It’s the fourth week of spring, and Leeann is thinking about this year’s garden. In the past few years she’s put in good effort, but she hasn’t had much luck: a few tomatoes, a few peppers and a handful of green beans. Leeann knows it’s possible to grow a good crop, but she hasn’t been able to do it on her own yet, so she’s asking for help.
She’s posted a listing on www.sharingbackyards.com,a website that helps aspiring gardeners to find land and connects those like Leeann, who have land but need some help, with those who are looking for a plot.
Leeann is positive about finding a match, and with good reason. In 2009, Sharing Backyards helped create over 300 gardens in North America. In 2011, they helped create over 700 new gardens in 36 cities.
Sharing Backyards was created out of a need for more urban gardens. In 2005, those on the waiting list for a community garden plot in the Victoria, BC James Bay neighbourhood would wait over two years. People began posting paper lists to community garden bulletin boards in an attempt to find places to grow. Linda Geggie of the Lifecycles Project Society created the Sharing Backyards project as a way of helping people get the space they needed. The project expanded from the paper lists to a very basic list-based website. The project was then joined by Patrick Hayes, a Drupal website developer and geomapping consultant. At an estimated value of $15,000, he volunteered his time to design a custom web-based module to give Sharing Backyards an innovative, interactive “skin” over Google Maps. This allows people to see where yards were available in their neighbourhood, helping gardeners find plots that would be close to home; thus saving fuel and ensuring that each garden gets the care it needs.
Sharing Backyards is one of many great projects of Victoria, BC’s Lifecycles Project Society (www.lifecyclesproject.ca). Lifecycles is a registered non-profit society, and operates a number of community projects around food security. Of its projects, Sharing Backyards has expanded beyond the local area of Victoria to become North America’s largest and fastest growing yard sharing network.
The Sharing Backyards Project is run by a small “core” team of volunteers who look after the administrative duties. The core team maintains and updates the website and its technology, plans the direction of the project, sets up new yard sharing programs wherever there are interested groups, and offers mentorship and support to the existing programs within Sharing Backyards’ network.
Although there are already maps created for every city in the world, a yard sharing program is considered active when a “Local Partner” has been arranged. Local Partners form the backbone of Sharing Backyards’ system. A Local Partner is responsible for promoting the Sharing Backyards program in their local area, answering emails from program users, and helping find sponsors to fund the program. In return, they are given control of the map for their area, mentorship on how to launch and run a yard sharing program, and ongoing technical support. An eligible local partner could be a dedicated individual, a non-profit organization, a community group, a city council, or even a business.
How does www.sharingbackyards.com work? Sharing Backyards utilizes a unique online mapping system that allows people to post their own listing, free of charge, denoting whether they’re looking for a garden, or are sharing their land.
Let’s say Bob wants to grow a garden but he doesn’t have enough space on the balcony of his apartment to grow more than a pot of chives – and besides, his view faces north, away from the prevailing sun. So, he turns on his laptop, and navigates to www.sharingbackyards.com. Once there, he selects his country from a list, then his city. This brings him to an interactive map of his area. First he browses the map, to see if anyone in his neighbourhood has space to offer – but where he lives is primarily composed of apartments. So Bob looks a bit further, and finds someone a few blocks away who is offering their yard to share. It appears that they have plenty of space, and even a few fruit trees, but they just don’t have time to get into the soil. He sends them a message through Sharing Backyards’ messaging service, which protects his information, and, for good measure, he places his own posting on the site indicating that he’s looking for garden space. Altogether, this has taken him about six minutes, and all that’s left is to wait for a response.
From its humble beginnings in 2005, Sharing Backyards has grown to include programs in more than 46 regions by 2012, some regions encompassing more than 10 communities. In 2011, more than 700 new gardens in North America owed their creation and cultivation to connections made through Sharing Backyards. At the time of this printing, Sharing Backyards had programs in 46 cities, including Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Winnipeg, Toronto, Philadelphia, Portland, Washington DC, and Auckland NZ, as well as many smaller communities in between. The project has received press attention from the Washington Post, This Old House, Organic Gardener, CBC Radio, the Toronto Star, and the Globe and Mail, to name a few.
A Sharing Backyards site user in Victoria, BC, Nancy, shared with us her experience of sharing her garden in 2011:
“I had a great season last year with the help of the Sharing Backyards program and Dawson, my yard sharing match, was terrific. We dug up an area down the backyard to expand the garden and at the back fence where an old shed had been removed by the landlord. The garden was double dug, by Dawson, putting in compost I had and some he had made. We grew leeks, zuccini, beets, chard, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, peas, beans and herbs. My neighbour gave me leaves from her tree to spread on the beds this fall and I made a big compost at fall cleanup, so I am looking forward to an even more productive year with the hard work of digging done. I hope Dawson can take time from his studies to return this spring.”
Benefits of yard sharing
On a community level, yard sharing boosts the local food supply, thus increasing community resiliency and sustainability. Urban back and front yards become productive agricultural land, lessening the need to import foods from far away. For those who are no longer physically able, yard sharing offers a way to contribute and share in the harvest without all of the lifting and bending. Yard sharing builds community by bringing people together for the common purpose of sharing and growing food. All things considered, a yard sharing program is a valuable addition to any community’s Food Security plan.
If you’d like to find a place to garden, would like to share your land, or want to start a yard sharing program in your area, visit www.sharingbackyards.com. To make a donation to the project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Christopher Hawkins has been the Project Leader for Sharing Backyards since 2008. He runs a website design and business consulting firm, www.authenticbusinesssolutions.com, and resides in Sooke, BC.
[From WS Summer 2012]