Take the threat of global climate change, an interest in eating healthy foods, a bad economy, then combine these with an early spring and suddenly, more people than ever are interested in urban vegetable gardening.
Jesse Eustis, a website designer who grew up on a farm in Michigan, saw opportunity in the combined appeal of growing your own and in the thousands of city lawns that use up water and fossil fuels. According to Eustis, plots in the more than 240 community gardens in the metro area now have waiting lists, and gardeners - both novices and experienced – are looking for more places to plant food.
To answer that need, Eustis partnered with his friend, Guthrie actor and computer tech Jonas Goslow to co-found Yards to Gardens, an organization that supports the creation of urban vegetable gardens and brings gardeners without growing space together with homeowners with land to spare.
Lawns are a throw back to another time, said Eustis. “We ship our food 1,500 miles. It changes hands six times and here we are, growing grass when we could grow vegetables. Gardening produces far more biomass than lawns and keeps more carbon in the soil than grass. All that space could be used to do something significant – something that improves lives.”
With the help of a micro-grant of $1,500 from the City of Minneapolis, part of a city-wide initiative to fight climate change, the partners launched y2g.com, the organization’s website, at the end of last year’s gardening season.
Website visitors can click on gardener or garden icons on the site’s map to find people offering or searching for garden plots, as well as tool or compost icons for those who need or want to offer supplies. “We hope that by the time people are harvesting,” said Eustis, “we’ll be able to help people to give away or trade their produce.” There’s also a general guide for beginners and links to other gardening associations such as Gardening Matters, a sister organization that provides training and community garden resources.
Reasons for listing on the website vary, Eustis said. “Some people have lawns and don’t want to mow. Others want someone else to maintain and put the land to good use.” Most of the listings are in urban areas but Eustis said they welcome suburbanites, too.
One St. Paul posting is from a woman who wants a small garden space to grow a few vegetables so she can teach her pre-school daughter where food comes from.
Rich Nichols, who signed on the website in late March, is looking for gardeners to cultivate the three adjacent city lots he bought in Northeast Minneapolis, hoping to build townhouses. “The real estate market collapsed and I was left with a field of wild grass and bunnies,” he said. He’s offering all or part of the tillable land in exchange for someone to mow the rest. His 15-year old Boy Scout son, who wants to be a farmer, is contributing services as an urban farmhand as part of the deal.
“Yard to Gardens is a small part of a national movement,” Eustis said. “In World War II, victory gardens were part of the war effort. These gardens were producing 40 percent of our fruits and vegetables. Then we lost sight of this.” But, he said, the movement is growing again and he said he hopes his organization will be a strong part of that. The website is growing by the day.
“Gardening is a way for neighbors to engage with each other,” he said. “When you garden, you get more connected to the earth. It relates to health care and education. Vegetable gardening is at the crux as what goes on in politics in general.”