced when he/she feels involved and valued. It can be a challenge to bring volunteers together to form a cohesive group. In our case, it has been well worth the effort.
- We try to keep in mind that the gardens would not exist without the people who volunteer. Listen to all viewpoints and acknowledge contributions, big and small.
- Have all gardeners sign a new plot agreement each year.
- Limit new gardeners to one plot in their first year to prove their commitment.
- Hold regular garden meetings to review expectations and commitments, as well as to share garden information.
- Most gardeners enjoy gardening and each other’s company. Working in teams on the community chores helps foster a sense of camaraderie.
- Our garden leader meets or contacts any gardeners who neglect their commitments to their plot and/or community chores in order to assess their situation and agree upon a future course of action.
- There is a continuous need for volunteers. There are always extra projects to do, including the never-ending task of weeding. Fortunately, we have many high school youths who come to the garden to fulfill community service hours. The garden leader assigns duties and supervises them.
2. Education for Gardeners
After plots are assigned to new gardeners, the leader at each garden schedules an orientation for the newcomers. Questions asked during this orientation meeting will indicate whether a gardener needs individual assistance or, perhaps, just encouragement to get started and proceeds accordingly. Our newcomer orientation includes:
- Review of the rules and guidelines (such as the difference between trash and what can be recycled)
- Instruction on what can be planted at what time of the year.
- Tour of where the tools and organic products are stored.
- Instructions on how we use organic products and soil amendments.
How we garden so successfully
We believe the success of our gardens is based on these key principles, which we share with all new gardeners:
- We use organic techniques. This does not simply mean that we do not use pesticides. Rather, it is a focus on promoting thriving, biological systems in the soil and within the garden. Organic matter in the soil provides home and food for diverse organisms and creates the porous, crumbly texture that plant roots love and garden visitors admire. Pathogens are often controlled by other bacteria and fungi. Beneficial insects and larger creatures, such as lizards, assist with pest control. We do use some simple organic remedies for problems that threaten our crops, but we find that the better our soil, the healthier our plants, and the less we need to intervene.
- We have a diversity of crops. Each gardener selects what he or she wishes to grow, and often gardeners will grow three or more crops within the same plot. This mixture of plants helps to disorient problem insects and attract and retain beneficial insects and other creatures.
- We observe what varieties of plants perform well for us, and we try to grow well-adapted crops for our area. We experiment with both heirloom and hybrid seeds.
- The extremes of weather in Texas mean that crop timing is often the critical success factor. Our garden calendar and our experienced gardeners provide good guidelines for when to plant which crops. We realize that there is always an element of luck, as well!
Organic product instructions
We have found it helpful to create a handout which gardeners can refer to for information on soil amendments and problem/pest control products. As we gain experience, we periodically revise the information to reflect our current recommended practices and products stocked in the shed.
For more detailed instructions we keep the following resource books in our shed:
- At least one insect identification book – essential to identify the cast of characters:
- Texas Bug Book: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, by Howard Garrett, C. Malcolm Beck, and Gwen E. Gage, or
- Field Guide to Common Texas Insects (Gulf’s Field Guide Series), by Bastiaan M. Drees
- At least one basic Texas vegetable growing book, such as:
- The Vegetable Book, by Dr. Sam Cotner, or
- Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening: The Total Guide to Growing Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, and Other Edible Plants the Natural Way, by J. Howard Garrett
- Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, by Fern Marshall Bradley (2007). An excellent handbook for organic solutions to vegetable garden problems; reflects best current research.
The importance of leadership within each garden is something we overlooked initially. We were a bit naive to think that everyone would have the same spirit of cooperation and work ethic that it takes to maintain the garden. After a couple of years it became evident that on-site leadership was needed to make sure the gardeners were all communicating effectively and the required chores got done.
