As gardeners of all stripes will tell you, winter is the planning season. Stuck inside, with little chance to get your hands dirty, it is the perfect time to pause and reflect. What will your garden be? Who will you bring into the project? What are your hopes? How will you get the resources together? What will you plant? What worked last year and what did not? There is a lot to think about, and when the days get short and the night long - dreaming is the best thing to be doing, because come spring you will be very busy.
1. Start Finding Partners NOW. It can take a while to work out agreements and plan for a substantial garden. The sooner you start the more successful you will be at finding the right folks and planning for your yardshare. Invite your friends who live in apartments or your grandmother who knows a thing or two about growing food in your area...Make it a family affair, or a way to gather some folks you don't get to see often enough. Or bring up a yard sharing project at your house of worship. Perhaps your faith community would be interested in growing fresh food for the hungry this spring? It pays to start now. Healthy groups and good agreements take time to develop!
2. Start it off with a party! Once you have found some people you would like to garden with, have a potluck party and celebrate your new community! Getting to know people over a shared meal and music sets the proper tone for real community. It above all should be fun and light. Save the substantial discussions for another day. Light candles to brighten the winter dark, play some good music, talk about your dreams for the garden or gardens and break bread together because this is the beginning of something wonderful!
3. Read up. Get a copy of The Sharing Solution by Nolo Press. Read it! For those that are more risk averse and have some anxieties about how to share without encountering legal bumps this is the place to start. I am not a lawyer, so I suggest everyone with these sorts ofconcerns consult my favorite legal eagles - Nolo press. Make a list of other books that are useful to your yard share group. Will you use permaculture methods, bio-intensive or no till? Bring everyone up to speed! Tons of great books are available in our hyperlocal Indiebound bookstore or you can create your own little library.
4. Create your online home. Once you have found your yard share group start your private pod on hyperlocavore to share planning, documents, videos, pictures, links and jokes! Teach each other what you know about how to grow in your zone and create a place where new members down the line can catch up on all the ideas and wisdom you've gathered. Documenting things will help you evaluate what worked and what did not in terms of what you tried to grow but also in how you chose to organize the project. Imagine the yard share going on for many seasons, plan for success by sharing knowledge from the start.
5. Have an expectations discussion early. Get your worries and how you will address them on the table. Do this online so people can flesh out their concerns, people can respond and agreements can be documented. If things get tense, have another potluck - and work it out over something yummy. Face to face builds real community, online tools can support it but doesn't substitute for it. Start asking these sorts of questions...When is it OK to be at the home/yard of the host yard - and when is it NOT OK? Will you compost collectively? Is it a strictly organic garden?
6. Involve the Kids. If kids will be part of the garden share, make sure they participate in the planning and expectation setting. If they are involved at the start they are more likely to enjoy participating. Here's a list of garden activities for kids. Work some kid centered fun into your plan. A garden is one of the best hands on learning experiences a kid can have. If you have any biology geeks in your group - maybe they can hold a lesson now and then?
7. Have a resource gathering. Gather together and make a list of all the things you hope to grow. Research what works for your zone and pull a kitty together and order your seeds and starts. Some heirloom and specialty seed houses run out of stuff before spring. some things like garlic starts go quickly. Take an inventory of who has what tools, seeds, transplants, cuttings and a list of the items you will perhaps need to buy. Plan for storage of tools and make sure people know where everything goes at the end of the day. Make sure people's time, knowledge, and commitment is valued, money shouldn't be the only currency you acknowledge. Be aware that many people are coming to the yard share project with a need to save not spend heavily. Get ready to bargain hunt and browse all those spring garage sales. It does not need to be an expensive project.
8. Talk to your neighbors about what you are doing. Introduce them to your new friends. Let them know about hyperlocavore, maybe they want to start their own yard share. Think about how this sort of project can revive the neighborhood.
9. Visit hyperlocavore.com and ask questions of folks that are already yard sharing. Share your ideas and concerns. Maybe someone has already worked through it. The forums are built for just this sort of sharing.
10. Plan for harvest, storage, success and failure. Some things you try will have fantastic results. Other things you try to grow will fail. Set your expectations with this in mind. Will you can or dehydrate the excess? Will you need to plan to purchase some tools for this as well? Will you seed save for swapping next year?
Let me know if this is helpful in the comments - and please add your own suggestions!