Sharing a yard

PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHAWN MCPHERSON

How yard sharing can help you make new friends—and a killer salad

Avid gardeners don’t need a yard to grow their own fruits and veggies, thanks to community garden programs

Rhonda Teitel-Payne wasn’t sure whether Torontonians would want total strangers digging around in their backyards when she first got involved with yard-sharing programs back in 2009. But not only did the movement flourish, it yielded a lot more than beans and tomatoes, says the co-cordinator for Toronto Urban Growers. “It’s a great way to form connections in your community,” she says. “I’ve seen amazing relationships develop, and there are people who have maintained their gardening friendships for years.”

Growing vegetables

Yard-sharing pairs urban homeowners with landless gardeners to mutual benefit: people who may not have the time or energy to grow their own vegetables offer part of their property to someone who does, and share in the harvest. There are now waiting lists full of people looking for patches of ground to sow in the city.

The arrangement fosters community engagement and green living, with benefits for homeowners and green thumbs alike; many split the bounty half and half, while others join programs, such as Not Far From the Tree that donate a portion to food banks, community kitchens and shelters. A few years ago, Sonam, who came to Canada from Tibet, learned about The Stop Community Food Centre while attending ESL classes and became involved in the organization’s yard-sharing program. One small garden blossomed into three, and eventually she launched her own business, making momos (Tibetan dumplings) from the produce she grew, selling them at local farmers’ markets and the West End Food Co-op. “I can’t see her now without her giving me food,” Teitel-Payne laughs.

Planting crops

For a yard-sharing program to succeed, Teitel-Payne recommends both property owner and would-be gardener put an agreement on paper that covers things like how the space will be used and what will happen to the produce. Homeowners should find out what kind of growing experience their gardener has, and should outline whether there are any time restrictions when it comes to accessing the space.

It’s not a phenomenon restricted to residential backyards, though —community gardens are springing up outside apartment buildings, restaurants and other businesses. “Container gardens on pavement work beautifully,” says Teitel-Payne. “Often people grow things they can’t find in stores, or that would normally be imported, or expensive. It’s an opportunity to grow things that mean something to you.”

If you’d like to get involved in yard-sharing, check out the Toronto Urban Growers website; their “I want land” page offers a list of programs and resources for future green thumbs. You can also match up with a like-minded gardener or landowner at Garden Share TO, or join CultivateTO’s Community Shared Agriculture  program. Or check out the City of Toronto’s page on community gardens and allotment gardening.