BACKGARDENFARMIN’ – A collective of growers using empty back gardens to produce food for their local community.

Vision: To form a co-operative of young urban farmers, “renting” back gardens within a local district, growing salad, veg and herbs for sale to local community.

If you were to examine a satellite image of most cities, you would notice a certain amount of green spaces, be it parkland, sports-fields, waste-land or back gardens. Dublin is a city with a particularly large proportion of these green spaces, by virtue of original town-planning guidelines, which stipulated low-density housing in our now leafy suburbs.. approx. 20 dwellings per hectare on average. This translates to a huge amount of available land for growing crops. Granted, most of this available land is in the form of large back gardens.. but there is evidence to suggest that a lot of these gardens are mostly unused and sometimes completely overgrown. There is a common instance of elderly home-owners living in urban or suburban neighbourhoods, with a half-acre garden full of weeds and overgrown trees. Maintaining these spaces is too much work for the inhabitants, hiring someone is unaffordable.. Even in newer, more outlying suburbs, there can be quite substantial gardens which can be a headache for those who are not interested in gardening or spending their weekends walking behind a lawnmower.

On the other hand, we have a number of burning social challenges in these same neighbourhoods. Unemployment is the obvious one, anti-social behaviour, crime, drug-use, loneliness, absence of amenities and good-quality food [which leads to ill-health & malnutrition] are all common ailments. It all points to degradation or erosion in the fabric of community. Neighbours are less likely to look out for each other, children are frustrated, feeling trapped..they lash out at society. The elderly are afraid to go outside the door. Local businesses are dying, due to lack of loyalty from local consumers [the large multiples have a role to play in this of course].. The bottom line is that there seems to be a general decline in social cohesion across the board.. which is not limited to urban areas, but is more acute there.

Now.. consider a scenario. A handful of locals band together and start growing food in otherwise neglected back gardens.. or any vacant spaces for that matter. They may have experience or they may enlist an experienced grower to train them up.

The essence of this enterprise is to find a number of local home-owners in the area who would be willing to allow crops to be grown in their back garden, in return for a share in the harvest, or a share in the profits if preferable. The bulk of the produce can then be sold to residents in the local vicinity.

The team of growers would also require a base to meet in the mornings, store tools and other materials, pack the produce and perhaps use as a distribution point. This space could be a garage or shed in one of the gardens, or a space in a local community centre, school or leased unit if necessary. The location of this base would ideally be in a central location to the gardens being used.

In my opinion, the most suitable legal structure for this type of venture would be a social enterprise – where all members are entitled to an equal share in the profits, with any surplus re-invested into the enterprise. The benefit of this model is that members can agree to all receive a reduced wage in the initial stages, allowing the business to survive financially while it is getting established. In later stages, the surplus income can be distributed among members until a fair wage is reached, at which point, any surplus income can be used to expand operations, invest in machinery or put to whatever use is deemed highest priority.

There are several ways that the produce could be distributed, whether it’s delivered or picked up at central points, the ideal customers would be local residents, reducing time spent in distribution.

The socio-economic benefits of this type of scheme are infinite.
Most importantly, the links between members of community, the interaction between neighbours, a source of local employment , the personal contact with otherwise lonely and isolated older residents, greater access to organic fresh produce within the neighbourhood, environmental benefits in lowering food miles and increasing biodiversity.. to name a few.

There are many other extensions to this type of enterprise too. In some established schemes, it may be viable to keep chickens for eggs and meat. Bee hives could be installed at suitable sites. Poly-tunnels could be erected where the owners of gardens approve. Fruit trees and soft fruit bushes could be planted or put in containers.

The training angle could also be optimised, partnerships with schools [transition year students], or local training centres, mentor-ship programs, therapy programs for the mentally ill and overly-stressed. [There is plenty of evidence to suggest horticulture can be a powerful form of therapy for these groups, for obvious reasons].

