Watch tribal elders and children work together to plant seeds for a healthy future on the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico. A new greenhouse will grow fresh vegetables for elders during the wintertime and help re-establish traditional farming ways. For generations, tribes along the Rio Grande River farmed, but recent economic and other challenges have changed that. This is one example of how tribes are working to strengthen their local food systems.

Community gardens are typically centrally located, organized spaces where anyone can reserve a plot to garden. Resources like water and tools are often shared and these spaces create a sense of community by providing a place where people come together, trade information about growing, and share harvested food.

Starting a community garden takes a lot of planning and work involving several people. Many tribes have community gardens or school gardens. If your community doesn’t have a garden, get together with some friends or family who may be interested in starting one.

Things to Consider: 

  • Who wants to garden? The most important thing is to figure out whether your tribe has enough people to support a community garden. Talk to as many families and community leaders as possible to get a real sense of whether enough people will garden. If there aren’t enough people willing to garden, it won’t succeed.
  • Location is important. Not only when it comes to the amount of light and access to water nearby, but within the community. Consider whether it should be placed near the senior center, a school, or other community centers, and in a place easily accessible to families who will garden there.
  • Expertise. Who in your community has some gardening expertise to share with others and help with the planning? The more people who take ownership of planning the garden, the greater the chances it will succeed and provide opportunities for community members to work collaboratively. Successful gardening projects offer an opportunity for families to connect with each other and for elders to work alongside younger generations, sharing traditional knowledge.

Whether you take on a community garden, plan raised beds, or orchestrate gardening classes for your tribal members, there are many resources to help. The first place to consider is the Extension of a nearby tribal college or university. Many tribal communities with gardening and other food-systems work in place have formed successful partnerships with Extension staff.