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RE: Liability Insurance for Community Garden

  • Subject: RE: [cg] Liability Insurance for Community Garden
  • From: "Betsy Johnson" betsy@bgjohnson.com
  • Date: Thu, 22 Sep 2005 11:33:28 -0400

There are no easy answers to the insurance question.  Search the Email
Archives at www.communitygarden.org for past discussion.  Here is the
piece former ACGA president Jack Hale wrote a few years ago on this


For several years, the board of the American Community Gardening
Association has been working to provide liability insurance for member
gardens.  Surveys of members suggested that obtaining such insurance was
a priority for many gardens.  We did provide access to coverage during
1998, but less than a dozen gardens took advantage of the offer.  In
1999, the insurance company was unwilling to renew the coverage, and we
were unable to find another carrier.  Although we continued to seek a
carrier, we were unsuccessful.  Here is what I have been telling members
who are seeking insurance.

1. Liability insurance protects the organization that owns it or some
other entity (like a land owner) who is "named as additional insured" on
the policy.  It protects gardeners or volunteers indirectly only if the
insured organization stands between them and a potential lawsuit.  It
does not protect individuals from legal action, nor does it necessarily
pay individuals for injuries or damage that occur at a garden.  Most
gardens have insurance because they have an organization to protect or
because some other entity requires coverage in order for the garden to

2. Usually, individual gardens seeking liability coverage will pay a
high price.  Just as group health insurance is much less expensive than
individual coverage, insurance purchased by a larger organization to
cover a multitude of risks will be less expensive per coverage than the
same insurance purchased piecemeal.  Therefore, if you are a single
garden suffering from sticker shock, the best avenue may be to ask a
larger organization that already has liability coverage to sponsor the
garden. Such organizations might include community groups, churches,
horticultural/agricultural organizations, or anything else that might
work in your locale.

3. Often it is a city or town providing land for a garden that is
requesting insurance.  They usually have a "risk manager" whose job is
to protect the municipality against all risk.  Whenever the town enters
into a relationship, that relationship is passed before the risk
manager, and the risk manager almost always says "buy insurance" to
protect the town.  But towns always have lots of insurance.  They engage
in lots of risky business. Adding a community garden to their list of
risks will have almost no impact on their overall risk and on the cost
of their insurance.  It becomes a political issue and should be treated
as such.  If the town wants to support community gardening, the risk is
trivial; if the town doesn't want to support community gardening, it is
easier to say "buy insurance" than "we don't like you."  A side issue
that arises in some cases is whether the gardens are public.  In
Berkeley, California, the city wanted to require insurance and also
require that the gardens be open to the public.  People who don't want
to support gardens compare them to parks that are ostensibly open to
everybody all the time.  They point out that community gardens have
fences and gates and private plots.  More politics.  Perhaps compare
your garden to a football stadium.  Very risky activity going on there,
and fully supported by the town!  Anybody can go and watch when there is
a game on, but hardly anybody gets to play.  Which is more exclusive, a
garden or a sports field?  Remember that anybody can walk by and look at
the garden.  You might even schedule some times when the garden is open
for public enjoyment.  This does suggest, however, that gardeners need
to design and maintain their gardens in ways that truly do enhance their

4. Insurance is a local business, governed to some extent by state law
and regulation.  Although there is a certain amount of uniformity and
insurance companies operate across state lines, your experience with
coverages and costs may be quite different from those in a neighboring
state.  If you have to buy insurance, a creative and responsive local
agent can be very important.  Remember that there is a good chance they
haven't insured a garden before and they will have to figure out how to
do it.  Here in Connecticut, we started out with an insurance agent who
decided gardens were like vacant lots, which tend to attract
inappropriate uses.  Premiums were based on street frontage and they
were high.  Strangely enough, our largest garden, which had no street
frontage, was insured for nothing, while one of our smaller gardens on a
corner lot carried a high premium.  Our current agent, which specializes
in insurance for non-profit social service organizations, decided
gardens were like social service programs and did a more general
analysis of risk.  Our premiums are now quite low.

5. If gardeners or garden officers are concerned about personal risk
(i.e.-potential for being sued as individuals due to their involvement
in a garden), the best solution is probably "umbrella coverage."  People
can usually obtain this for a relatively small premium as an add-on to
homeowner's or renter's insurance.  Talk to your agent.

6. I am not an expert on insurance.  Don't take this as professional
advice from me or from the American Community Gardening Association.  At
best, this is an indication of insurance issues as they have been faced
by community gardens throughout the U.S. (not much info on Canada).  You
need to work out your own local situation.  I will be happy to talk to
anyone interested in
exploring this further.  I will also attempt to respond to questions
about the information provided here and specific insurance issues.

Jack N. Hale
Executive Director
Knox Parks Foundation
Hartford, CT

Betsy Johnson
Executive Director
American Community Gardening Assoc.
877-275-2242  betsyjohnson@communitygarden.org

-----Original Message-----
From: community_garden-admin@mallorn.com
[mailto:community_garden-admin@mallorn.com] On Behalf Of Fred Mabry
Sent: Wednesday, September 21, 2005 9:27 PM
To: community.garden@mallorn.com
Subject: [cg] Liability Insurance for Community Garden

Hi everyone!  I am in the process of trying to promote the idea of
turning an
empty field owned and near my church into a community garden.  One big
is the cost of insurance.  Do any of you have information in reference
to your
insurance policies?

I intend to ask a local farmer to disc the field and help to prepare the
for planting next spring after dividing the land into plots.  It is my
it will be planted and gardened by individuals and/or groups to help
themselves or the hungry in our community, or plant flowers and plants
could be used to landscape Habitat houses.

Are there any church connected community gardens? (Presbyterian USA is
denomination of my church.)

Thanks for any future info.

Scotland County, North Carolina

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