If landowners have yards that are not being used, and want to contribute to the availability of locally grown food either for themselves, or for a larger audience, being able to support this in all of its various formats would be beneficial.
While Not for Everyone, Yard-Sharing Makes Sense for:
- Apartment dwellers
- Busy parents
- Older people
- Folks with a disability
- People who want to get outside more
- People that want to eat better
Since yard-sharing arrangements can range from one extreme of the landowner providing nothing but the space, to another who is heavily involved and intends to make a shared profit on the produce, the shared agreement should be specific to both the parties involved, especially along the lines of Access, Boundaries and Expectations (ABE). Issues that should be considered include the following (from sharingbackyards.com) :
- Time Considerations – How many hours per week will the garden space be available? On which days of the week? What time(s) of the day?
- Tool Considerations – Do you have tools to share? Where will they be stored?
- Soil Considerations – Has the soil been tested? Who will pay for soil amendments? What types of amendments or additives are acceptable?
- Seeds / Transplants – Who will provide the seeds and/or transplants? How will decisions be made about what is grown?
- Water Considerations – Can the gardener use the hose and water? Who does the watering? When?
- Harvest Considerations – Who will harvest the food? How will the harvest be distributed?
- Privacy and Security Considerations – Who can enter the garden? (children, partners, friends, pets). What space can be used? (shed, basement, bathroom). What about locks and gates? Emergency contact numbers?
- Cancellation Considerations – If things don’t work out, or we change our minds, how do we get out of the arrangement?
Sampling of Yard-Sharing Websites and Initiatives
One initiative is in Portland, Oregon –– a successful business that brings an innovative approach to community supported agriculture through urban backyard farming. They have created small sustainable organic farms in people’s yards. They help urban farmers grow fresh, in-season produce right at home, utilizing the homeowners’ own land in an approach called micro-scale farming. The company provides their knowledge and expertise in small scale urban farming; an organic method farm in your backyard, custom-built to your family size and eating habits; soil amendments, transplants, seeds, fertilizers, water-timer and hose; weekly visit to insure farm is growing well – including pest inspection, weeding and planting; and a weekly harvest basket at your backdoor. Although not free (the landowner pays fees comparable to a CSA share), the bounty is grown in his own backyard.
BK Farmyards is a coalition of experienced urban farmers dedicated to expanding food justice through agricultural production and education in Brooklyn, NW. They manage 2 acres of farmyards spread across several farm sites. They have a Youth Farm in partnership with a local high school and Green Guerillas, and turned the school’s 1-acre lawn into a thriving production and educational farm. They offer training and apprenticeships, and internships. The bounty is also produced for local CSA and a farmer’s market, but landowners that volunteer their land and their water get a free CSA membership.
- The “Sharing Backyards” Idea, published by City Farmer, Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture
- Wall Street Journal: Their Shared Backyard
- Sharing Backyard: More than just a good idea (Toronto)
- Doing What We can with What we got – BK Farmyards puts backyards into crop rotation
- Video: NYC’s cool new backyard farms: Growing more than just produce
Nuts and Bolts of How to Share Yards
The following information from growfriend.org can help in the process of formulating a garden sharing agreement.
Garden Planning Considerations – What to Talk About
Consider the phases of a typical garden project and talk about who is going to be responsible for what in each phase.
- Harvest Festival
- Clean up/Winter Over
The Garden Plan represents an expectation, or at least an ambition. In any garden project, things can (and do) go wrong for a variety of reasons – it’s best to expect the worst, and then be pleasantly surprised!
- Who is allowed to access the garden?
- When is access to the garden allowed (or not)?
- How is the garden accessed?
Boundaries come in many forms, and they are essential to this relationship.
Examples of Boundaries:
- Physical boundaries – sketched on a Map of the Garden (part of the Garden Plan)
- Time boundaries & privacy – a written timetable to confirm when it is and is not okay for the Gardener to visit
- Horticultural boundaries – what existing plants are not to be touched, limits to what may be grown, etc.
- Behavioral boundaries – who else, besides the Gardener, may come onto the land, and if so, under what circumstances and with what limits?
- Other activities: Smoking, picnicking in the garden… if so, where?
- Responsibilities: weeding, watering, etc.
- Sharing scheme: Besides plant tending, what other uses will there be? Who harvests? How much is shared with whom, & when?
- Special circumstances: vacation timing, pets/kids, security, etc.
- Timing: When will we put in the late beans? When will we have monthly check-in meetings?
Other Things to Discuss
Legal Liability and Conflict Resolution
Our guidelines do not constitute professional advice. For legal and/or insurance advice, please contact your own legal counsel. Land Holders, consult your insurance person. If you are an institution such as a church or school, find out if volunteers working at your location are covered by your policy. Discuss how you’ll deal with the Gardener getting hurt, or someone else getting hurt in the garden.
Who Pays for What?
In general, we suggest that the Land Holder pays for anything that would remain on his land after the sharing arrangement has ended, or pay for any item where she wants to control the look and feel. This is likely to include most fixed items, access to the shared area and water supplies.
In general the Gardener will pay for seeds, tools, feed and miscellaneous items. Composters and water barrels could be paid for by either party, this needs to be agreed.
We suggest discussing the water bill separately.
Expenses That May Come Up
- Providing and maintaining fixed items such as sheds, greenhouses, water butts, composters, fencing, gates, outbuildings, stabling
- Access to the site
- Tools and equipment
- Seeds and seedlings
- Miscellaneous items such as sheeting, netting, cloches, stakes
- Veterinary services
- Slaughtering/butchering services
Special Note – water usage
Consider measuring water usage before gardening starts, and including this historical data in your agreement. This may provide a baseline if Gardener and Land Holder are going to share water costs.
Condition of the Property
Agree on the condition of site at the start of the agreement, and how the site will be left at the end of the agreement.
If Animals are Involved
Animals can work great in garden sharing – but, just like when children are left with a babysitter, contact info and special instructions are needed. Agree and write down what happens if the Land Holder sees livestock which is ill, distressed, or escaped. This should include contact details (and alternative contact details) and vets phone numbers.
If you decide to work together, exchange contact info, including preferring time and means of contacting. Each person should also provide a backup/emergency contact – a friend or relative to connect with if the primary person isn’t available.
Both parties should check with others who know their potential partner well. Ask positive, open-ended questions: “What seems to make this person happy?” “How does she seem to feel about her house and her yard?” “Any advice for someone doing a garden share with him/her?”
End of the Season/Share
How will the garden be left when the share is over? When will you decide if you are going to go for another season.
Use of the Garden
What are the rules for Land Holder’s use of garden when Gardener isn’t there? Can the Gardener do anything other than work in the garden? A BBQ or party? When? Can gardener just hang out? When and where?
What are the risks, and how will they be dealt with? Are their locks, marauding critters, or neighbors who like to graze?
The Gardener’s Responsibilities
Make clear what the Gardener will be taking care of, and what he isn’t.
Discuss the hours and level of effort that can reasonably be expected from the Gardener – remember, it’s a long season!