Solution 4: Shared and Community Gardens

With half of the world's population living in cities, growing food locally requires us to find space between buildings, parking lots, and streets. Available land exists in many places—vacant lots, undeveloped regions, and private yards. Together, these spaces constitute a large amount of land and could feed significant portions of urban populations, if shared and cultivated.

Urban gardens are a proven solution to food crises elsewhere in the world. Following trade and oil embargos in the early 1990s, for example, Cuba's large-scale industrial agriculture system experienced a meltdown. As a result, people began to plant food gardens in every plot of available land in urban areas. Cuba was able to avert a crisis by taking advantage of land resources, quite literally, in its backyard. Mexico, Kenya, Ghana, Argentina, and the Philippines have all made extensive use of urban gardens.

In addition to meeting our need for food, urban gardens bring a variety of benefits to our communities by:

  • creating habitats for birds, insects, and native plants
  • cleaning polluted city air
  • providing local job opportunities
  • creating a beautiful setting where people can socialize and build community
  • providing a positive and healthy activity for everyone, and
  • raising property values.

Back and Front Yard Gardens

When people with yards get together with people who love to garden, many sharing arrangements are possible:

  • Several neighbors might get together to plant and tend a vegetable garden in one neighbor's yard.
  • A group of neighbors could agree to help each other garden and share their harvests. One neighbor grows a lot of tomatoes, another has three fruit trees, and a third has a large herb garden.
  • A garden matchmaking website or organization can connect garden enthusiasts and people with yard space to share.

EXAMPLE: A group of volunteers in Berkeley, California recently collected names and addresses of 300 city residents, each of whom had either a yard to share or an interest in gardening in someone else's yard. They held meetings and divided attendees into groups based on neighborhood. From those meetings, many informal garden-sharing relationships formed. Similar organizations in Portland, Oregon and Canada have created websites to help link people interested in sharing a garden. For an example of such a match-making website, see

  • A neighbor might invite everyone on her block to four Saturday gardening parties, with a promise to share the harvest with everyone involved.
  • A homeowner could invite a local nonprofit garden organization to use his front lawn to grow vegetables and create a community demonstration garden.

Sharing and gardening go well together. When groups of people garden together, each brings different skills, tools, and knowledge. More people keep an eye on the garden, making sure it's watered and watching out for pests. And everyone can help eat all of those green beans.

EXAMPLE: Mel and Cara bought a house with a large front lawn. During a block party, they met many of their new neighbors, including residents of a large apartment building down the street. One family from the apartment building, the Postles, talked about their interest in growing vegetables, but lamented the fact that they had no yard. Mel and Cara invited them to help install a vegetable garden in their yard. They all agreed that the Postles would cultivate and tend half the yard, and Mel and Cara would take care of the other half. While they did not create a written agreement, they had a thorough discussion about the arrangement. They discussed issues such as what would be planted, whether any nonorganic gardening methods would be used, how they would share costs, how they would share the vegetables, what they would do if a conflict arose between them, and so on.

Want to know more about planting a food garden? Take a look at Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, by Heather Coburn Flores (Chelsea Green). Also, check out the resources listed in Appendix A.

Community Gardens

A community garden is a place where people can come together to help grow food. The gardens educate, provide food, and create a pleasant space for people to be together.

There are many different ways to set up community gardens. Some community gardens are overseen by nonprofits and have volunteers help in all aspects of gardening. Other gardens are divided into individually assigned plots (see "Garden Allotments," below).

Creating Community Gardens

Organized efforts by community members could transform a city landscape into a garden paradise. Even in the most populated cities, there are vacant lots everywhere, many owned by the city itself. For example, New York City owns about 14,000 vacant lots, on which there are hundreds of community gardens. The remaining lots are privately owned. San Francisco, a mere seven by seven-mile peninsula, has at least 5,000 empty lots, of which more than half are privately owned. The potential is huge.

If community members and organizations want to use a vacant lot for gardening, it's a good idea to enter into a written agreement or lease with the landowner. An agreement between a small group of individuals and a landowner is shown below.

Sample Garden Sharing Agreement

This garden sharing agreement is made between Marcel Paez (“Marcel”) and Leticia Houston, Reyanna Carabay, and Robert Mayhem, (collectively referred to as “Gardeners”). Marcel owns a vacant lot located at 12461 Ethel Avenue in Van Nuys, CA. Marcel thinks that a garden would be a nice addition to the neighborhood. Gardeners are a loose affiliation of friends with an interest in farming and a desire to plant a vegetable garden on Marcel’s lot.

