Susannah Barton, the executive director of Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo, is the subject of our In the field feature in today’s WNY Refresh section in The Buffalo News.
Along with the questions that appear in the feature, I asked her other questions about the nuts and bolts of how the nonprofit helps community gardeners in the City of Buffalo.
Below are excerpts:
So how do these gardens get off the ground and when does planning start?
Typically, it’s a handful of people in a neighborhood. Oftentimes, a block club will form a committee, say their garden committee. And a good time to start planning a garden is summer and fall, before the next summer season. So they’ll come to us because maybe they saw a garden or know of a garden somewhat near them but not in walking distance, and they’ve identified a vacant lot ... and want to turn it into a productive community space.
So usually they come to us between November and the end of February. During that time, we hold some open houses and help people with some questions they might have on the application. And then applications are due at the end of February and then our staff and a committee on our board look at the potential sites. Then we approve by the end of March for the upcoming growing season.
A community garden is a real community effort. For us to put our philanthropic efforts out there, we need to make sure there are plenty of people out there, plenty of hands on deck ... and that the community is looking to develop this as a long-term community space in their neighborhood. We ask for a site plan, some basic questions about the land, the owner, access to water, hydrants. We also ask for letters of support from adjacent homeowners. We also ask for neighborhood support sheets. We want to know that the majority of people on the immediate block support the use of this space as a community garden. They don’t necessarily have to get their hands dirty or eat a tomato, but they do have to generally give the project a thumbs up. ... We also ask for a core group of stakeholders, eight to 10 people.
Are you limited in how many you start every year?
We haven’t had to limit ourselves just yet.
How much does a garden generally cost and where does the money come from?
In general, we put between $1,500 and $2,500 into a new garden. We are heavily grant funded and we do have membership as well as individual donors and we do fund-raisers, as well. Unfortunately, Grass Roots Gardens can’t supply everything a garden needs. We wish we could, but we can’t … so it’s really a community effort. For this new University Heights project, one of the churches is going to do some small fund-raisers for this garden and pay for some benches and stuff like that.
What happens to the vegetables?
The community consumes them. How depends on how they’ve decided at the beginning of the season to grow. So they’ve decided in this garden they may assign specific beds or portions of the beds to certain people or families in the community. With the vast majority of our gardens, the people decide to grow communally, so they decide what they want to grow at the beginning of the season and they assign a bed to one or two types of vegetables. Then they have set harvest days, so they harvest together and share the produce. ... Some may donate to a food pantry or food bank, but it’s really about neighborhood-based food production, so these vegetables are going back to the households of the host community.
Do you have any issues with theft?
We really don’t. Every once in a while, our gardeners talk about it. It usually tends to be neighborhood kids who aren’t that familiar and are going into the garden and picking some tomatoes and throwing them at each other. It’s usually an education piece: ‘Hey, this is a community garden and it’s for everyone in the neighborhood. Come and see all we’re growing.’ These places tend to become assets in the neighborhood and people have a significant level of pride in them and they tend to protect them.
What does the organization do in the winter?
We use the winter to do all of our planning. ... You definitely don’t build a garden in a season, so our newer gardens, they’re going to require a significant about of supplies and materials for up to three seasons. So we need to know from them, ‘What are you anticipating?’ In University Heights, for example, in 2014 they may want to build six new raised bed gardens, so during the winter months, we need to get information from all of our 70 gardens from what they’re build-out plans and we put that into our budget.
Busiest time of year?
May through July and fall as well.