Modern Sharecropping

For every well-tended backyard garden there’s another gone to seed, and for every happy horticulturalist noodling with the begonias out front there’s a cooped-up apartment dweller anxious to work outdoors. A movement is afoot, however, to unite landless gardeners with available plots of land, and it promises to both make better use of urban space and bring people together over a basket of shared vegetables or flowers.

Seedlings illustration by Malin Rosenqvist

By now, land-share programs are common in Britain and they’re gaining ground in the United States as well. Like a green thumb’s eHarmony, garden-share programs match up those with land they don’t care to tend with those who would love to do a bit of gardening.

Some garden shares were formed to alleviate the wait-list purgatory of community garden spaces. Still others were created to grow food in response to a lack of fresh, affordable produce in urban areas. By dividing the responsibilities and risks associated with farming, and often focusing on organic gardening techniques, this progressive, equitable brand of modern sharecropping is taking root and making more efficient use of the urban landscape.

Typically, the gardener supplies the labor of tilling soil, planting seeds, and squishing unwelcome bugs in the service of growing an edible garden. She then shares her bounty with the landowner according to an arrangement made at the start of the season. As with much grassroots social innovation, the Internet is at the heart of the movement. A handful of websites, like Shared Earth, GrowFriend, Yardsharing, or Hyperlocavore have led the charge. Log on if you crave a bit of yardwork or if you’d like someone to productively tend that fretted-over patch of weeds just beyond the kitchen window.

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