Community Gardens and Food Safety
Community gardens are spaces where people share the duties and rewards of gardening. These collaborative efforts can be found throughout the country, including Florida.
Shared gardens provide gardening opportunities and add beauty to communities. They are also a source of fresh produce for the community, but you need to make sure the food is safe to eat.
Follow these recommendations to ensure food safety and to prevent foodborne illness in produce from community gardens.
Know the Land
Know the history of a site before you begin a community garden. This helps to determine if the land is suitable for gardening. The history can tell you valuable information about the soil conditions, the presence of hazardous material, and the site’s proximity to current and previous contamination sources. You could contact planning officials, your local UF/IFAS Extension office, or other community members to get this information.
Once you’ve found a site, test the soil for nutrient levels, pH, and soil class before you begin gardening. This can help you determine how much lime and fertilizer you’ll need when gardening. Visit the UF/IFAS Extension Soil Testing Laboratory for more information about soil testing procedures.
Take Precautions While Gardening
Those growing produce in community gardens are responsible for food safety, so make sure you take safety measures into account during planting and harvesting. Use the following tips in your community garden:
- Keep animals, including pets and livestock, out of community gardens to prevent contamination from fecal matter. Use a fence to keep large wildlife away and trim branches to prevent birds from nesting around the garden.
- Irrigate with potable water if possible. If you use well water, perform annual tests and take measures to prevent contamination. Never use water from unregulated sources such as streams and ponds. Water should be tested before it’s used in a community garden.
- Anyone working in the garden should wash their hands with soap and clean water before handling produce, after using a bathroom, before and after treating an injury, and after touching garbage or compost. Additionally, dry hands with single-use towels after washing. Wear disposable gloves if clean, running water isn’t available.
- Composting is an environmentally-friendly way to use waste, but compost can be unsafe if it is not prepared correctly. If you want to use animal waste in your compost pile, use the manure of animals that eat plants (such as cows and horses) rather than animals that consume meat (such as dogs and cats). Using a long-stemmed thermometer, measure the temperature of the compost to ensure it is 122°F–131°F. Thoroughly wash all tools that come in contact with compost. Also, keep the unfinished compost pile away from the community garden or in a compost bin until it’s ready to be used.
Contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office for more information on starting or maintaining a community garden.
Adapted and excerpted from:
S. P. Brown, “Compost Tips for the Home Gardener,” UF/IFAS Environmental Horticulture Department (rev. 04/2014).
M. Bunning and M. Newby, “Safe Food Facts for Community Gardens” (no. 9.381), Colorado State University Extension (rev. 08/2014).
E. C. Worden, A. Hunsberger, and J. McLaughlin, “Starting a Community Garden” (ENH966), UF/IFAS Environmental Horticulture Department (rev. 09/2012).
“Food Safety Tips for School Gardens,” National Food Service Management Institute (rev. 02/2015).
“Soil Testing,” UF/IFAS Extension: Solutions for Your Life (Accessed 07/2015).