Living a vegetarian lifestyle has some major perks and one of the biggest among those is the reliance on such an easy food staple. Vegetables are available everywhere for relatively cheap, so you’re hardly ever in a situation where you won’t be able to find some for a meal, but even better is the ability people have to grow their own produce with very little trouble. Still, the thought of having to devote space in your backyard for a garden can be tough to deal with, and other times you don’t even have a yard to speak of, so what can you do? Well, have you ever considered joining a co-op?

A co-op is as simple as it sounds. They are large gardens maintained by groups of neighbors with each person doing their part of the work and then reaping the benefits when harvest time comes. Chances are, you probably have a community garden near you but just don’t know about it quite yet. And chances are, said community garden is more than willing to add you as a member!

With these co-ops, the goal is twofold. The first is naturally to provide fresh vegetables to those working the garden, but the second is possibly more important: Community. Yes, duh, the community garden helps foster community. I am quite the wordsmith sometimes. But this is an aspect people may not be thinking about before searching for a co-op garden to be a part of, mostly because a lot of people think ‘I want fresh vegetables” and then stop there. With said community, not only are you doing something active toward eating healthy, you’re also taking part in a project that involves more than just yourself, which builds relationships and strengthens the sense of duty you’d normally feel for a garden.

In a typical garden, it thrives equal to the amount of work you decide to put into it. A lot of the times that means that you’ll get excited about it initially, then lose interest after a few months and let it go to seed, pretty much destroying the whole point of the garden. However, a lot of this is eliminated with a community garden as you’re expected to either do your share or get booted from the co-op. If you don’t do the work, someone else will, and slacking off will certainly feel worse when you have people relying on you to do your half.

Actually joining a co-op isn’t really that difficult. Most of the time they’re free, though you might encounter a monthly few now and then. Most of your payment is in time, whereas your reward is fresh produce and the ability to share with neighbors, and by share I mean both produce and knowledge. Your neighbors can give you gardening advice, recipes, shopping tips, and just general friendly conversation. It’s hard to put a price tag on that.

So head out and look into a co-op. The cost is minimal but the reward is great. You’ll likely have a local community garden within a few miles, so go a Google search or ask with your city’s Parks and Rec. Chances are they’ll know where to point you. Happy gardening!