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.


The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.


Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

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