Garden Sharing: Farming Meets Social Networks

What happens when 90 million users stop growing fake vegetables on Farmville-and started getting real food from social networks.

What happens when 90 million users stop growing fake vegetables on Farmville—and started getting real food from social networks.

Two years ago, Peter Rothbart was riding through Seattle on his bike. He came to a traffic circle. In the center was a 15-by-20-foot patch of soil where the city allows residents to garden. A man was standing there, looking down at a sorry-looking bunch of plants that had been run over and obliterated by a late-night driver. Later that evening, Rothbart went to a barbecue and overheard a woman talking about how she had an expansive lawn that she didn’t have time to take care of. “What if that guy could garden her land?” he said. “It just seemed like a good idea.”

So he started We Patch, one of a dozen new websites designed to connect wannabe gardeners with landowners who have available garden space. Let’s say you have an unused space that might make a good pumpkin patch, you offer it up on the website. If you’re a gardener without a garden, you can find available space—and contact the landowner. Sometimes, it leads to a rendezvous and a handshake agreement. Other times, gardeners and landowners spell out exactly how they’ll share produce and labor from a shared plot of land. It’s like a Craigslist devoted exclusively to gardeners—without the used car parts and hopefully with fewer missed connections.

Since 2007, when Joshua Patterson launched Yardsharing from Portland, Oregon, the concept has grown to at least a dozen websites, each focusing on either a distinctive region or cultivating a certain set of gardening-related skills. Other sites have been springing up, including Hyperlocavore, BKFarmyards in Brooklyn, Urban Garden Share in Seattle, Growfriend in Los Angeles, Yards to Gardens in Minneapolis, in British Columbia, and the nationwide Shared Earth. The trend really took off in 2009 when the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, chef at River Cottage in England and the Jamie Oliver of gardening, aired a TV segment about garden-sharing, which soon spawned Landshare, a high-profile effort that has 55,000 people gardening on about 3,000 acres. And as soon as they find a partner, Landshare will be coming to the United States.

All these garden-sharing sites are designed to put idle resources to good use—to connect the estimated 40 percent of people in the United States without yard space with the 21 million acres of idle, underused space that’s currently being occupied by lawns. At the same time, municipal and community gardens are often overbooked and have yearlong waitlists. In England, the wait time can be as much as 40 years. As Landshare’s Fearnley-Whittingstall told The Times of London, “The danger with waiting is that you lose the urge. If you want to grow vegetables, you want to do it now—it's like falling in love, it starts to consume you.”

But instead of digging in real dirt, our agrarian urges manifest themselves in a game that 90 million Facebook users play: running fake farms on Farmville, growing virtual vegetables that no one can eat, and squandering the equivalent of 78 years every month. What land- and garden-sharing sites offer is the potential to transform that social networking into something like a real-life Farmville.

This whole idea of sharing land isn’t exactly new, and the idea of community—as cliché as it might sound—has been part of the American landscape from early utopian communities to the latest planned cul-de-sac suburb. As Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers write in their new book, What’s Mine is Yours, the increased interest in harnessing the idling capacity of backyards addresses our concern about the environment, the financial recession, the resurgence of community through social networking, and using technology for better efficiency. “When you talk to people, it’s about far more than the food,” Botsman says. “My dad started doing it and he sends me photos all the time. And for the first time in thirteen years, he’s knows his neighbors’ names.”

Garden-sharing remains relatively new but there are signs that it’s becoming more mainstream. The City of Santa Monica recently set up a municipal garden-sharing site in an attempt to alleviate its 200-person long wait list for community gardens. “I don’t know why every city doesn’t implement something like this,” Botsman told me. “It’s a no brainer. It’s low-cost and you can lay it on to any existing social network.”

While urban gardens may not feed the world, gardening has immediate results. It’s highly participatory and, compared to other social reforms like improved housing or schools, it’s relatively inexpensive. If the idea took hold among 10 percent of the land households in New York City, says Nevin Cohen, a professor at the New School Eugene Lang College, the effort might yield close to 113 million pounds of vegetables annually, enough to feed 666,211 people (about 8 percent of the city’s population). In cities with more spare land, like Detroit or New Haven, Connecticut, the harvest could easily double or triple. And just as Wikipedia has shown that large accumulations of small things can add up to an encyclopedic knowledge, garden sharing sites could show how the wisdom of crowds has the potential to share the fruits of farmland—and not just the virtual kind.

via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less

Villagers rejoice as they receive the first vaccines ever delivered via drone in the Congo

The area's topography makes transporting medicines a treacherous task.

Photo by Henry Sempangi Senyule

When we discuss barriers to healthcare in the developed world, affordability is commonly the biggest concern. But for some in the developing world, physical distance and topography can be the difference between life and death.

Widjifake, a hard-to-reach village in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a population of 6,500, struggles with having consistent access to healthcare supplies due to the Congo River and its winding tributaries.

It can take up to three hours for vehicles carrying supplies to reach the village.

Keep Reading Show less
via Keith Boykin / Twitter

Fox News and President Trump seem like they may be headed for a breakup. "Fox is a lot different than it used to be," Trump told reporters in August after one of the network's polls found him trailing for Democrats in the 2020 election.

"There's something going on at Fox, I'll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it," he continued.

Some Fox anchors have hit back at the president over his criticisms. "Well, first of all, Mr. President, we don't work for you," Neil Cavuto said on the air. "I don't work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you."

Keep Reading Show less