1. Marcel agrees to allow Gardeners daytime access to the lot for the purpose of installing and maintaining a small vegetable garden beginning on the date this agreement is signed.

2. Gardeners will plant and tend vegetables, fruit, and herbs on the lot year round.

3. Gardeners have made separate arrangements with a neighbor to use that neighbor’s water and store hoses, gardening tools, and supplies in that neighbor’s shed.

4. Marcel agrees that Gardeners may invite guests onto the lot to visit the garden or to help with the garden, as long as at least one of the Gardeners is with the guests at the garden. If Gardeners wish to give anyone else regular and unsupervised access to the garden, they must first receive Marcel’s permission. Marcel encourages Gardeners to invite and include neighbors in the garden project. Gardeners may invite neighbors to periodic “garden parties.”

5. Gardeners may construct raised beds on the lot. Construction of a shed or greenhouse must first be approved by Marcel and by the local building department (if necessary).

6. Gardeners are responsible for all costs related to the garden, including but not limited to, soil, tools, water, seeds, seedlings, and fertilizer.

7. All fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown on the lot will be consumed by the Gardeners, shared with Marcel, given to neighbors or friends, or donated to charity. Gardeners will not sell the produce and do not intend to profit from the arrangement.

8. Gardeners agree to tend the land responsibly and use organic farming methods if possible. Gardeners will take care to ensure that water runoff, dust, or noise do not bother neighbors. Gardeners will maintain a tidy appearance on the lot. Gardeners will take care to remove hazards from the lot, including but not limited to holes, sharp objects, or items that could cause people to trip and fall.

9. Gardeners, as consideration for the right t 9. o garden on Marcel’s land, agree not to make a claim against or sue Marcel for injury, loss, or damage that occur on Marcel’s land, including for injury, loss, or damage arising from the negligence of Marcel. Harvesters agree to indemnify, hold harmless, and defend Marcel from all claims, liability, or demands that Harvesters or any third party may have or in the future make against Marcel for injury, loss, or damage arising from gardening on Marcel’s land or consuming food grown on the land.

10. Marcel or the Gardeners may terminate this agreement at any time, with or without cause. Gardeners understand that at some point in the future, Marcel may want to sell or build on the lot.

11. At the termination of the agreement, Gardeners will remove all possessions from the property. Marcel will not require removal of the plants, but Gardeners may remove plants in order to plant them elsewhere.

12. If a conflict arises between us that we are not able to resolve through discussion, we agree to attend at least one mediation session with a mediator we all agree on, and to share the cost of the mediation.

_______________ Signature _____ Date

_______________ Signature _____ Date

_______________ Signature _____ Date

_______________ Signature _____ Date

Garden Allotments

Garden allotments are a type of community garden that usually involves dividing land into small plots, sometimes as small as 25 to 100 square feet, and allowing people or groups to rent them or use them free to grow vegetables for their own consumption. It's a great way to transform a vacant lot into a wonderful community space.

The city of Seattle, Washington sponsors a "P-Patch" program, whereby citizens can sign up to garden in one of more than 2,500 plots in 70 neighborhood gardens throughout the city. Garden allotments are very common in England and derive from a tradition that is centuries old. Garden allotments are also used in poverty-stricken countries and urban areas to battle hunger and poverty.

Want to find a garden plot? If you are interested in finding a garden plot near you, call around to local community garden organizations and find out whether there are plots available. If not, let your local city government know about Seattle's P-Patch program, an excellent example of a city-sponsored garden allotment program.

Selling What You Grow

If you plan to sell your produce, be sure to find out what regulations will apply. For example, if you plan to set up a small weekly farm stand, check your state's laws governing farm stands and local zoning laws. Laws governing farm stands generally encourage people to sell what they grow themselves, and may restrict sale of packaged or processed foods or produce that isn't grown by the farmer. Zoning laws may also prohibit or require a permit for roadside stands in residential areas.

Want more information about selling what you grow? Take a look at Backyard Market Gardening, by Andy W. Lee and Patricia L. Foreman (Good Earth Publications) and Micro Eco-Farming: Prospering from Backyard to Small Acreage in Partnership With the Earth, by Barbara Berst Adams (New World Publishing).

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