Community Crops turns sweet 16
by Aja Martin
Lincoln has an abundance of community gardens that you may pass by with curiosity. Many of them are under the umbrella of Community Crops, a program that started in 2003 as a partnership between university students and community members.
The goal was to take care of two community problems at once: Many Lincolnites, especially those who lived in apartments, did not have spaces to garden, which compounded the second problem of people needing access to more food.
Today, the program has 11 community garden sites, a training farm, a successful Community Supported Agriculture program, youth garden and cooking education, a regular farmers’ market stand, and more.
Being able to garden is a vital part of the process for some, especially since Lincoln is a resettlement hub for global refugees used to growing their own food. Now, those who grow more than they can use donate their bounty to Lincoln food programs. And that is at the heart of the Lincoln community: neighbors helping neighbors.
Even those of us who do not garden ourselves benefit in a multitude of ways, thanks to this nonprofit.
The initial garden at 23rd and P streets led to 10 more, plus the training farm. Locations across town allow for easy access no matter where one lives, and that’s important because would-be gardeners come from every corner of the city.
With so much interest, there has historically been a waiting list to get a space. People who are interested in joining the program as a gardener should check out Community Crops’ website (communitycrops.org), which posts a new application each year. Costs include a deposit fee and increases with the size of your plot. Staying true to the group’s roots, it offers financial assistance.
Community Crops is always looking for new garden spaces and for volunteers to take on a leadership role at each one. If you don’t own land or have enough extra time to take on a volunteer role, Community Crops has year-long sponsorship packages for businesses and hosts several annual fundraising events. Three recurring summer events to watch for are the plant sale in May, the Garden Gala in June and Feast on the Farm in August. You can also make direct donations, and doing so in the name of a family member or friend makes a great birthday or holiday gift.
If you have a space 50-by-100 feet or larger that gets direct sun for at least eight hours a day (preferably 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) and have an existing water source onsite, get ahold of Community Crops. Rain barrels cannot always keep up with a hot Nebraska summer, and the cost of installing a source would require a fundraiser dedicated to itself, but Community Crops has plenty of creative problem solvers, so make the call to 402-474-9802 and talk it over. The more information you have about your possible garden, the more likely it is they will be able to resolve any issues. Site leaders for each garden want to make the growing process as smooth as possible for both gardeners and land owners.
Community Crops provides site leaders and also covers the cost of water for growing. It provides most standard seeds and the tools necessary to till the land and harvest your crop. Gardeners can attend classes throughout the year to help further their understanding of and skills in the food production cycle—including marketing. Each participant is required to clean up the plot at the end of the growing season, so whoever uses it next has a good place to start.
Lincoln has several community gardens through other programs including city Parks and Recreation, and some gardens have been started by individuals. No matter where you end up for your garden, we wish you a happy harvest.