5. Where will we garden?

Koorangang City Farm project coordinator, Rob Henderson, locates the farm site on an aerial photo.  The project is on Kooragang Island, Newcastle, NSW.

Koorangang City Farm project coordinator, Rob Henderson, locates the farm site on an aerial photo. The project is on Kooragang Island, Newcastle, NSW.

Having formed a group and planned your garden project, it’s time to find a site if you do not have one already.

Community gardens are most commonly located on local government land, however you will find them on land owned by schools and universities, churches, state governments and hospitals.

Approach council

If your council has a policy to support community gardens with a guide on how to approach council, you are well ahead of people whose council lacks such an approach.

Otehrwise, to approach council effectively, it really helps to prepare a well written, well presented submission.

This should contain:

  • a description of your group
  • your aims and objectives
  • the skills and competencies of your members
  • the characteristics and size of land needed
  • whether you have public liability insurance or plan to obtain it
  • your actual or proposed legal structure (eg. incorporated association)
  • case studies of other community gardens, especially those in the same city
  • potential sources of funding or other avenues for fundraising
  • what legal arrangement you would prefer—licence, lease?
  • what you would require from council such as request for council assistance in funding or in kind to cover the start-up and recurrent costs of the garden such as public liability insurance, shed, tools, water supply and water rates
  • how you would manage risk
  • a description of the benefits of community gardens to communities and councils
  • how the community garden would implement provisions in city plans, policy and strategies.

Meet with council staff

Organise a meeting and present your submission to council.

Take council staff through the main points, explaining them clearly and answering to the best of your ability their questions.

Try to anticipate their probable concerns such as:

  • traffic and parking
  • noise
  • alienation of public open space
  • odour
  • vandalism
  • aesthetics
  • safety.

These are frequently encountered concerns of both councils and local residents. Be prepared to deal with them through the information you have collected and presented in your submission and describe the experience of other community gardeners who have dealt with them. While they are all valid concerns, most turn out not to be real problems at all.

If you know a councillor or supportive bureaucrat who can advise you on how best to make your approach, take advantage of the opportunity and ask them to accompany you when you meet with other council staff. It may be best to meet informally with them first so as to get their advice on taking your submission to other staff.

Remember that you will probably be presenting council with proposal they have never encountered before. Try to allay their concerns by adopting a courteous and competent manner and by addressing their concerns honestly.

Finding land may take time

Don’t expect to find land immediately—it may take time.

Keep in mind that you might be knocked back a number of times, especially if council insists on a community consultation with the neighbours of your preferred site. Often, neighbours will react negatively to the proposal out of fear of the unknown and make assumptions about the possible impact of the garden on the area, citing some of the concerns listed above. Most of these are dealt with through competent garden design and gardener edcuation.

When finding gardening space takes too long, members of your group may grow tired of knockbacks, become dispirited and drop out. Maintain enthusiasm with an active program of searching for land, with social activities where you get to know each other and workshops to develop your skills.

Security of tenure through leasing

Security of tenure for your group is important. A writtenlicence or lease is a guarantee of tenure and provides a sense of security.

An initial one or two year lease will do two things:

  • it will give the landholder the option of discontinuing the arrangement if the community garden group does not have the motivation to persist with the project or fails to maintain mutually agreed standards
  • it gives the community garden group time to assess whether the project can be sustained.

The arrangement should provide for the option, providing both parties are happy with site management after one year, of future minimum five year leases.

Planning and starting your community garden by Russ Grayson + Fiona Campbell, 2002

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