Recently, as I’ve been searching for soil and amendments for planter pots, I’ve heard a similar refrain from feed stores and garden centers: we just ran out. More people, it seems, are starting home gardens this season than any other year in recent memory. Perhaps it’s the economy. Perhaps it’s the Obama’s influence. Whatever the cause, households across the country are realizing the value of growing their own food. It won’t be long before these urban greenhorns also realize the three basic needs of every vegetable gardener: space, time, and a healthy appetite. Unfortunately, not every would-be homesteader has all three in ready supply.
And that is where yardsharing comes in. Lots of lawn, but too little time? Arrange with a neighbor to till your veggie bed. Too much produce and not enough bellies? Offer up your fruits to those without gardens. Ready to get your hands dirty, but live in an apartment? Find a willing homeowner with land to spare. Think of yardsharing as a new conception of the commons: rather than public allotments, individuals opt to share their own space or excess produce with those who have neither. I’ve been gathering up the names of the collectives and websites that typify this movement, and each week that I’ve held off on posting them, I’ve only found more! So, to avoid being completely buried by a list of yardshare opportunities, I’m sharing the fruits of my explorations with you.
Two of the projects that initially got me thinking about these ideas were the British Landshare website and San Francisco’s Garden Registry. Drawing on a long tradition of British allotments, Landshare was started by the UK’s Channel 4 and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, of the celebrated River Cottage. The site invites all gardening abilities, by allowing users to register as a landowner, a grower, or simply a helper. Similarly, the Garden Registry, which was created by Victory Gardens 2008+ (the group that created Slow Food Nation’s City Hall Victory Garden), connects growers, non-growers and those with a bumper crop, while also dialing in on the gardening micro-climates of the San Francisco peninsula. Both of these sites offer all of the style and interactivity of a social networking app, but put the technology to use with a DIY sensibility.
Here in town, Portland Yardsharing began last September as a way to both increase our access to local foods and to foster strong community relationships. The site maintains a Google map, where participants can list their yards or their interest in finding a plot of land. The project was featured on the “Homegrown” podcast last November, which gives a good idea of the ideas behind yardsharing:
Now, if it’s not a matter of land, but more an issue of “if-I-eat-one-more-zucchini-I-think-I’ll-scream,” a Portland couple has the solution with their newly created Veggie Trader. The site has gotten a lot of notice and is fast becoming a popular resource for gardeners looking to balance out their backyard yields, as well as for individuals seeking ultra-local foods. Users log on and connect with nearby eaters to trade or sell their garden’s bounties. Veggie Trader also runs a fun blog on gardening that will get you imagining the potential for barter-ready crops in your own backyard!
Another interesting local project find its impetus not from individual eaters, but from a restaurant trying to green their supply chain. The Urban Farm Collective was initiated by Janette Kaden, owner of the Tin Shed Garden Cafe on NE Alberta, as an alternative veggie source for her cooking. By managing a group of diverse urban plots, the Collective will set out this year to supply the Tin Shed and its backyard donors with freshly-harvested produce.
At the root of all of these yardsharing efforts is a desire not to let our food and land go to waste. With that in mind, it is worth mentioning two related registries of urban foodstuffs in Portland. The Portland Fruit Tree Project runs a volunteer cadre of dedicated fruit urban fruit pickers to make sure that public and backyard fruits make it to people’s stomachs. About half of the fruit is distributed to local food pantries (thereby helping with their crucial lack of fresh foods) and half is taken home by the volunteers. If you visit their website, you can register your own fruit trees for their volunteers to harvest on their next foray.
Meanwhile, Urban Edibles relies on foraging scouts, rather than the largesse of landowners, to maintain a searchable map of Portland fruit trees, herbs and wild foods that overhang or sprout out of the public space. With the help of their map, you can conveniently plan a walk to pass by veritable buffet of Portland produce. Of course, you’re encouraged to always ask permission before snatching someone’s fig that dangles above the sidewalk!
While the idea of landsharing is full of potential, it would never replace our region’s farmers (not that its initiators would ever hope to). To my mind, it offers a hope that we can all return to the greater self-sufficiency that families around the world once had, while at the same time it coaxes us to step out of our homes and interact with our neighbors. The knowledge that so many individuals have indepedently struck upon this same idea is incredibly encouraging for the future of our food.