Types of Gardening Programs
Although there are similarities between all types of gardening projects, there are some important differences. Use this page to understand the basic differences between: Neighborhood Community Gardens, School Gardens, Entrepreneurial Training Programs, and Mentorship Programs. While some programs may be hybrids of two or more of these basic types, each one of these types has a unique definition, common set of goals and special considerations that are critical for success.
Neighborhood Community Gardens
This type of garden is one of the oldest forms of community gardening in the U.S., and can mean many different things to different people. The most traditional form of the neighborhood community garden is the allotment garden, where garden plots are rented to community members on an annual basis to plant vegetables and flowers. Neighborhood community gardens vary widely in their structure, purpose and format, and some may feature gathering places for community events.
Goals for neighborhood community gardens are as unique as the gardens themselves, but many will have goals that include: physical and spiritual health, community building, neighborhood beautification, and neighborhood solidarity.
- Organization and Leadership
One of the most important considerations for neighborhood community gardens is leadership and organization. Because many of these types of projects are loosely structured or collectively managed, it is sometimes difficult to keep the project sustained over time. Having a project leader is important, but it is also critical that the project will function without that one individual. Formally creating a non-profit organization (501(c) 3) may be one way to keep a group of people interested in the project over time. This type of organizational development is also helpful for fundraising, because many donors will require 501(c) 3 status. Click here (PDF) for information on what it means to become a non-profit organization.
Another important consideration for neighborhood community gardens is something called land tenure, or ownership of the land. Because many of these types of garden projects operate on low budgets, it may not be possible to purchase a plot of land. Many cities offer city-owned vacant lots for lease to gardening groups, but these leases are often very restrictive - they may ban the construction of any permanent structures, require that you clear the garden every season (no perennials!), or include a stipulation that you have to vacate the land as soon as someone wants to purchase it. It may be worthwhile to try to negotiate a more favorable lease, or see if you can lease land long-term from a church, school, university, hospital, or other institution.
The Learning Garden
Since 2001, the Learning Garden of Venice High School has played an important role in the lives of students, teachers, and members of the local community. Although the Learning Garden is recognized as a model example of an outdoor classroom, it also serves the local community as a gathering place, horticultural resource, and a valuable source of inspiration and pride.
Like neighborhood community gardens, this type of garden has a long history in the U.S. School gardens are used as outdoor classrooms, where students learn lessons in a variety of subjects: math, science, culinary arts, biology, etc. These types of gardens will are often managed by a teacher or a group of teachers, and parent groups often help with the maintenance and upkeep of the garden. The gardens act as outdoor gathering spaces, where both students and teachers may take time to relax and enjoy nature.
The goals of school gardens will vary, but quality education is generally one of the foremost goals of any school garden. School gardens can be designed along themes that will help meet the specific educational goals of the teacher: a garden featuring crops such as squash, corn and beans may have the goal of teaching about Native American agriculture; a garden designed to attract butterflies, bees, and frogs may have the goal of teaching lessons about biology and life sciences.
- Strong Support
School gardens will most likely need support from school administrators before the first spade of earth can be turned, and will need continued support from teachers, administrators, parents, and students. Establishing strong support for a project before it is started will help ensure the continued success of the project, and will help greatly when seeking funding, volunteers, or other assistance for the garden.
Getting teachers in various subjects excited about the concept of a school garden early on will allow the garden to serve diverse roles to different communities within the school. Diversity not only strengthens the meaning of a garden, but also assures that there will be many types of people interested in the future of the garden.
- Meeting Standards
When gathering support from administrators it will be useful to be able to make a case for the garden based on the educational goals of the school. National Education Standards can be met through the careful development of the garden, and can turn the garden into a true outdoor classroom. Visit our Learning in the Garden section to read examples of garden projects that can meet National Education Standards.
San Francisco, CA
Gardens are often used as hands-on learning tools to teach students about topics as diverse as math, biology, art, and mathematics. Educators at the Life Long Learning Academy have developed a new take on this approach with a series of classes known as Organic Opportunities. At this San Francisco charter school, students learn how the decisions they make about what to eat are connected to every other aspect of their lives, as well as to the future health of our planet.
Entrepreneurial Training Programs
Entrepreneurial gardening programs are growing in popularity, and are providing non-profit agencies with new approaches to traditional job training programs. These types of programs use gardening and urban agriculture as a way to help under-served youth gain valuable job training experience though internships or jobs that focus on food system development. The format of these types of programs varies, but participants usually gain experience in all aspects of food system development, from planting, harvesting and maintaining a garden to marketing, packaging and selling garden products. Many programs pay participants for their involvement, either through hourly wages or profit-sharing, and most also train participants in interview techniques, resume writing, and other general job-related skills.
The goals of these types of programs usually include the empowerment, mentorship, and eventual employment of participants. Some programs focus on a particular subset of youth facing particular challenges, such as: homelessness, poverty, or socioeconomic status.
- Organization and Leadership
Entrepreneurial programs are often very complex, and include many different elements and factors that need to be managed. This means that strong organization and leadership are critical to keep these programs healthy and functioning well. Many of the more well-established entrepreneurial programs rely on a core staff to manage organizational needs such as youth recruitment, fundraising, and record keeping, as well as volunteers to help with seasonal gardening and fundraising tasks. Some also establish advisory boards that guide the mission of the program and assist with key decision making.
- Community Relationships
Building community relationships are particularly important for entrepreneurial programs, because their success will often depend heavily on support from the local non-profit and business community. For programs that aim to place youth in jobs after they complete the programs, these types of relationships may greatly impact job-placement success rates.
Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project
Both urban and rural populations sometimes face obstacles to the access of locally grown, fresh fruits and vegetables. The Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project is working to eliminate Michigan's food deserts while also sharing valuable lessons about business development and management.
Mentorship programs often overlap with entrepreneurial programs, particularly in the techniques they use to involve youth. However, mentorship programs focus more on community involvement and empowerment, and thus job training may act as a means to an end, not an end in itself. They will often involve youth in working with other local populations, such as senior citizens, elementary-age students, physically or mentally handicapped individuals, and may focus broad issues, such as environmental sustainability or community solidarity.
The goals of mentorship programs will vary from program to program, but may be very similar to entrepreneurial programs - the empowerment and successful mentorship of participants. They may also have broad goals related to larger issues such as environmental awareness and community education.
- Youth Recruitment
Unlike entrepreneurial programs, which often offer tangible incentives for participants, mentorship programs may have to rely more heavily on intangible rewards to draw participants. Active recruitment of participants may be necessary to keep the program running well. Older and more well-established programs may be able to rely on reputation and word-of-mouth, but younger programs may want to consider recruiting through churches, 4-H clubs, youth centers, homeless centers, etc.
While funding is a challenge for every type of program, mentorship programs may face unique challenges to funding. Without reliable statistics such as job placement success rates, mentorship programs will have to find other ways to "make the case" to donors. Relationships with non-profit organizations, churches, and schools may be able to provide valuable support to these types of programs.
The term "youth gardening" may be a misleading term in the Holyoke organization of Nuestras Raíces, where generations work and learn together as they aim to improve the environmental, economic and social health of their community. Urban agriculture is the root and primary tool of this organization, which today is the leading environmental justice and sustainable development group working in Holyoke, Massachusetts.