East York Mirror
Don't let your green thumb go to waste just because you lack gardening space.
People across the city are building a community of agricultural aficionados through a website that pairs gardeners with no growing space to property owners who want to plant but need some help. The Sharing Backyards program was launched in Toronto last August and is continuing to gain momentum now that spring is officially here.
"There are lots of reasons why people want to share their garden and lots of reasons why people want to do the gardening, but ultimately it develops relations between people, allows people to grow more food locally and it's a great community builder," said Susan Poizner, founder or Growing for Green, the group hosting the program in Toronto.
She began making connections between gardeners in her St. Paul's community in 2007 when she started Growing for Green with a group of friends. One of the members mentioned he lived in an apartment, but had been planting in his neighbour's yard. It was a simple idea that caught Poinzer's attention.
After some online research she stumbled across LifeCycles, a non-profit organization operating out of British Columbia that runs the interactive mapping software The Sharing Backyards program uses on its website, www.sharingbackyardstoronto.ca
Users can post their general location along with a description of what they have to offer other people such as space, expertise or labour. These posts show up as icons on an interactive city map and are removed after they are paired with a partner.
The volume of users is difficult to track, but Poizner expects traffic to increase dramatically as the word spreads across Toronto.
"People are passionate about homegrown food right now. It could be that the economy and the world is changing so it's not so sustainable to import food from far away, when we have wonderful agricultural land right in our own city," she said. "The earth that Toronto is built on is very good land, so why import apples and zucchinis when you can grow it yourself and share it with your neighbours?"
Inexperienced gardeners are encouraged to participate as well and can get area-specific tips from a blog on the group's website. Still, the best way to learn is to pair up with a knowledgeable partner like Johanne Christenson and get your hands dirty.
"My partner is a new gardener and I'm an old gardener, so we will be sharing lots of ideas," said Christenson, who currently shares her garden with the partner she met last year. "Gardening is such a wonderful activity and I have a big enough yard that can grow food for two families. It's nice to have the extra help, too."
The two split whatever food is produced during each harvest and this year Christenson has even taken on another eager young apprentice who just wants to help out so she can learn how to make her own garden at home.
Through programs like Sharing Backyards, cuisine in tomorrow's Toronto could look more like how she remembers it as a child.
"The reason I like to grow vegetables is because I'm older and my father grew everything we ate," said Christenson. "I don't like to eat any processed foods, so I make all my own canned goods, sauces and chutneys."
Posting on www.sharingbackyardstoronto.ca
is free, easy and a great way to meet new friends. If there are a lack of postings in your area, Poizner recommends contacting her through the website so she can provide information to distribute in community spaces.