At GardenABCs, we regularly get asked by folks where to find grants and funds to start and maintain gardens, so we thought we’d share some experiences and perhaps
dispel some misconceptions:
First, gardens needn’t be expensive. A group once contacted us looking for a grant for $10,000 to start a garden project. $10,000??? Our local elementary school garden — that involves 400 children — started with (and for years operated on) an annual budget of $250. Would we like $10,000 for an enclosed, fenced, structurally gorgeous garden? Of course! But, really, all you need is access to healthy soil (and sun and water). Don’t hold off on starting a garden just because you can’t create your dream garden today. Ask volunteers to bring their own tools to use, and design your garden in stages that you can build upon year after year as you find funding and (more important) build community.
Second, look locally. State and national grants and funding opportunities generate a lot of competition. In addition to applying to these funding sources, investigate local ones. This may include your county farm bureau, garden club, community and school foundations, individual benefactors, associations and business groups (Chambers, union locals, fraternal organizations), and social organizations.
Third, pursue in-kind donations. A local business may not be able to write you a check, but you probably can get some items donated for your garden project. Our elementary school garden regularly solicits donations for peat pots, potting soil, seeds and deli party trays (our make-shift greenhouses) from local hardware, big box and grocery stores. These items would cost us a considerable amount of money if we had to pay for them directly.
Fouth, ask, ask, ask. Raising money is a function of how many people you ask to donate, so ask and ask many. This is a great job for a volunteer who claims not to have ‘green thumb.’ Solicit monetary and in-kind donations from local businesses (they don’t have to be garden related!) by sending out letters and following up. Our elementary school garden received a number of Target gift cards from separate stores that we combined to purchase a bird-cam to create time-lapse videos! Different stores have different requirements and deadlines that must be followed to be considered for funding. This is a detail-oriented task, but one that can really pay off.
Fifth, show up. Is you school or community holding an open house, festival or gathering of some kind where you can promote your garden project? Get a table, decorate some foam boards, and start selling your garden to parents and community members. Why is a garden important? Why should they care? Include a ‘giving’ tree with individual leaves that list items on your wish list, whether that’s $5, $10, a hoe or hose. Let folks know when and where to turn in items (be prepared to collect small donations of cash), and get them on your list for follow up and future volunteer opportunities.
Sixth, get labor donated. Paying someone to assemble raised beds, fences or other structural items can be expensive. So, work with local boy and girl scout troups (especially Eagle Scouts), high school and college service organizations (even sports teams perform service hours), neighborhood associations and church groups to get things built. Likewise, cutlivate (no pun intended!) relationships with these groups so you can call on them for help in garden set-up in spring, take-down in fall and weeding events over summer.
Finally, thank your donors. Everyone likes to be recognized so don’t forget this most important step, even for the smallest item. Whether it’s a simple thank you letter, a personalized photo of students in the garden holding ‘Thank You [Donor]’ signs (which can be posted on a store’s brag wall) or a harvest garden party for all involved (donors, students, volunteers), celebrate what they helped you achieve while laying the groundwork for next year’s project.