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Neighborhood Garden Co-ops?

Neighborhood Garden Co-ops?

I like to think outside the box.  I am also a lazy gardener.  When you put those two factors together, interesting ideas can happen.  I have been looking into co-ops for “professional” farmers lately and wondered – why can’t we do this in our neighborhoods?

The purpose of a co-op is to share services, specialize your growing (slightly – we don’t want monocultures), and give the grower more time to either produce even more food or do something fun.

Many backyard gardens contain a bit of everything – 3 tomato plants, a row of lettuce, 2 peppers, a cucumber, an eggplant, etc.  You have seen these before.  The 4’x 8′ garden gets overrun by the butternut squash vine, wiping out the strawberry plants and anything else in the way.  So that beautiful garden with lots of variety ends up only producing a couple of vegetables “well”.  We need more than “well”.  We need AWESOME!

Farmers are in the same boat, especially if they offer a CSA (community supported agriculture).  Many CSA farms grow 80+ different veggies in order to give the members a sampling of everything.  This is extremely difficult for the farmer.  Every vegetable has a different number of days to harvest, different nutrient requirements, different insect/disease problems, and so on.  It may get to the point that growing a certain vegetable just becomes a chore.

In order to farmers to LOVE their jobs again, it helps when they team up with other farmers.  Farmer A does not grow Brassica well, while Farmer B loves them.  Farmer B does not grow sweet potatoes well, while Farmer C excels at it.  This is where specialization and sharing the load comes into play.  All the farmers cut back to 30-40 different vegetables to keep track of and they share the bounty with their neighbors.  This makes sense.

How does this translate into the home gardener?  First invite your neighbors over for a cook out and find out who is growing vegetables.  Discuss your trials and tribulations (we do this anyway, don’t we?).  You may soon learn that Mr. Smith has a large garden with plenty of space for vining plants.  Mr. Green uses raised beds with loose soil, perfect for carrots and other root crops.  Your own garden might have a warmer microclimate – allowing you to plant your frost tender veggies out a week or two early.  This means you have the first ripe tomato on the block.  You learn through your discussions that some neighbors have trouble with certain pests, while others do not.  Does this sound familiar?

The next step is cookout number 2.  Planning your crop schedule.  How much of each vegetable do you need to satisfy each household.  How many plantings of green beans can you stagger throughout the summer?  What do families actually eat?  Once the list has been compiled you can divide the vegetable amongst yourselves.

As tomatoes and peppers come into season it allows for distribution visits to those neighbors.  Which leads to conversation, and maybe that small town neighborhood feel returns.  This is a win win situation!  Canning and freezing parties are planned.  Maybe the bounty is so great that your neighborhood group makes a donation to a local food pantry.

What do you think?  Is this possible?  Is anyone doing this?  Please share your experiences!

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