– We initially thought that someone in a paid role would best provide the needed leadership. We applied for a grant to fund that role and one of the existing gardeners was hired to oversee both gardens. Her role was to keep up with the supplies, provide education on organic gardening, and be the focal point for communication. What we soon learned was that most gardeners felt it was her “job” to do the work and therefore they rarely participated in garden chores. We had little cooperation with general maintenance of the garden as many gardeners felt they only had to take care of their plot. Most did not have a sense of responsibility for the overall garden. We struggled with this arrangement for a couple of years, but it was not ideal.
We changed strategy and established a rotational leadership role. This made a big difference. Among our existing gardeners, we ask for volunteer garden leaders who serve for only a few months each year. This is a rotating position and is not paid. They serve as the focal point for questions, concerns, replenishing supplies, organizing meetings, and keeping track of assigned chores. They also provide the orientation to new gardeners, welcome guests who visit the gardens on harvest days, and send out periodic emails to all the gardeners with gardening tips and information. They also enforce the rules outlined in the Adopt-a-Plot agreement.
In addition, we designated a Garden Chairperson. This individual serves on the Board and is the liaison between both gardens. This position rotates bi-annually.
– As we transitioned to the rotating garden leader role, we also established a work schedule that assigns each gardener chores on a rotating basis. Typically, each gardener has one assignment each month. Assignments include compost turning, weeding common areas, and tending to the harvest (weighing and bagging). This schedule is sent out to each gardener and also posted on the bulletin board. A person is assigned to send weekly reminders to gardeners who have chores that week. If someone cannot work on an assigned day, it is his/her responsibility to find a replacement.
Communication and Conflict
– As with any volunteer organization, there can be conflict. We have found that with clear communication of expectations we minimize conflict. That begins with the Adopt-a-Plot Agreement discussed above. It must be signed annually by all gardeners so that any modifications to the document will apply to everyone, regardless of their tenure. The current garden leader needs only to refer to the agreement to enforce the rules.
– We get seed donations and also buy seeds for the gardeners to use. They are sold for a nominal amount. We have a volunteer gardener who keeps the box of seed packets and brings it to the gardens for all to use. It is best to keep the seeds at a cool temperature, so we do not keep the seed box in the shed.
- Have a designated garden leader role and select that person from among the gardeners. Make it rotational so no one takes too much control or is unduly burdened. If you have multiple gardens we also suggest an overall garden chairperson who will unify communications across both gardens.
- Publish a schedule of assigned chores and keep track of who works.
- Have an effective agreement on rules that everyone must sign annually.
Communication is vital for any organization to grow and be successful. Our communication has evolved as our garden and organization expanded and now consists of the following primary tools:
- Newsletters – For the first three years we mailed the gardeners a monthly newsletter with information on current garden activities, planting tips, common garden insect problems, etc. After that we sent the newsletter quarterly via email, until the website was rolled out in 2007.
- E-mails – Garden leaders at each of our gardens send an e-mail to their gardeners every week with harvest donation updates, current planting tips and insect problems, as well as other timely information. The bulk of this information comes from the Coppell Community Garden Chair. We also have gardener volunteers who send weekly reminders to the gardeners who are “on duty” for the upcoming Saturday. Duties include weighing and logging harvest donations, turning the compost bins, and weeding the common areas.
- Website – We hired a third party website service in 2007 to help organize and build our website. Board members submit updates/changes to the website steward as needed. A volunteer member compiles all the information and submits it to the 3rd party vendor to update. In the early phases of the site, all board members had access to the calendar on the website and could update it with pertinent information at any time.
- Post Office Box – We have a P.O. Box for correspondence. The Treasurer has the key to the box and is responsible for checking it at regular intervals. He/she brings any correspondence to the monthly board meeting.
- Bulletin Board – There are bulletin boards at each garden with current garden information. This includes a plot layout drawing to help volunteers know who has which plot and where it’s located. The bulletin boards are maintained by the garden leaders and/or a garden volunteer.
