Sharing the Urban Jungle

This afternoon, I crept outside in the rain, into the mud that surrounds the yard of my townhouse. I surreptitiously pulled a package of seeds from my pocket and began to plant them just beyond my fence. A line of buckwheat: it will be my first experiment in growing anything akin to a grain.

Like many of those who live in the city, we have a small home with an even tinier backyard. Our garden plot takes up a hefty chunk of that yard, with a little space left over to walk on. However, we do have a substantial path that runs behind our house. This spring I plan to plant blueberry bushes there. Who’s to say that they didn’t grow there by accident?

This sort of surreptitious gardening has a name: guerrilla gardening. It’s all the rage right now, beautifying vacant lots with handfuls of forage, digging beets and potatoes by moonlight. While guerrilla gardening is all the rage, I’m not suggesting that you grow veggies on your neighbor’s land without asking. There is another route, one that I may go for some time soon. That’s yard sharing.

There are many variations on the sharing of urban and suburban space and produce.  Consider Vancouver’s Fruit Tree Project, soon to be replicated in my neighborhood. People who can’t manage their fruit trees sign up to have their fruit picked by volunteers. The volunteers take part of the produce, the owner of the tree takes part, and the rest is donated to charity. Everyone leaves full and happy.

There’s also shared commercial agriculture. In this model, organizations like Seattle’s City Farmer install a garden in your yard and harvest the produce, selling some at local markets and giving some to the homeowner. The land owner gets a peek into urban agriculture, an urban farmer grows a business, and people get to eat local food from the suburbs.

There is also yard sharing, an informally-arranged activity that occurs between neighbors who want to garden or share their land. Web sites like Sharing Backyards promote the sharing of little-used urban lots. Many landowners have vast expanses of grass that they may want to use for agriculture, but they simply don’t have the time to grow food in their yards. Others have a desire to garden, but they don’t have the land. Yard sharing is like a matchmaking program for gardeners. Those who garden on others’ land do need to respect the boundaries of the landowner, but they may also harvest lasting friendships as well as food.

I grew up yard sharing. In the abandoned orchard across the street, we would pick apples from the trees that used to sustain a local family. I would play in the gardens of the families around our neighborhood, most of whom had lovely yards that grew bountiful produce. I wish the same for the children of today. Yard sharing is a path to food security, but it’s also a way to grow community.

Posted in Natural Living.

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