Four ways to a communal food garden

Last week I presented the Anglican Church’s food sustainability project Communal Food Gardens providing a number of social justice benefits and climate change mitigation actions. So this week, I look at the practicalities of establishing a Communal Food Garden.

To appeal to as wide a range of parishes as possible, the first-up food sustainability project of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland offers a number of variants on community gardens.

These range from a conventional food garden utilising raised beds, through two approaches to high raised beds for those less able to work at ground level, to a food forest garden.

My favourite approach to community food gardens is a food forest but that is suitable only where sufficient land is available – at least 50 square metres. To get a handle on what that means, a typical double garage will measure 7m by 7m or 49 m2.

Having established the Franklin Food Forest at Pukekohe High School, I know that food foresting has the potential to grow a wider variety and achieve a greater yield than a conventional garden and/or orchard. Whilst it is more work to establish, within 3 – 5 years, a food forest needs less maintenance and care.


food forest layers
Food Forest garden

So what is a food forest? Alternatively known as a food garden, it has been defined as a ‘perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants‘.


Perennial plants grow for more than two years, so a food forest implies permanence.

A polyculture is the opposite of monoculture with all the implications of a variety of fresh foods, sustainability, and reduced use of poisoning ‘cides’.

Multipurpose means they can provide two or more of the seven ‘F’s: Food, Fibre, Pharmaceuticals, Fodder for animals, Fuel or Fertiliser. And not to forget Fun.

To me, a food forest is a designed agronomic system, based on trees, shrubs and perennial plants, that mimics the most stable and sustainable type of ecosystem – a natural forest.

All that makes food foresting sound more complicated than it is! Have a look at this food forest page for a fuller description.

If space for a food forest is not available, or perhaps tall trees are not appropriate on your site, then a conventional raised-bed food garden is a great alternative.

Lazy garden

This can be as simple as a single garden bed, a long row or multiple rows according to the space and helper support you have available. Have a look at the Lazy garden beds page for more details.

For some people, bending down to work at ground level is no longer an option. For them, we have an exclusive design for a higher raised garden bed. Higher means a bed with the soil surface at waist level.

Actually, we have two options here. First is a ‘keyhole’ garden, the second a hugelkultur garden.

Keyhole raised garden

The keyhole raised garden beds are circular and only two metres in diameter so that all parts of the garden can be easily reached. Of course, multiple keyhole gardens could be installed to provide the planting area needed.  Keyhole gardens can be clad in stone, wood, plastic or earth bags.

Hugelkultur raised garden

Hugelkulture raised garden beds are raised to waist height by burying tree logs in the ground, hence their name which in German means hill culture. The logs, which last for many years, provide a nutrient store and hold water for long periods which makes them suited to drier climes. Of course you need a supply of large tree logs to make this method work.

When considering these options, please do keep in mind that this project is title Communal Food Gardens, which implies more than a place for visitors to relax in, although that is one of the project’s objectives. As discussed previously, this is a place for the community to work in as well as enjoy, socialise and harvest crops.

For further information on the establishment of a communal food garden in your parish, either email me, visit our resource page at Communal Gardens Project or leave a comment below.


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