Backyard Farming and Garden Sharing Initiatives

This post is from one of the 16 interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Summer Internship Program (our Fall 2011 Food Warriors will be starting soon!). These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, collecting food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from!

You may (depending on your age) remember America’s war-era encouragement urging citizens to “plant more in ‘44!” Victory Gardens emerged during WWII as part of an effort to reduce dependency on public food supply. Just as urban agriculture schemes today attempt to engage communities and call for self-reliance, this government and business promoted endeavor involved planting gardens in backyards and on city rooftops. The USDA estimates that over 20 million such gardens were planted and that between nine and ten million tons of fruits and vegetables were harvested in these home and community plots. That amount was equal to all commercial production of fresh vegetables; apparently the idea worked.

Today’s equivalent (minus the strong government and corporate encouragement) of these gardens is a subset of urban agriculture: backyard farming and garden sharing. This concept is based on arrangements and collaboration: essentially, a landowner allows an individual, gardener, farmer or business access to their land for the purpose of growing food. Some backyard farming initiatives like Portland based “Your Backyard Farmer” operate a business of running aggregated micro farms; in this situation individual households or private properties are contracted, tended to, and harvested, and then produce is sold back in a subscription model resembling a CSA. Others like “Growfriend” simply offer a system that establishes the connection and logistics of a garden-sharing relationship. Even so, extensions of this idea offer further growth and promise for the future of urban agriculture and a resilient food system.

It may not be long before diners arrive at their favorite restaurant bearing vegetables from their own backyard for the professional kitchen staff to prepare and serve back. Already at Los Angeles restaurant Forage, restaurant guests are served menu items crafted from “the best of the backyard” – ingredients collected by one of the restaurant’s certified group of foragers or harvested by one in the “Home Growers Circle.” A quick glance at their menu and mouth-watering photos is reason enough to believe that such a system can yield quite a palatable result.

In short, city-dwellers have incentive to transform their concrete jungle surroundings into a productive and profitable system. Urban residents can then have access to increased amounts of local food and perhaps more importantly, have the exposure necessary to form the connection between root and table. These schemes also contribute to the social dimensions of a community. Engagement in the food system heightens urban consumers’ awareness and knowledge of issues, better equipping people to address them. Furthermore, propagating productive green space in urban areas will have ecological benefits that can hardly be ignored. If we consider the cyclical movement of history, the success of victory gardens suggests that urban agriculture today has the potential to make a significant impact as well.

Chelsea Burns
Summer 2011 Seattle Food Warrior Intern

Want to lean more?

BK Farmyards

Video: Stacey Murphy, founder of BK Farmyards (Brooklyn, NY)

Video: Your Backyard Farmer – Urban Farming at its Best! (Portland, OR)

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