Community gardens are becoming more popular than ever! I love that I can step out my back door into my little backyard garden, but also understand that others may not have that kind of space—and that's totally okay! If you're interested in growing your own food, but don't have the outdoor space to make it happen, a community garden is a great place to get your hands dirty + connect with people who are also interested in gardening (kale yeah!)
Think a community garden might be right for you but don't know where to start?
Keep reading! Today I want to introduce you to Kurt Mitschke (@kurtsdirt), an urban gardener + Rawkstar hailing from Austin, Texas. He started growing his own food almost three years ago, and it wasn't in his own backyard—it was in a community garden! He's been kind enough to share his story with us + some awesome tips for any Rawkstars who are interested in joining a community garden but don't know what to look for in a space. Welcome, Kurt!
Hi everyone! I’m Kurt Mitschke, a 27-year-old amateur urban gardener from Texas, where I’m part of a big ‘ol community garden right in the middle of my adopted home city of Austin.
Away from the dirt, I enjoy being anywhere on/in/near water fishing and exploring, creating stuff, and traveling to new places. Professionally, I’m a digital marketer. I hope my story will help anyone who's interested in joining a community garden—it's a truly rewarding experience!
WHY A COMMUNITY GARDEN?
When I got the itch to start gardening, growing plants in the backyard simply wasn’t an option, as I was living in a tiny apartment with no outdoor space. A community garden seemed like an easy place to begin and a way to meet people with a common interest. When I joined my first community garden almost three years ago, growing my own food wasn't completely foreign to me—I grew up in and around vegetable gardens, helping my dad a lot in his backyard garden and admiring my neighbors’ huge gardens and harvests whenever we’d visit (yep, that picture down there is of mini-me with my dad!). I definitely had a solid foundation to build upon, but of course, I still had (and have) a ton to figure out.
FINDING THE RIGHT SPACE
Before ending up at my current spot, I actually started in another community garden with a tiny plot that I quickly outgrew. So when it came time to look for a new garden, size — not only of my individual plot, but also the garden overall — was a top priority. My current garden home, Sunshine Community Gardens, is one of the largest in the nation with over 200 plots spread out across three acres. With that size comes a huge variety of gardening techniques and styles, and I loved the idea of growing in a place where so many different methods were being practiced and so many new (to me) plants being grown. It’s a great place to learn and get inspired!
I’ve got about 400 square feet to take care of now, so there’s always something to do in my own plot, and that’s certainly where I spend most of my time. But everyone chips in with the general upkeep, fundraising plant sales, and/or “business” matters. It takes the entire community to keep the place looking good and running smoothly.
Some of things you'll find in my plot are: beans, peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, corn, eggplant, and okra in the warm season, and broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale, Brussels sprouts, snap peas, spinach, lettuce, carrots, beets, and celery in the cool season. I grow many different varieties of each of those, though, and am always looking to try new ones. A few varieties that I’m most excited about this spring are Painted Mountain corn, luffa gourds, cluster beans, purple hyacinth beans, and Japanese long cucumbers.
TIPS FOR JOINING A COMMUNITY GARDEN
If I had any advice to people who want to join a community garden, this would be it:
1) START IN YOUR ‘HOOD.
Do yourself and your future garden a favor and find a nearby location, preferably in your neighborhood. Maintaining a productive garden will be tough if it’s only convenient for you make it out there on the weekends.
2) LOOK FOR BOUNDARIES.
There are many styles of gardening, and some are just, umm, a bit less orderly. Clear borders help ensure that plots are self-contained and not encroaching on other gardens or shared pathways.
3) CHECK THE TOOLSHED.
If you’re like me, you don’t have a good place to store a bunch of dirty gardening tools, so you probably don’t own many. Make sure the community garden has plenty of tools available for everyone to use.
4) FIND THE FAUCETS.
Do plots have water nearby? You don’t want to be fighting 500 feet of hoses or lugging watering cans from across the garden every day. I doubt this is an issue in established gardens, but is a problem I’ve seen in newer ones.
5) PREPARE TO WAIT.
Due to low turnover, the best community gardens are usually full and have a waiting list for the next available plots. Don’t let that scare you away; a good garden is worth the wait.
6) ALWAYS KEEP LEARNING.
Growing food has been a big learning experience and I don’t expect that to ever change. When I first started I had soil pH issues, this year I’m dealing with cucumber beetles for the first time, and next year I’m sure it will be something else. That’s all part of what makes it so rewarding and fun! Instead of being put off by the potential challenges, embrace them, learn from them, and just keep growin'.
CONNECT WITH KURT: To see more photos of Kurt's awesome community garden, be sure to follow him on Instagram @kurtsdirt.
INTERESTED IN BEING FEATURED ON THE RAWKSTAR GARDEN TOUR?
Please email us here and tell us all about your lovely garden. We’re looking for school gardens, tower gardens, big gardens, indoor gardens… you name it!