A program in the UK called Landshare and similar schemes in the United States called YardShare, SharedEarth, and Urban Gardenshare connect gardenless would-be growers with unused spare land, as well as people with extra time or skills who want to help. The land posted varies from spare acreage on farms to unused allotments to urban wasteland to small back gardens. Liz McLellan, founder of YardShare, explains, “A lot of us would love to grow food, but we lack one of the more important things we need to do that. Some of us lack space, physical strength, time, or tools or even just have a ‘brown thumb,’ so it makes sense for us to group together.” The matches share the fruits and vegetables grown but often the unexpected benefits include friendships and community.
Without the social networking capacity of the Internet, such a scheme had little chance of matching “want with need” and reaching scale fast. But now these programs operate like a gardening “dating agency.” A typical post from a landowner reads, “I have a garden that is turning into waste land. Would anyone like to grow veg, etc., all I would ask is a share of the veg grown.” Or there is Philip, an experienced gardener, who posts, “Can you help? I live in Edgworth, Bolton—do you have any land I could use? I have grown veg for years, new house is lovely, but no garden other than pots! Help!”
Adam Dell, a successful venture capitalist and brother of Michael Dell, started SharedEarth in January 2010. He first got the idea through his own experience of finding a gardener online. Dell posted a request on craigslist for gardening help for his land in Austin, Texas. The proposition was simple: “I have spare land and would like to turn it into a vegetable garden. If you will tend to it, we will split the produce fifty-fifty. I’ll pay for the seeds, soil, and equipment, you provide the labor.” Within forty-eight hours he received more than thirty responses. The experience was an inspiration to Dell, who began thinking about the amount of unused land sitting idle and the untapped gardening interest across the United States. “How could I apply the basic ideas of social networking to create the largest community garden in the world?” he wondered.
SharedEarth launched in January 2010. Within three months, an estimated 25 million square feet of registered potential garden space was posted. The amount of land is expected to scale to 1 billion square feet by the end of 2010. Dell thinks it is growing so fast because “People intuitively get the idea.”
Garden Dating is one of hundreds of innovative examples that are part of a new culture and economy called Collaborative Consumption transforming business, consumerism, and the way we live. It is explored for the first time in the must read book What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.
Rachel Botsman (@rachelbotsman//twitter) is a social innovator who consults, writes, and speaks on the power of collaboration and sharing. Roo Rogers is a serial entrepreneur and is currently the director of Redscout Ventures.