Community Gardens in Lancaster

Tools and tips for getting started and keeping it going

Thinking about starting a Community Garden?

Maybe you love gardening but don’t have room in your yard. Or there is a grassy lot in your neighborhood. The cost of groceries has gone up, kids need to know that food comes from the ground not a fast food bag, and we should all spend less time on screens and more time with our hands in the dirt. But what does it really take to start and sustain a community garden?

It really just takes a plot of land, know-how, and a commitment of time. Easier said than done! When it comes to the plot of land, most often, the land is owned by a private individual(s) who give permission for others to use their property for a garden. It could be owned by a school, non-profit, or for-profit business. While the owner in this case would be an organization versus an individual, they still need to give permission to use the property. Also, any owner who allows the public to use their property should make sure they are covered with an insurance policy.

One source of property is the Fairfield County Land Bank which receives land that has been foreclosed due to non-payment of property taxes. While the inventory is very low at this time, you can contact the Land Bank for information about the process for transferring the ownership of property on the list.

If you’re wondering who owns a vacant lot near you, do a parcel search through the Fairfield County Auditor’s website (type in the address in the upper right corner). You can write to the owner and inquire about their use of the property and their interest in selling it or allowing you to use it as a Community Garden.

Once you have a piece of land, the Community Garden could be one open space with crops planted in sections. Or, the garden could be sectioned off into individual plots where a variety of crops are planted in each plot. Vegetables can be planted directly in the ground or in raised beds. The Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Planner is a great source for garden plans.

Another factor to consider when starting a Community Gardens is who will do the work and who will benefit from the harvest. The garden could be managed by a group of volunteers and produce can be available to those volunteers as well as the public, or it could be managed by a specific group of people who harvest the produce for themselves. Here are a couple of stories about creating Community Gardens to help you decide it it’s right for you…

Lancaster Community Gardens

Debbie Probasco, Maggy Brown and Bev Cook planted the South End Community Garden

Debbie Probasco, Maggy Brown and Bev Cook planted the South End Community Garden.

South End Neighborhood Community Garden
When Bev Cook approached Debbie Probasco about what could be done for the community with Bev’s vacant lots in the South End Neighborhood, they decided on a Community Garden. Debbie raised money from local businesses and residents. She and Bev and a handful of neighbors created the South End Community Garden in 2021 with corn, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, lettuce, and herbs. While the garden was a great success in that it produced delicious, nutritious vegetables, there were challenges, and Debbie and Bev decided to take it down in 2022.

Tom James, member of the Fairfield County Antique Tractor Club and City Council Member, tilling the South End Community Garden.

Tom James, member of the Fairfield County Antique Tractor Club and City Council Member, tilling the South End Community Garden.

The garden was planted as one garden on one plot with crops planted in sections, and the idea was that volunteers would plant, weed, water, and harvest the produce. However, no one in the group owned a tiller which was needed to get between the rows to keep up with the weeds, and there weren’t enough people to weed on hands and knees in the summer heat. Also, there was no water source other than rain, and relying on a neighbor who ran a hose from his house was too costly.

Smeck Park
The Fairfield County Antique Tractor Club is a group of local antique tractor owners and afficionados who plant potatoes, Native corn, squash, and popcorn at Fairfield County’s Smeck Park every spring and harvest it in the fall. The public is welcome to pick the Native corn, squash, and popcorn, and Antique Tractor Club members use vintage equipment to dig up the potatoes. Members of the public can follow the tractor and gather potatoes immediately and take them home, or potatoes are gathered and bagged by Club members and given out to the public. Any Native corn that isn’t picked by the public is harvested by the Club and given out at their booth at the Fairfield County Fair.

Learning Never Ends Community Garden
Master Gardener Jessica Markwood works with differently-abled people involved with the organization Learning Never Ends to tend a Community Garden on an empty lot in downtown Lancaster.  The Learning Never Ends participants plant and maintain the garden as a group activity to learn new skills, enjoy nature, and grow nutritious food for themselves.

Whatever model you choose, here are a few tips to consider…

  • Gardens are fun, and they are WORK. Be prepared to put in time and energy, even if that time and energy is spent recruiting volunteers to help. The more people involved, the lighter the work for each person, but also, the more people involved, the more work required to keep them organized.
  • Gardens need to be weeded. Weeds grow faster than vegetables, and they can take up the nutrients and choke out the veggies. Weeds need to be pulled out not just cut off.
  • Gardens need water, and what falls from the sky generally isn’t enough. You’ll need to figure out a way to supplement the rainfall with a back-up water supply.
  • Gardening is a year-round effort:
    • Winter is for planning – what will you plant, where will you plant it, who will work the garden, when will they work?
      This is also the time to build any needed structures (raised beds, fencing, etc.);
    • Spring is for planting;
    • Summer is for weeding, watering, and harvesting summer crops;
    • Fall is for harvesting and preparing the garden for winter.

The City of Lancaster’s Community Development Department and Planning & Zoning Department are looking for an organization that can be a resource for residents who want to start a Community Garden. The goal is to have an organization with paid staff who will help residents, schools, non-profits, and organizations start and maintain Community Gardens throughout the city. If this sounds like a good fit for your organization, contact the Community Development Department at (740) 687-666.

For more on starting a community garden in your neighborhood, contact the City’s Community Development Department at (740) 687-6663.

Filed under: Announcements, Community, Farm & Field, News
Lynda Berge Disser

By Lynda Berge Disser

Lynda Berge Disser started her community development career in 1991 as director of a non-profit housing organization in an historic neighborhood. She has led training workshops for community-driven housing and commercial development across the country and has written grants that have brought in over $100 million for community development. Lynda currently serves as Director of the City of Lancaster's Community Development Department.