Just in Time for Earth Day: A New Site to Link the Landless with Unused Garden Space

garlic mulched

Garlic, Mulched.  A few bales of hay are one weed-control option for those who don’t have time to weed. Another is connecting with landless neighbors itching to get their hands in the dirt.

As we push up against the limits of available space to grow our food, farmers and food thinkers are looking behind the traditional landscape. Some are looking up: whether it’s high altitude farming in Greenpoint or the Brightfarm Systems science-lab-cum-classroom on the Upper West Side.  Some look down into abandoned city lots or even the basements of buildings, like Brooklyn College’s Dr. Tilapia.

But the urban farming frontier—as untapped as it may be—is still just the tip of the iceberg of food-yielding space.

To try to shine a light on some other untended spaces, Adam Dell has just launched SharedEarth.com, to match up folks with chunks of land—however small—and the landless folks nearby looking to plant a garden. Think of it like an e-harmony for the greenthumbs and the brown-thumbed folks who have read Omnivore’s Dilemma and would now like to convert their suburban lawn, behind-the-brownstone yard or under used Back Forty to an edible paradise.

The network, officially launched this coming Earth Day, has already attracted a few hundred users, collectively representing 25 million square feet of shared space and growing–almost like weeds. “We are making more efficient use of land and a greener planet, one garden at a time,” said Shared Earth chairman and founder, Adam Dell.

In my neck of the woods, there’s someone with 10 acres in Water Mill who writes: “I’ve got a lot of land and would like to have a great garden by the ocean.” And in North Haven, a stone’s throw away, someone writes, “Half an acre of outstanding sun, already equipped for drip irrigation. Possibilities range from a larger family garden to a Sag Harbor CSA.”

In the big city, there are four people looking for patches to ply their skills, including a Manhattanite who writes: “I have been influenced by Food Inc., Killer at Large and Dan Barber who spoke at TED. I can grow food—veggies & fruit.” And a 11219er wrote: “I can grow Anything – I’m an all around green thumb. I garden on a roof in containers for the moment. Looking to root in actual grounds.”

Tending unused space, and harnessing unused food growing talent, seems worthwhile considering just how important raising food is. But it’s also an elegant way of trimming waste— not unlike replacing wasteful flood irrigation with drip or harnessing nose-to-tail cooking. Well-meaning people might use SharedEarth.com to raise crops for food pantries or senior homes. Bored teenagers looking for some extra cash might advertise weeding services. Just yesterday, two different friends told me they wanted to put in gardens and asked if I knew anyone who could help.

This sort of thinking gets contagious and reminds me to get out and tend my own garden, which work and kids and other joys of this mortal coil conspire against. Perhaps it’s time to connect with a landless neighbor, offering a share of veggies in exchange for weekend weeding.

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Brian is the editor at large of Edible East End, Edible Long Island, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn. He writes from his home in Sag Harbor, New York, where he and his family tend a home garden and oysters. He is also obsessed with ducks, donuts and dumplings.