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Lancaster Community Gardens Story

Lancaster Community Gardens was formed this Spring (2012) and has been steadily progressing. Here’s a bit of an update on our progress.

Wheatland Middle School Project
The gardens at Wheatland Middle School sit on 22 acres of organic farmland, which has been fallow for 15 years. (not certified organic yet but chemical-free for at least 15 years).

We established the gardens in Spring of 2012 with the cooperation and permission of the School District of Lancaster and Lancaster Township. The land is owned by the district and leased by LCG.

This year we are developing 17,000 square feet for 70 plots. About 30 people have paid $20/year for their plots; over 100 people support through volunteering or gifts. 15 plots have been donated by members of the community for use by refugee families resettled in Lancaster from Nepal and Bhutan.

growing lancaster community gardens

growing lancaster community gardens

The Fence Fundraiser
By June it became clear that the critters–mostly groundhogs–were going to be a problem. So we launched a KickStarter campaign and raised over $3,000 in just 5 days from 76 people! The support was overwhelming, and a real endorsement of our vision and work.

Building the Fence
The biggest threat was from groundhogs digging holes under the proposed fence. After some serious research, we found the most accepted practice for handling these diggers was to dig a trench and line it with mesh fencing, and then erect a six foot fence.

So we dug a trench–one foot deep and 2 feet wide–using a rented mini-excavator operated by plot-holder Joe Mugavero.  Joe spent about 10 hours making it happen–it was a great effort!

Joe Digging at Lancaster Community Gardens (Lancaster PA)

Joe Digging the trench

Once finished, we lined the trench with mesh fencing (8 hours with about 8 volunteers), then filled the trench using a Bobcat pallet loader. That took another 6 hours.

The fence arrived late, so we lost some volunteer momentum. Erecting the fence took about a week. It’s a metal pole fence, so we hammered in about 70 poles 8 feet apart. One volunteer did about half of the work–Vince is a superstar.

Erecting the Fence and Lancaster Community Gardens

Group Fence-building

Erecting the fence was tough early on; at one point we had 7 volunteers working on that. And then two of us figured out a very easy and efficient way to build it:

  • Unroll the fence along the trench
  • lift the fence and lean it against the poles, making sure to hook it a bit so it stays up
  • holding the fence against the first pole, then lifting it slightly so it slides into the hooks in at least 3 places; the word of the day was “adequate”. Don’t obsess over getting each hook perfectly fitted.
  • hammer the hooks and move to the next pole.

While one person could probably pull that off, two people can do it relatively easily. Three would be perfect; the third person provides occasional spot help, or follows the other two with the hammer.

The Long and Unwinding Fence at Lancaster Community Gardens, Lancaster PA

Finishing the Fence!

The Gate
John Goss handled the gate. It was a bit more involved, but he knew what he was doing and it worked out great. he dug the two end post holes, put the poles in, poured in wet concrete mix, and stabilized the poles using string tied to a variety of stakes. The poles settled into the concrete nicely.

Once the concrete was dry, John hung the two gates onto the poles and we were pretty much done.

The last step was to connect the trench lining with the fence using plastic thingies (I forget what they’re called). That took a number of volunteers a a few hours (likely 20 combined), and then we were in great shape.

So far we’ve had a minor rabbit invasion, so we’ll likely line the first foot with chicken wire.

Perimeter Planting
Because the dirt from the trench is free of weeds and simply great soil, we decided to plant vine veggies along the perimeter of the fence. We hope to beautify the fence in this way, and add to the amount of community produce we grow and donate.

Community Plots
In addition to these plots, we’ve established over 2500 square feet of community and student plots. The produce grown in these plots will be donated to local food banks; we plan to expand community contributions next year through cash crops.

Future Hopes for Wheatland
We hope to add fruit trees, a beehive, a greenhouse, and at least 5 additional acres over the next several years. Some of the land will be used for additional family plots, and some for “urban farms” of up to an acre per farmer.

By next year we also hope to develop some cash crops as part of LCG’s business model toward self-sufficiency, so we do not have an ongoing dependency on fundraising and grants for operational needs.

Strengthening Community
Most of the volunteers and gardeners didn’t know each other until they started working on this project. The gardens have brought them together, and anything from new friendships to partnerships among organizations have developed. Community gardens can create “instant community” if you get the right mix of people and an operating framework that brings people together in common cause.

How You Can Join Us
It’s a pretty good start, but water is a concern, so we expect to drill a well sometime soon. Please support the effort by volunteering time, claiming a plot, donating tools or machinery, or donating money to support our shared vision.

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