10 Tips for Starting a Church Garden

by Timothy Goldman

A garden is a wonderful ministry for a faith community. Gardens are places of gathering, hospitality and celebration. Given proper planning and upkeep, a church garden could provide thousands of pounds of nutritious, organically grown food to families in need, as well as habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife for years to come.

  1. Have a vision. Outline a clear plan and long-term vision for the garden. Consider volunteering as a group in an established garden for a season before starting one. It will be a great learning experience, and it will also test group resolve for living into this ministry.
  2. Use care in naming the garden. Community gardens are generally understood to be public garden plots available for private rental for a season while “faith gardens” and “grace gardens” suggest places devoted solely to prayer or a labyrinth walk for many people. Referring to our garden as the “Faith & Grace Food Pantry Garden” rather than the “St. Timothy’s Food Pantry Garden” helps let the public know that participation is not limited to members of our church. Choose a name that captures the spirit of the ministry in a way that can be shared widely.
  3. Call before you dig! Have the phone or utility company mark the locations of underground cables and lines.
  4. Site location is crucial. Find a sunny, level, well-drained, adequately-sized plot of land in a convenient location near a water source. Remember to include space for community gatherings, composting, paths and signage. If a good site for a garden is not available, consider asking a landowner with a good site if you can garden there or “adopt” an established garden. They will be very happy to have your help!
  5. Are you covered? Find out if your church’s insurance covers gardeners.
  6. Check city or county regulations. Sometimes there are site requirements such as buffers between the garden and sidewalks or roadways.
  7. It’s all in the timing. The best time to start a new garden is in the fall, so initial planning for a garden should be completed before fall. Start with soil preparation. Both till and no-till methods are best done in the fall in order to kill the grass before spring planting.
  8. Choose a primary contact. It’s good to have a primary coordinator or contact person for the garden. People will want to know how to contact the garden. Once the garden is running, post this clearly.
  9. Recruit (and appreciate) volunteers! High school students, other faith communities, and scouts are all potential volunteer sources. But make sure the volunteers feel engaged and appreciated. Have tools and gloves on hand if they do not bring their own. Have insect repellent, sunscreen, water and restroom facilities available. Most importantly, have a garden project for them to do in the time they have available. People who do not like gardening may make great delivery drivers.
  10. Make a budget. List the costs required to create and maintain a garden, including ongoing expenses such as water, garden tools and plants. Other possible expenses might be a watering system (use of an irrigation meter may lower municipal water costs), fencing (a short fence discourages rabbits and can be easily stepped over, but does not discourage deer), and a shed or storage area.

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