The expertise could come from several sources. Graduates from horticultural colleges, local green-fingered allotmenteers {GIY}, local farmers looking to expand or diversify. If one such scheme was started, it could be used as a training ground in itself, spawning similar ventures in neighbouring districts. The training could be funded by vocational schemes and would provide an extra income for established groups.

The possibility of accessing support from local government and non-government organisations is another option. There are several such organisations here in Ireland with aims which line up closely with the above issues. For example, there is more than one governmental program to help long-term unemployed, including training grants and work-placement.

I would be very interested to learn about similar projects internationally. I have found one in the US, with a slightly different approach, it still embodies the same general principles and is evidence that this kind of system can work. Here is the link;

http://www.yourbackyardfarmer.com

There is also a related enterprise in existence in Todmorden, England, called “Incredible Edibles”. This group has achieved tremendous success in very little time, with almost no venture capital and minimum experience. It has grown from a town-wide initiative which has become a template for towns all over the UK, and internationlly. It is well worth investigating, the “Incredible Edibles” website and a link to Pam Warhurst’s inspiring TEDTALK about what they have achieved are listed below..

http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/

http://www.ted.com/talks/pam_warhurst_how_we_can_eat_our_landscapes.html”

My intention is to put out some feelers to see if there is anyone in the Dublin area interested in establishing a pilot program. I have the horticultural experience and am willing to train up a team, but at the moment I don’t have the time to recruit or to canvas neighbourhoods in search of prospective gardens. Perhaps there is someone out there who would like to try it. If so, they can count on every ounce of help I can provide.

Feel free to contact me for further information, questions, comments, constructive criticism or advice..

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About microfarmer

On a mission.. to share my passion.. for growing pure food in a thriving soil.. other related passions include.. agroforestry, woodcraft, natural materials, alternative/ appropriate tech., travelling and learning, food and herbal medicine. Working co-operatively to create meaningful livliehoods and innovative solutions
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4 Responses to BACKGARDENFARMIN’ – A collective of growers using empty back gardens to produce food for their local community.

  1. I like the idea! There’s a group in New York called 596 acres, they’ve mapped out all of New York City’s government owned yards and abandoned I believe too. They push the communities around these yards to take over make gardens.

    Here’s their site if you wanna check it out: http://596acres.org/en/

    We’re moving towards something like that as well but in the woods, leaving the big city and starting a kind of traveler site with space for art, for farming and for living free!

    Greg
    Building a Festival Way of Life…
    http://thepeoplescaravan.wordpress.com

    • 3dirtytree says:

      Thanks for that Greg.. I’m torn between the city and the woods myself.. on one hand I want to get far away from the negative aspect of urban life, be closer to nature, breathe fresh air and drink clean water.. have space to plant trees and grow my food.. but on the other hand I see a critical need to start demonstrating solutions in cities, where the greatest effects can be felt.. maybe it’s possible to combine the two worlds..

      • Yes combine the two, it’s a great idea. One of our dreams is to take it on the road like a carnival, demonstrating through workshops, art and talks moving from town to town and hitting up festivals too. That’s The People’s Caravan!

  2. 3dirtytree says:

    Hola Senor Coconut
    Love your mission hombre! Sounds uncannily like an idea I have to recruit a troupe of free spirits.. artists, musicians, writers, performers.. and tour the island along our canal waterways.. on barges.. performing pop-up shows about burning issues.. food providence, political dirty dealing, environmental issues, etc., in a satirical monty python style.. we could also do workshops and film screenings.. debates and lectures..demonstrations and giant art installations.. that’s my dream really.. and to film the whole thing for a free-to-air documentary..

    if you get your caravan rolling.. tell me about it and I’ll come help..might pick up some ideas of you guys!

    many thanks for the link to Michael Tellinger.. I will listen and learn.. have you come across Rupert Sheldrake? what about Thomas Szasz? look ’em up!

    happy trails Amigo

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