John has a backyard waiting to be tilled and planted with a killer crop of veggies, but doesn’t have time or skills to make it bloom. Mary has a green thumb the size of Vermont, but no good earth to showcase her skills. The matchmakers of the garden world, Wasatch Community Gardens and Urban Village Cooperative’s “Sharing Backyards” program can bring these two together.
It started in 2009, when the wait list for getting garden space in Wasatch Community Gardens became exceedingly long. WCG began searching for other garden space for waitlisted gardeners. “While we were hemming and hawing, [Urban Village Cooperative] called us up and wanted to get it started right away,” says Claire Uno, WCG executive director. “It was the kick in the pants.”
The process is simple. Interested parties visit SharingBackyards.com, click on Salt Lake City, and then browse the interactive Google map. Binocular icons indicate folks looking for land, and tree icons indicate those with land to share.
Anyone can create new posts stating their specific needs. Better yet, use of the service is free—unlike some other “hookup” Websites. At any given time, 20 to 30 entries will be posted. “It is something that happens spontaneously. It’s this great grass-roots thing,” Uno says.
By and large, WCG and UVC remain hands-off. “I’d compare [SharingBackyards.com] to Match.com, KSL.com or Craigslist. It’s a person-to-person exchange. Every situation is going to be different,” Uno says. That means asking the right questions and making sure there’s a shared vision. It’s best to send messages via e-mail or meet at a coffee shop before starting the venture to work out the concept.
Considerations from the onset might include deciding whether to farm organically or not, who will pay for water, who will provide the tools, how produce will be distributed, what hours can the land be used, how long is the season, etc. These are worked out between the active parties with written or verbal contracts. It’s also wise to have a plan in case the whole thing falls apart.
After the details are worked out, garden away and share the bounty. “I often hear the most excitement from the folks that are offering their land. People here generally have a lot of yard space,” Uno says. “Most people are overwhelmed by the amount of works it takes—gardening is an investment of time.” But, in the end, sharing backyards might yield some interesting matches: a love of produce and, perhaps, new friends to share it with.
From SLC Information Management Services: Salt Lake City Council member Luke Garrott on community gardening, with Claire Uno and Bridget Stuchly at Wasatch Community Gardens: