Ground Rules: A Legal Toolkit for Community Gardens

Food Access, Food Security, Land Use, Sustainable Agriculture


Mike Austin, Jennifer Bunn, Jay Mitchell,

This toolkit was developed by the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN), a project of ChangeLab Solutions, to provide legal resources for establishing community gardens on vacant or underutilized parcels of land.

The toolkit consists of:

  1. Model Community Garden Lease
    In this lease between a landowner and a nonprofit organization, the landowner agrees to allow the use of the property as a community garden. The nonprofit organization agrees to be legally responsible for overseeing the operation of the garden, to abide by the conditions in the lease (including maintaining insurance coverage), and to give up any potential right to sue in the event of harm or property damage to the organization, board members, employees, volunteers, or gardeners.

  2. Model Gardener’s Agreement
    In this agreement between the sponsoring nonprofit organization and an individual gardener, the sponsoring organization agrees to allow an individual gardener to participate in the garden, and the gardener agrees to abide by the rules and give up any right to sue if injured in the garden.
  3. Model Community Garden Rules
    These rules address the way a garden will operate, and outline the gardeners’ privileges and responsibilities. The rules are designed to promote safety (for the participants and the property), prevent disputes, provide a fair dispute resolution process to keep disputes from escalating, and prevent disturbances to neighboring property owners and residents.
  4. Two discussion checklists for the sponsor organization:
  • A checklist addressing the garden’s operating rules and the gardeners’ responsibilities (for prospective gardeners)
  • A garden orientation checklist to introduce new gardeners to garden operations


The toolkit describes the rights and responsibilities of the landowner, the sponsoring organization, and gardeners in an accessible way. It also provides options for tailoring the documents to meet the circumstances of different gardens.

Download the toolkit. >