If you’ve ever contemplated starting a garden, you may have encountered your fair share of roadblocks. From not knowing what kinds of seeds to plant to not possessing the expertise, there are plenty of hurdles to be overcome. Most of these, however, have simple solutions – do some research and practice.
When it comes to one of the biggest challenges in starting a garden, however, the solution isn’t as readily available. If you are interested in growing your own food but don’t own any land, that’s a problem.
Garden sharing is a local food arrangement, typically found most commonly on urban farms, via which a landowner lets a gardener work his or her land in exchange for food. Often, this is an informal relationship – “you plant my land, give me some tomatoes in return, and we will call it even,” – but there are also numerous web-based projects that help to facilitate this kind of matchmaking.
Landshare was one such website. Launched in 2009, this site tapped into the interest in growing your own food and a shortage of property ownership for those who are interested. While the website was extremely popular, registering more than 75,000 people to grow their own food, the website, unfortunately, closed in 2016.
So what happened to Landshare? And more importantly, does garden sharing still work as a viable concept of growing your own food in 2020? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is Garden Sharing?
Garden sharing can take a couple of different forms. In its simplest form, it is an agreement between the two parties in which one supplies the land and the other supplies the work. The proceeds are shared equally.
In a more complicated arrangement, there are larger collaborations between groups, neighbors, and other partners, with all parties sharing the space, labor, and harvest.
A garden sharing agreement can be as simple as a handshake or as complicated as a multi-page contract. Before garden sharing can begin, it’s necessary for both parties to figure out the terms of access, acceptable behavior, supplies, and returns.
The Internet has long served as a meeting place for people interested in garden sharing. There are various websites connecting growers and landowners, most of which are free and noncommercial. There are various garden sharing programs across the United States and several in other parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand, too.
There are plenty of benefits related to garden sharing. Not only can landowners capitalize on unused chunks of land, making the most of their property without having to have any expertise of their own, but they can also put other idle resources to wait.
It also promotes a sense of community. Communally farming land is not a new concept – it’s been a part of the human way of life for centuries. From the earliest African communities to the more modern cul-de-sac suburb community gardens, garden sharing is a great way to get to know your neighbors. Since you aren’t required to purchase new land or equipment, it’s also a low-cost way to build your social network – and your garden at the same time.
Garden sharing has immediate results, too. Although you’re probably not going to feed millions of starving people with a small ⅓ of an acre chunk of land, the capacity of a small plot to feed many months can be maximized by utilizing smart growing techniques that conserve space. Some research even suggests that community gardens can improve neighborhood aesthetics while reducing crime.
There’s no better way to get to know your neighbors and remain well-fed (while saving money!) than by garden sharing.
Garden Sharing Has Its Challenges
That’s not to say that everything has been smooth sailing. The garden sharing movement has faced plenty of roadblocks – which is likely why Landshare and other websites are struggling to stay afloat.
Changing government policies regarding urban farming and land allotment has been a major roadblock for a lot of garden sharing enthusiasts.
In the United Kingdom, for example, there are numerous local authorities who are obligated by law to provide plots of public land for cultivation by gardeners. A noble effort, this legal obligation is being overthrown in some areas so that cash-strapped authorities can sell off allotment land for social housing or to major corporations.
And it’s not because there’s a lack of interest – demand for gardening allotments across England is so large that many councils have closed waiting lists, with some gardeners waiting a decade or more for a plot. These allotments are important for building community, providing people with health benefits, and improving the environment – but in many places, land and finances are so scarce that the demand for land cannot be met. While some places are stripping allotment requirements altogether, some are cutting parcel sizes in half to meet the demand.
One of the biggest challenges – and a corollary to the last point – in garden sharing is that the process is not immediate. If you have the urge to garden, that urge is one that you, emotionally, must fulfill almost immediately. And if you have to wait for a plot of land, that will likely subside.
There are logistical challenges to be needled out, too. It can be tough to find an “ideal” partnership, but it’s important for the partners to get along. Not only will they be coming into frequent contact with each other, but there needs to be an element of trust on both parts too – you can’t work the land of someone you don’t trust, and vice versa.
Geographic proximity is also important. This is a particular challenge in crowded urban areas. While the ideal partnership will be one in which the gardener lives near the homeowner and had a convenient means of transportation to get there, the reality is that plots that participate in garden sharing projects are few and far between – and extensive travel is sometimes necessary.
If you’re lucky enough to find the right partnership, you then need to develop mutually agreed-upon conditions. Deciding everything from what will be planted to who will supply the tools and seeds to how often the gardener should visit can be downright exhausting. Add to that the concerns that you likely won’t think about until after the partnership has been established – where will I go to the bathroom while working? – can complicate things further.
