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Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) Role in the Growing Presence of Community Gardens

Boston Natural Areas Network

Boston Natural Areas Network is best known for their work with and advocacy for effective community based uses of open space.  They are "property owners" but more than that.  They advocate for effective use and preservation of open space in the greater Boston area. Organized in 1977, they have continued to work to preserve, expand and improve urban open space. Their tools include community organizing, acquisition and ownership and the management of specialty spaces such as Urban Wilds, Greenways and Community Gardens.

Since the inception of Boston Natural Areas Network, forging effective partnerships has been their hallmark. Bringing together community groups, public agencies, non-profits and for-profits together, BNAN promotes the creation of common visions. How to combine resources for the most effective results and the benefit of all - their goals, their visions, their mission.

Important to note is BNAN's position as "helper," not "supervisor."  For example, in the community garden setting, Boston Natural Areas Network manages the open land as a public resource but in application, it is the gardeners who organize their own leadership and maintenance of the gardens.

Savin Maywood Community Garden in RoxburyBoston Gardeners Council

One of their offshoot organizations is called the Boston Gardeners Council. It serves as a voice for Boston’s community and residential gardeners. Promoting sustainable urban gardening efforts and the spread of community gardening to "every inch" of Boston, to every neighborhood, they seek to grant access to gardens - all ages, all socio-economic backgrounds and cultures, all levels of gardening knowledge.

Everyone can enjoy the benefits of healthy food grown close to home (and to the heart) as well as experience a new form of community beautification - not the finely manicured lawns, hedges and flower beds but, with neighbors working together in common interest, the regrowth of stewardship of the earth.

Grand plans, ideas and visions notwithstanding, the ground level management of community gardens is where the "tires hit the road" so-to-speak, or phrased somewhat more aptly, where the hoe and rake hit the garden beds.

"Go for it," is the enthusiastic final words the gardeners hear in Spring as they enter their community garden, take charge of their plots and watch their efforts grow into viable harvest to feed themselves, their family and friends and, with more than enough for all, the surplus contributed to local food pantries.

Yet the work of gardening successfully includes the accumulation of knowledge - attending seminars, workshops, getting advice from friends and "How-To's" from the support staff at Boston Natural Areas Network.

Photo above: Savin Maywood Community Garden in Roxbury have done a great job of preparing their garden plots, tools, walkways and image for the months of winter.

Fall Community Garden Clean-Ups Done Well

Recently, BNAN staff took on the task of creating a set of community garden guiding principles applying to all gardens across the city for effective garden maintenance.  The resulting documents are to be commended.  Not only do they help community gardeners but they could be helpful to any home gardener who wants a better way to effectively manage their own gardens.  

The structure that automatically exists, because Boston Natural Areas Network is ultimately responsible for the community gardens. gives them a right and a responsibility to do what’s best for all. BNAN’s Fall Community Garden Clean-up letter is a comprehensive procedure which is also supportive of the gardeners and the community.

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This document spells out the communal and individual responsibilities of community gardeners including:
  • End of season clean-ups - organic waste, composting and trash
  • Safety over the winter - plans for snow removal, blowing winds, vulnerable structures
  • Caring for tools and equipment - tomato cages, buckets, supports, shovels, rakes, etc, hoses
  • Preparing and preserving resources - mulch, compost piles
  • Sensitivity to the surrounding neighborhood - overall appearance
  • General maintenance - review the garden for defects

Useful end-of-season procedures

  • Work with your local municipality.  In Boston the Public Works Department will pick up garden waste -  trash separate from organic waste.  Know the proper procedures and the pickup dates.
  • Prepare the garden for Winter.  Plan to come back to a properly functioning garden in the spring which means that cautions must be taken now before the winter begins to close off the water, secure the storage huts and remove any items that could fly away with an especially heavy wind.
  • Plan to clean and store your tools properly.  It is not just the earth that brings forth the fruits and veggies but also the hard work of the gardeners, so cleaning and storing tools properly is especially important.
  • Remember the "gold" that feeds the garden plots in the spring - namely the compost piles.  Prepare them for the winter.
  • Be sensitive to the overall appearance and beauty of the community gardens for your own sense of pride as well as acknowledgment from neighbors.
  • Think "stewardship" which is doing whatever is necessary to preserve our planet today for tomorrow and tomorrow’s generations.

Community gardens are the "new normal" in a world transforming itself from sub-urban to green-urban.
We are all learning how to live differently.
Boston Natural Areas Network is an important contributor to this overall effort.

Contact Information

Karen Chafee karen@bostonnatural.org
Website:  http://www.bostonnatural.org

To obtain a copy of any of the BNAN garden management documents, contact Karen.  They are eager to help.


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Posted: December 21, 2012     Nancy J Conrad

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