Garden Programs Flourish in Committed Cities

by Joe Hyer, Publisher

If you want to get really, really good at something- you watch others and learn from them.  Find the best there is, and study.  If you are looking for interesting news to share in The Localist, well, look no further than the mighty Google news feed.

The Cap Times in Madison, Wisconsin reported this week that residents in West Madison are a step closer to getting their growing space back.  The Sheboygan Avenue Community Gardens (can we name a South Sound street Sheboygan just for fun?) was forced to relocate after 35 because of planned redevelopment.  The City stepped in and found space in a nearby park, but the new space only allowed for 58 plots, about half of what they had before.  The City is now evaluating 3 other sites to house a much larger garden.

Of note – the garden is a private group, with strong community presence.  Said George Reistad, Madison food policy coordinator, “One could definitely take the tack to say it wasn’t the city’s problem, per se,” but went on to add that the city has a ‘duty to our residents.’

Stop.  Wait.  You had me at Food Policy Coordinator.  I of course immediately search the City of Madison’s website for community gardens – and the Mayor’s office pops up.  Turns out, Mayor Paul Soglin has six key priorities – including FOOD Policy (If you’re interested, the others are – Building Neighborhoods, Culture & Creativity, Racial Equality & Social Justice, Transport & Access, and Youth).

Of course I click  on food – and am lead to 9 topic areas, the very first on the list being community gardens.  Sure, the list is alphabetical and ‘C’ was first, but that’s beside the point.  But speaking of ‘C’ they also have an official Committee on Community Gardens.  The seeds of this approach began back in 1997 with an ad hoc committee on community gardens.  Within two years, it became the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Community Gardens, and has been guiding City policy ever since.

The City of Madison provides significant support for Community Gardens (they recognize it as an economic driver and creator of ‘Jobs’) – across all City departments – Parks, Streets, Public Health, Community Development and the Mayor’s Office.  The City also funds and participates in the Gardens Network, a partnership of Dane County UW-Extension, the City of Madison and Community Groundworks.  There is a vast array or organizations in the network beyond the core group.  Day to day operations run through Community Groundworks (

The program has clearly established goals:

  1. Greater access to healthy food
  2. Community engagement and empowerment
  3. Neighborhood development
  4. Placemaking
  5. Leadership development
  6. Sustainable land management and stewardship
  7. Youth development and employment


Here we see City leadership stretching back two decades, and a current Mayor setting a strong vision and example.  To learn more, visit