April 22, 2017 marks the 47th annual Earth Day celebration. This Earth Day, make a world of difference with members of your community by starting a community garden. Why a community garden? Well, dig this… neighborhood gardens help cities and towns grow. They strengthen social connections and encourage the entire community to work together. They can also provide access to fresh, healthy and affordable fruits and vegetables for the whole community. Plus, people of all ages can help!

You can start a community garden with your school, neighborhood, workplace, club, organization or any interested group! Need inspiration? Take some advice from the kids at Cleveland Elementary School.

Starting a community garden is easier than you think. Just use these tips:

1. Organize a meeting.

Gather with members of the community to discuss how a garden could benefit the area. Hold meetings to pitch ideas on what type of garden to develop (a community vegetable garden, a flower garden, both, etc.) and form an action plan.

2. Identify resources.

Form local partnerships with businesses, schools, clubs and individuals who can supply access to needed materials, tools, funding and assistance. You can also contact city planners to find possible sites for your garden.

3. Pick a location.

Community gardens can beautify vacant lots and public parks, as well as revitalize communities in industrial areas. Find out who owns the land and discuss a lease agreement. Whichever site you choose, be sure it has access to at least six hours of daily sunlight (for fruits and veggies) and easy access to water.

4. Design your garden.

Test the soil for possible pollutants, then find volunteers to gather materials and prepare the garden. Decide on a design and plot arrangement. Include footpaths between plots, and consider other factors like protection against animals, storage space for tools and even areas for children to get involved.

5. Plant away!

Make your garden more sustainable by using native plants, composting, mulching and water-efficient techniques. Welcome visitors and meet regularly with your gardening partners to discuss changes that need to be made or feedback from neighbors. Don’t forget to plan ahead for the next year too!

Personal gardens.

Planting your own garden can be just as rewarding as starting one for the community. Gardening can uplift your mood and reduce stress, plus it’s a great way to get 30 minutes of physical activity. It’s a rewarding hobby too… you get to eat the fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables that you plant. If you have extra, you can share your harvest with your friends, neighbors and coworkers.

For more tips and to learn all about healthy communities, visit ShapeYourFutureOK.com.

Be sure to share photos of your garden with Shape Your Future, too! Tag us or use the hashtag #ShapeYourFutureOK.