You have probably seen them around your neighborhood; You may even work a plot in one. But they are still a relatively new phenomenon so let’s start with defining what they are:
Community gardens refer to any piece of land gardened by a group of people, utilizing either individual or shared plots on private or public land.
Now that we have a shared definition, let’s discuss proliferation. Over the past seven years the number of community gardens has exploded in the Twin Cities metro area. In 2009, there were hardly 150 local community gardens, today there are nearly 600.
In 2016 alone, the City of Minneapolis allowed almost three dozen empty lots to be converted into new community gardening space. The movement is clear. Gardening is no longer just a quirky hobby for seniors, planting and growing your own food has become hip and trendy.
But the growth in community gardening has not been straightforward. In certain instances, old state laws have actually worked against the grow-it-yourself movement. From criminalizing local seed libraries to burdensome property regulation, community gardening advocates have had to work hard to keep pushing their initiatives forward. In 2015, at least seven Minnesotan community gardens were evicted from the property they were growing on.
Land issues continue to be the greatest challenge community gardens face. Fortunately, gardening advocates do not have to face these challenges alone. Abundant resources exist to help community gardeners navigate complex regulations. The Public Health Law Center has a templated resolution encouraging cities/counties to adopt a community garden policy. ChangeLab Solutions has a comprehensive Legal Toolkit for Community Gardens. Minneapolis-based Gardening Matters even offers a Twin Cities Community Garden Start-Up Guide which includes templated landholder letters and lease agreements.
Even with all these standardized tools community gardeners may still run into legal obstacles. Each community garden is different, complicated by the fact that a variety of different property owners host them.
Savvy community garden organizers are turning to experienced real estate lawyers to help them negotiate with property owners. Empowered by these committed professionals, community gardens are continuing to sprout across the Twin Cities.