Evan Matzen, Manager, Sustainability Q&A with a Sustainable Organic Community Gardener

This week I spoke with Monetta Slaybaugh, a Senior Graphic Artist who I work with. Monetta is an avid organic fruit and vegetable gardener and participates in a community garden in her area. Community gardens are a great way for apartment renters or urban dwellers without private yards to work on their green thumbs and grow their own foods.  Some apartment complexes, like this one highlighted in my home town, offer plots of land to be used by residents for community gardening.  See our conversation below for the definition of a sustainable community garden, why you should do it, and suggestions on how to do it the right way.

E: What is a community garden?

M: In general, a community garden is a piece of land where people come together to garden. Beyond that you will find many different types of gardens, many different kinds of people, and many different goals for the gardens. Probably the most common types of community gardens are in the city and focus mostly on growing food. Some are organic, some are not. Some gardens have chickens, bees, or even goats and cows. In some cities, gardens are overseen by local government, but here in San Diego, gardeners are left to organize themselves.

E: Why would someone want to take part in a community garden?

M: We like to garden together to learn from each other and share experiences. People who live in apartments don’t have a yard, so a community garden is a great place to get their hands dirty. In the low-income neighborhoods where produce is sparse, community gardens can be the only nearby source for fresh unprocessed food. I am in a community garden because I want to be more self-sufficient and know more about where my food comes from.

E: How many people usually participate?

M: That also depends on the size of the lot and how many people are interested. My garden, Golden Hill Community Garden, has 29 plots with maybe 40 gardeners. The New Roots garden has 80 large plots that whole families tend. Vera House has only 11 plots. All of the gardens in town have waiting lists, usually for a year or more.

E: Are there any policies set up to ensure things are naturally grown?

M: Not all community gardens are organic. It’s up to each garden, or group of gardens, to come up with bylaws or policies and to enforce them, but my garden is organic. Each gardener signs a contract agreeing to follow the rules of the garden. These rules include keeping up the plot and helping to maintain the garden as a whole. If a gardener is not following the rules, they will be warned and then asked to leave by the organizer of the garden if things don’t improve. In regards to organic growing, everyone who comes into the garden is always enthusiastic about using organic, sustainable methods of gardening.

E: Where do you see gardening in the future?

M: Community gardens and urban farming are growing in popularity. People are beginning to care more about how their food is grown and what is being used to grow it. Rising fuel prices will make conventionally grown food more expensive, so I see more people turning to local food sources, which include community gardens, backyard gardens, and local farms.

E: What challenges do you face?

M: Right now we are having some major pest problems at the garden. If it’s not the squirrels it’s the grasshoppers. We also have people hopping the fence and stealing what produce we do manage to grow. We determine what pest control to use through consensus within the group. Right now we are using barriers to try to keep pests out, plus strategic plant and shrub placement.

E: Do you or others encourage composting?

M: Composting is great! You can turn your garbage into rich soil and keep it out of the landfill. If you live in an apartment and have a container garden, you can still compost, either with worms or using a small compost bin. I used to take my compostables to the garden, but I just got a compost bin of my own. Now I throw my kitchen food waste in and I’ll soon have some nice compost soil for the back yard.

E: Does green growing take more money or time?

M: I think it could take more time in the beginning. The land needs to recover from using conventional fertilizers and pesticides; you have to naturally enrich the soil and it takes a different mindset. Conventional growing is a battle against nature, but sustainable gardening requires you to find ways to work with your environment. Many people who go organic avoid all chemicals and commercial fertilizers. They collect seeds from the plants they grow to replant next year and use compost instead of fertilizers.

If you replace plants or shrubs that need constant watering with native plants that do well in the local environment you will save a ton of money in water bills and chemicals! In general, if you plan right you can grow “green” for less and spend a lot less time caring for your yard.

E: What are your favorite things to grow that don’t use much water?

M: Many herbs don’t need a lot of water. I grow rosemary, thyme, and lavender as decorative plants. My bees love them and the yard smells great!

E: What suggestions do you have for people wanting to get into this sort of thing?

M: If you are interested in joining a community garden, look around and see if there is already a garden near you. Some gardens have a waiting list, but it’s worth the wait. Most gardens will encourage you to participate even if you haven’t been assigned a plot yet. If there isn’t a garden around you, you can always get some neighbors together and start one of your own!

If you live in an apartment complex that has some extra land, talk to the owners or managers about sponsoring a community garden. It is a great way to bond with members of the community and cultivate your own fresh produce.

Growing organic fruits and vegetables is easy, rewarding, and good for the earth!

Enjoy this article? Share it on social! For questions, comments, or post suggestions, please contact us!

There are no comments so far

Leave a Comment

Don't worry. We never use your email for spam.

Don't worry. We never use your email for spam.