- Garden Meetings – Each garden leader organizes a quarterly meeting at each garden to review issues and concerns. We usually have a “seasoned” gardener talk to the group about a timely garden topic, such as transplants, pests, organic products, etc. Sometimes gardeners will organize a brunch or other gathering at the garden as a way of socializing and getting to know each other better.
- Limit the number and length of emails that go out to your volunteers.
5) Garden Chores/Tasks
We divide our garden chores in the following manner:
- Compost Building – We have a total of six to eight compost piles at each garden at all times. All gardeners help to build and turn compost piles. We work on a rotating schedule so that EACH week a team turns and waters the compost piles. New piles are built as needed and as materials are available, using grass clippings, leaves, and plant material. Master composters instruct others in the correct building of the compost piles. Each gardener is required to chop their own plants before they add them to the compost pile. To avoid confusion, we also label our compost piles as follows: (1) new pile – add new material, (2) almost finished pile – no new material, and (3) done pile – ready to use.
- Shed Organization – We lock our tools in a shed. To help keep the shed clean we ask gardeners to clean the dirt off the tools before returning them to the shed. It is very helpful to have separate racks for the different tools along with shelves and bins. We label our tools using paint or nail polish.
- Maintenance of Common Areas – While each gardener maintains the area around their plot, there are areas common that need to be maintained. We assign individuals on a rotating schedule to this purpose with the responsibility of weeding and removing trash on a weekly basis.
- Tool Maintenance – Repairing and sharpening them requires some knowledge. An experienced team is given this responsibility on an on-going basis.
- Harvest – Each gardener harvests his/her produce and, on a weekly basis, an assigned volunteer sorts, bags, weighs, and records each crop’s yield in a general log. The weekly harvest total is added to our yearly record of produce donated.
- Orchard Care/Pruning – One or more persons are assigned to care for fruit trees, blackberry bushes and grape vines, including watering, fertilizing, pruning, and harvesting. Special knowledge is needed for proper care of these plants.
- Plots – Each gardener is responsible for fully planting their plot with seeds or transplants. Frequent harvest encourages plant production. Each gardener digs the weeds in his/her respective plot as well as on all sides around the plot and maintains mulch in the adjacent pathways.
- Seed Stock and Storage – We offer seed packs to gardeners for a nominal amount. We request donations from seed companies and from organizations such as Keep America Beautiful and The National Gardening Association. We also purchase some seeds. Most seeds that we stock are proven winners to grow in our area. All gardeners are given a planting guide of which crops can be planted at what time of year, either by seed or by transplant. A volunteer gardener keeps the box of seed packets and brings it to the gardens for all to use.
- Supplies and Tools – Initially, many gardeners brought their own supplies and tools, and some still do. However, now we have a budget for such items and a tool shed to store them in. We keep the tool shed locked using a combination lock so only gardeners have access. To keep the tool shed clean, we ask gardeners to clean the tools before returning them to the shed. We label our tools with paint or nail polish. We only buy good quality tools because they will get heavy use.
6) Supplies and Tools
These are the tools and supplies we provide:
- Pitchforks – for turning compost
- Spading forks – for breaking up the soil in the plots
- Rakes – for leveling out soil in plots and mulch in pathways
- Shovels – for digging holes, moving soil and planting
- Sickle/Hatchet – for chopping plant stems
- Trowels – for planting and weeding
- Hand Pruners – for harvesting and shaping plants and shrubs
- Hoes – for making rows and weeding
- Hammers – for pounding poles into the ground to secure plants
- Hand forks – for weeding
- Wheelbarrows – for moving compost, soil, etc.
- Watering cans – for products that need dilution, e.g., fish emulsion
- Harvest materials (scale, record book, bags, etc.)
- Miscellaneous supplies, for instance, twine, paper tools, sunscreen
- Compost bins
- Tomato cages
- Storage bins
- Chicken wire or heavy plastic fencing material
These are the organic products we provide:
- Organic fertilizer
- Dry molasses
- Blackstrap molasses
- Compost – we make our own to amend the soil with organic matter.
