How to Build a Produce Garden in Your Community
The Pasture to Produce team from Chestnut Grove Baptist Church of Earlysville, VA hopes you get inspired by our story and, in turn, start a produce garden in your own community. This style of community garden is a bit different from the traditional; we started solely from donations, worked only with volunteers and gave 100% of the produce harvested to our neighbors in need.
We have designed this website to help you and your fellow community members with your own Pasture to Produce type project. The Earlysville Pasture to Produce team wants other communities to see the good and significance in building, working and sharing the bounty from a community garden with local food pantries and beyond.
When COVID-19 hit our country in March 2020 and people were unable to go to work due to quarantine restrictions, food pantries across the country witnessed more and more families line up week after week to gather food for their families as they just could not afford to feed themselves during this unprecedented pandemic. Now in 2022, we are still seeing demand for community assistance.
What can you do to help? .... start your own Pasture to Produce garden!
First: You Dream It
Who Started Pasture to Produce?
The Earlysville, VA Pasture to Produce was started by community members and members of Chestnut Grove Baptist Church (CGBC). The staff members at Chestnut Grove wanted to find a way to help support the food insecure in Earlysville and the surrounding area after COVID 19 hit the US in March 2020. Managing directors Aaron Hammer and Mitzi Hammer, owners of Hammered Inn Farm and Garden, along with Jonathon Profit owner of Restoration Produce were called in to help with a special project dreamt up by Lance King, the minister at CGBC.
Why Did Pasture to Produce Start?
Pasture to Produce started one month after COVID-19 restrictions hit the United States. Lance King had a vision (divinely delivered); he saw produce growing in the field just beyond the church. The produce would grow and be delivered to area food pantries. A team was formed. Many people in the Earlysville community loved the idea and many wanted to get involved.
Next: You Plan It
The Earlysville Pasture to Produce team was made up of local famers and community leaders. The team met a few times before approaching the church for the initial funds needed. The P to P team evaluated the need for enough sun exposure for the crops, safe access to the field, water access for the crops, and the cost of materials including seeds, irrigation, and fencing. One of our experienced farmers came up with the layout and output possibilities. Click here to see his plans.
Step 1-Set Your Team
Finding and putting together a good team is a very important step in the making of a garden. A good team needs to have people who are experienced in gardening and some folks who could act as volunteer communicators. A non-profit communicator is key too. This person will have an initial list of contacts from his non-profit who would be able to help you with the needs for your garden. An example of a non-profit helping your team is they can reach out to other non-profits for volunteers, to help procure equipment and solicit financial donations.
Step 2-Find Local Food Pantries
Before you continue planning, make sure you have local food pantries willing to take the produce. It was important to know before we broke ground if we would have an avenue for distribution of the fresh produce to come in the harvest months ahead. Click here to go to the local food bank page.
Step 3-Find Your Land
You need to find your land before you can start planning your garden. Finding land that can support your desired harvest yield is very important to your overall success. The Earlysville Pasture to Produce had land donated to them from members of the Earlysville community. For your garden location, you can look in your local area for relatively flat land that would get at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. Your non-profit communicator can help search for possible land donors.
Step 4-Plan Your Garden
Once you have your team and land you can start planning your garden. Figuring out your plot and how many crops you want to grow is a very important step. Click this link to see sample plans.
Step 5-Write Your Budget
Planning your budget is a crucial part in planning your garden. You need to decide how much each material needed will cost, including seeds, irrigation, fencing, water equipment, harvest equipment, etc. Click here to see the numbers for our 2020 Pasture to Produce garden.
Step 6-Gather Your Supplies
You're ready to start your garden, but make sure you have all the right tools. We used Valley Produce Supply in Dayton, VA for our irrigation needs. We found fencing supplies at Tractor Supply. We purchased our seeds from E and R seeds in Monroe, IN.
Article from Virginia Baptist Foundation
Imagine Magazine: Partners with Purpose
Seeds of Faith Article
Written by Lynn Kirk
Fall 2020 Edition
Then: You Work It
Once you have planned out your garden, it's time to put your plan into action.
Step 1-Set Up Communication Plan
Communicating with your team and community is vital for a community garden. Our Pasture to Produce team found that Sign-Up Genius was the best way to communicate ours needs and our progress. Click here to see an example of our local Sign-Up Genius. We also suggest creating a Facebook page attached to your non-profit sponsor.
Step 2-Work Hard On Work Days
With Sign-Up Genius, volunteers can see the weekly duties and sign up for jobs that they think would be the best choice for them. Jobs can range from physically difficult to not difficult at all. For example, at Pasture to Produce the most physically difficult job was raking out the freshly tilled soil and the least difficult was recording harvest weights.
Finally: You Share It
Finding multiple avenues to distribute your harvested produce is a key part in sharing the bounty. Food banks are always looking for quality fresh produce, so finding multiple local food pantries that are willing to take your produce is not a difficult task. Communicating with your local food banks is a very good example for why you need a non-profit communicator, because they already have contacts within the community.
Step 1-Contact Local Food Banks
Look at the Plan It step..
Step 2-How to Package the Harvest
When packaging the harvest, you have to keep in mind that you will not have the same amount of produce each week, so weighing and counting produce before packaging is very important. Once you know your yield, divide that number by how many families will receive food from the food bank you are giving to that week. We purchased these bags from Uline. They were large enough to fit produce as big as zucchini and squash. Do not seal the bags as the produce will sweat in cold storage.
Step 3-Transporting the Produce
When transporting the produce, you need to be very careful as not to bruise or squish the harvest. We invested in Harvest Containers. They are a good size and are able to be stored compactly. For transportation we suggest using a flat bed trailer or a larger vehicle. If you decide to use the harvest containers, you can stack them 2-3 high in a vehicle.
Step 4-Deliver It
What we found to work best was to include the role of produce delivery driver on our Sign-Up Genius. Food drop-off differs between food banks. Before dropping off your produce, check in with the food bank to see their drop-off policies and schedule.