I’m a suburbanite, but I don’t have a big garden. I have a small patch of somewhat shady land that doesn’t shine in the food-growing arena; although it’s excellent for dabbling in shade-friendly permaculture plants. However, I’m also an enthusiastic locavore, and I want to grow my own. What’s a land-poor gardener to do?
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There are many solutions. I could dabble in small space gardening, making do with the patio spaces that I already have. I could put my name into the running for a much-coveted plot at the community garden. I could be a renegade, gardening in alleyways and other unused parts of the city. While I’ve tried all of these approaches, the one I like best is the yard share.
Several years ago, I dug up a big patch of lawn in my neighbor’s garden. I planted potatoes, onions, rhubarb and raspberries. She was not in the least disturbed. In fact, she invited me over to grow food on her property. You see, I am sharing her yard.
What is a Yard Share?
A yard share is a joy for the harried homeowner and a gift to the landless gardener. You’ve seen the yards up and down the suburbs: the yards with plain green lawns, maybe a little scraggly around the edges. The people who live there care for their lawn because they have to, but they’re not gardeners. But there are gardeners aplenty in urban and suburban areas, a small army of people who desperately want to dig up that grass and plant greens instead. Yard sharing connects the two, and it can be a very fruitful match.
Finding The Land
How does this matchmaking happen? You want land. Your neighbors have it. There are several ways to go.
1. Give out a postcard to your neighbors, explaining your situation and inviting them to call you.
2. Network. Do any of your nearby friends have a garden that they don’t use? How about the friends of your friends? That’s how I’ve gotten most of my garden spaces.
3. Go to a networking site. One of my favorite local ones is Sharing Backyards, but you may have one in your area as well. Sharing Backyards is also open to expanding to new locations.
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What Works In Yard Sharing
To share someone’s yard, you need to be a diligent gardener. I’ve quickly discovered that while yard sharing has its positives, it can also be challenging. While I don’t mind if my own garden is a mess, I want everyone to be happy when I yard share. This means that I need to commit to a weeding, watering, and general maintenance schedule.
I also need to set up social boundaries. If I come over to garden, my yard share hosts can chat, but they shouldn’t feel obliged to entertain. I also check the yard before I walk in so that I don’t conduct my watering during a host’s dinner party.
I’ve discovered that closer is much better when it comes to yard sharing. The reason I have no plot in a community garden is that the nearest one is a twenty minute walk away. I like my gardens to be no more than a ten minute walk from my house. If I have trouble remembering to water my patio garden, I’ll likely have a lot more trouble maintaining a garden that’s driving distance from my home.
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Yard sharing could have profound implications for urban sustainability. In North America, there are 40,000 square miles of lawn. That’s more space than we devote to growing wheat. Imagine the possibilities if this area was dedicated to growing food. Even a small fraction of it would make a huge impact to the amount of arable land that’s available in cities. By turning unused garden space into veggie-friendly land, people who want to grow food can grow food, and those who have no desire to be out mowing the lawn can retire the mower for good. Yard sharing is a win-win idea that adds a little more sharing to our communities.
Yard sharing is about more than food, it’s about reinventing the way we work together to grow food and share our resources. Would you share your garden space with someone else, or would you ask your neighbors if you could borrow a bit of land?
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