- Fish emulsion/seaweed fertilizer
- Coffee grounds
- Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
- Diatomaceous earth
- Garlic/Pepper tea
- Insecticidal soap
- Orange Oil
- Vinegar 10%
We have found it useful to have separate quart size spray bottles with instructions labeled on them to be used exclusively for:
- Fire Ant Control: Add 1/4 t. orange oil, 1 1/2 t. Blackstrap molasses. Fill spray bottle with water. Drench mound.
- Weed Killer: Vinegar (10%) full strength. Kills everything. Use cautiously.
- Spray for Pests (Aphids): Add 3-4 t. Joy dish soap. Fill spray bottle with water. Spray on pests on underside of leaves. Do not spray on day of harvest.
As our garden organization has evolved, we have created many different programs that promote our overall mission and further community education about organic gardening. However the two main programs that specifically support the gardens are Share the Harvest and Adopt a Plot.
Share the Harvest
This program’s goal is to donate food to the needy. All gardeners agree to donate at least 80% of their harvest each week. The majority of our harvest goes to Metrocrest Social Services’ food panty and we also donate to the local Senior Center. Since our inception, we have donated over 100,000 pounds of fresh produce. We garden year round and keep track of our harvest each week. Our totals to date are:
The goal of this program is to make gardening plots available to the community. Each year we create an expansion/waiting list. We write one or more articles for the local newspaper describing the purpose of the garden and announcing availability of plots. In the earlier days, we received more requests than we had plots, so we expanded the number of plots. Now we maintain a waiting list so that when a plot becomes available, a new gardener is able to adopt the plot. Many gardeners are so enthusiastic they want to garden more than one plot, and, if plots are available, we try to honor that request. When demand for the plots has been high we have limited the number of plots any one gardener can adopt.
- Over the years we have seen larger harvests as we improve the soil with compost, promote year round gardening, and provide more education for our gardeners. North Texas climate is mild enough to garden year round. While gardeners are not required to garden in the winter, most do. We log our weekly harvest by month and by year.
- We have found that there is much more participation in the garden when volunteer gardeners have their own plot and can keep it year to year, versus common plots with workdays or a lottery each year for giving out plots.
- Stealing of produce. Unfortunately, some of our produce does get picked and stolen. Our gardens are open to the public. When possible, we try to catch them in the act and talk to them. We also post signs. Some years, birds, rodents and rabbits are more of a problem than people.
V. Garden Promotion and Public Relations
Initially, we needed to promote community gardens to educate others as to what they were and their benefits to the community. We also needed to promote the Adopt a Plot and Share the Harvest programs to recruit volunteers, maintain them, and motivate them to grow and harvest an abundance of produce for the food pantry. We placed posters about meetings on community bulletin boards and sent media releases to three local newspapers. Plus, we always had an entry in the two community parades and offered presentations/booths. During the first three years the organization produced and mailed a monthly newsletter to a large list of recipients. Following that, a quarterly newsletter was sent via email until our website was rolled out in 2007.
In the first few years we celebrated small successes, enjoyed numerous get-together potlucks and brunches, and held open houses at the Helping Hands Garden. To increase awareness about the Coppell Community Garden, we joined the Plant a Row for the Hungry program sponsored by the Garden Writers Association. We received press from magazines such as Herb Companion and Southern Living as well as newspaper coverage in the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star Telegram. KERA, the local public television station, did a documentary on the community gardens. Coppell Community Garden was recognized by the Volunteer Center of Dallas County, Keep Texas Beautiful, and the Texas Recreation and Parks Association. Coppell Community Garden’s leader, Amanda Vanhoozier, was awarded 3rd Place in the Gardeners Supply Company’s Garden Crusader Award for Feeding the Hungry.