The list of requirements in order to set up a gardening share is downright exhausting. While it’s without a doubt worth it, in the minds of gardeners and landowners, the stress of setting up a partnership can often nip the creation of one in the bud very early on.
Within weeks of its launch, Landshare saw 22,000 registrations. With that kind of popularity, what could go wrong?
There are several theories out there, but in order to explore what happened to Landshare, it’s necessary to first understand the nature of what the site had to offer gardeners.
A high-profile national garden sharing project in England, Landshare was created by celebrity chef and well-known television personality Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. In conjunction with Channel 4 public broadcasting, the website allowed landowners, growers, and volunteers to declare their interest in participating in garden sharing. You could sign up and list your interest in either doling out your property to interest gardeners or working such a plot of land yourself.
Closed on February 24, 2016, less than seven years after its launch, there’s not a lot of information about what happened to Landshare. Some people speculate that the website was too trendy, capitalizing on a temporary surge in interest in garden sharing rather than supporting the true nature of the cause.
Gardening expert Charlie Bloom speculates that Landshare was a way for its founders to “reap [sic] huge media attention,” indicating that Landshare might have been less of a benevolent service to the community and more of a publicity stunt.
So what does this say about the future of garden sharing? In short, for garden sharing to be successful, it needs to exist as a combination of accessible education via social media and other channels, as well as better governmental oversight. That means a quicker turnaround of unused allotment plots and a greater commitment to providing land to those who wish to work it.
Does Garden Sharing Still Work?
Garden sharing does still work – as long as it’s done correctly. Although Landshare was one of the few land sharing networks in the United Kingdom – the only other one being Edinburgh Garden Partners in Scotland – there are plenty to explore in the United States.
Garden sharing works as long as there is a high level of external and internal support. Partnerships need to be mutually beneficial and, in locations where the government is involved closely in this kind of land management, timely. People should not have to be placed on waiting lists or subjected to a litany of requirements in order to get started – this is often what causes people to lose interest in growing their own food.
At the same time, mutually beneficial partnerships need to be broken down clearly at the beginning of the arrangement. More education in this area is key, as many people fail in garden sharing because it’s unclear what exactly they need to work out with the partners involved before beginning a project.
Nevertheless, garden sharing can help promote the health and wellbeing of communities and individuals. This concept offers innovative ways to provide food while at the same time supporting social connections – however, more education is needed on a larger, global scale so that garden sharing can become less of a “trend” and more of a way of living.
If you’re interested in garden sharing but disappointed to find out about the closure of Landshare, don’t fret. There are plenty of other garden sharing alternatives out there, especially if you live in North America.
- Yardsharing.org: This garden sharing website is a free online service that connects renters with landowners to create food for all. Created in 2007, it was developed to relieve the Portland Community Gardens Program of some of its backlog.
- Alfrea.com: Alfrea refers to itself as the “Marketplace for Land Sharing, Garden Services, and Connecting You to Fresh, Local Food.” Alfrea not only connects aspiring gardeners with plots of land, but helps gardeners with landscaping, maintenance, and more – a fully educational process that makes it possible for this effort to be self-sustaining.
- Lend and Tend: Lend and Tend is also based out of the United Kingdom. It’s pretty basic, but helps to connect people who own unused land with those who want to grow their own food.
- Hyperlocavore.com: A free, United States-based service, this website actually has international reach. It partners garden owners with gardeners and also facilitates neighborhood produce exchanges.
- SharedEarth.com: This website connects people with land with those who want to work it. Log in to the Shared Earth website, and you’ll be asked to input your street address. The service can help match you up with both land and tools to get started.
- UrbanGardenShare.org: Based out of Seattle, this service is designed for city users who want to collaborate with local sustainability groups. It covers several cities besides Seattle at this time.
- SharingBackyards.com: This British Columbia-based program was started in 2006 by a volunteer at a community garden and is now found (for free) in 20 cities across North America.
- Edinburgh Garden Partners: If you live in Edinburgh, Scotland, this service is a good choice – it connects more than 60 gardens throughout the city with volunteers.
- Preter Son Jardin: A French garden sharing website, this one launched in 2010.
- Transition Timaru: Located in Timaru, New Zealand, this garden sharing site has garden sharing projects as part of its own efforts to prepare communities (at the local level) for the impacts of climate change.
Find Your Own Garden Sharing Agreement
If you’re interested in beginning a garden sharing agreement, you don’t have to turn to the resources we mentioned above, either. If you live in an area not covered by one of these programs, you can easily get started by doing an online search for organizations or individuals looking to partner up in your area.
Take the time to find someone who is a good fit. Don’t feel the need to get involved with the first person you find, and remember that the most successful garden sharing agreement will be with someone who is relatively close to you geographically. Be very clear about your expectations upfront. Although garden sharing rarely involves money, you need to think about how the harvest will be divided, how you will access the garden, and more.