Refugee Resource Center

Growing Your Own Food in a Community Garden

A community garden is a piece of land in a neighborhood either in a city or on private land that gives the residents of that community an opportunity to engage, learn and experience how to produce food sustainably. In community gardens, people have small plots about 10 feet by 20 feet which they garden individually or with their relatives and friends. Click here to find a community garden near you.

Does it cost money to join a community garden?

In most community gardens here in Austin, they  charge you an annual fee to own a plot. These fees help to pay for water for irrigation and the maintenance of the community garden. Each community has volunteers who stand up to become garden leaders to run the garden by enforcing the laws, maintaining the garden, and collecting the annual fees.

Do I need to have my own gardening tools?

One does not need to own their tools. The annual fees paid by members help to pay for the tools. However some people can choose to bring their own garden tools which they are familiar and are comfortable for them to use. I have seen some people from Southeast Asia who import special cultural tools from their birth countries to use in their  garden plots.

Can I bring my family to a community garden?

If you own a plot in community garden, you can  bring your family and friends but you have to be responsible for them to follow the garden rules and anything they get involved in.

Are there work requirements associated with having a plot at a community garden?

Most community gardens here in Austin require that all members give up two hours monthly to work to maintain common areas such as the pathways, pollinator flowers bed...Community gardens have a consistent day when all people come to work in the common areas for two hours. The day can be meeting every second saturday each month. The workdays are also the moments when the gardeners get to associate and to get to know each other. For instance, Festival Beach Community garden, where MRC has 14 plots for refugees, has about a hundred people. Therefore, these workdays helps the gardeners to get to know each other. If one misses a communal work day, they have to make it up on their own or else they must pay a fine.

Where do I get seeds?

All community gardens I know in Austin restrict their members from using anything GMO or anything that has chemicals. Gardeners buy their seeds from organic stores: The Sustainable Food Center gives away free seeds to low income familie. I get most of my client refugee seeds from sustainable food center (SFC) every season. For every refugee who enters our program, I help them feel out the SFC application to be able to get free organic seeds at any time they want. In additional free organic seeds, the SFC gives out free compost and seedlings twice a year. For plants that SFC is unable to provide such as potatoes and  onion buds, I personally like to go to the Natural garden to buy them. It is my favourite place.

How do I learn about how to garden in Austin?

Most of the times, Community gardens are located at public parks, churches or schools,...One can learn how to get a garden through the word of mouth. The easiest way to get a garden is to contact the Sustainable Food Center, they will be able to connect you directly to the Community garden manager in your neighbourhood or a garden close to where you live. The SFC and the city of Austin are supporting and promoting community gardens.  For refugees it can be hard to get a garden: first due to language barrier: second poor transportation, most refugees don’t have cars: third, and lastly fear/uninformed, some immigrants may not know that there might be land to grow food in American cities. For my personal experience when I was in Africa, I was told and knew that American cities had only skyscrapers and highways but not land to grow food. As part of my job with MRC, I mostly recruit people for community gardens through the word of mouth. The existing refugee members bring new people of their kin, same country  or from the same church. Or sometimes the Resettlement Agent; Caritas and RST will refer people to me to get them plots.

What is the growing season in Austin?

In Austin we can grow food all year around. There are 3 major seasons; the fall/winter, spring and summer. The Texas A&M calendar is the best calendar to look at when planning to grow your crops.

Why should I consider getting a plot at a community garden? What are the benefits?

In my opinion, the community gardens has  little impact on food expenses because the plots are too small to grow enough food, hence it is unrealistic that community gardens reduce a family’s food expenses. Speaking on refugee viewpoint, the community gardens provides good quality of life to people: Lots of immigrants, especially refugees come countries that are agricultural for both income and for food. Therefore they feel at home when they come to the US and still be able to do what they did back in their home country. Next, community gardens create opportunities to learn how to farm. Lots of immigrants who used to farm back in their home country use community gardens to teach their children and grandchildren how to farm.

Community gardens helps to promote good eating habits. They togetherness in a community. Community gardens prove places for so many people to spacial plants. My mom grow medicinal herbs in her plot at the community garden. Community garden are great places for people to hang out, relax and meditate. Especially, I see elderly refugees go work in their community gardens every day, this also helps them to exercise. Community gardens provide pride and honor, lots of people always happy when they are able to grow their own food.

What are the community gardens in Austin that are best for refugee families and immigrants to join?

Most of immigrants and refugees will most likely live in neighbourhoods with cheaper housing and better public transportation. Therefore the community gardens they might want to get in, are those ones convenient for them to reach to.

Contributed by Wandaka Musongera, Democratic Republic of Congo, Refugee Agriculture Coordinator, Multicultural Refugee Coalition, Austin, TX

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