Modern-day share-cropping

Share via

In Southern California, waiting lists are nothing new. Residents are willing to bide their time for schools, for housing, and now for dirt.

Los Angeles County has nearly 3,800 plots in 60 public community gardens, but nearly all have waiting lists. Eight acres in Long Beach accommodate 308 gardeners, but volunteer coordinator Lonnie Brundage says the waiting list has been capped at 85 -- and she still she receives about 30 phone calls a week from residents eager to dig in.

Yard sharing: An article in Saturday’s Home section on homeowners sharing their gardens with apartment and condo dwellers said the L.A. Community Garden Council runs a website called Although that URL does take users to the council’s website, the official address is —

The 50-plot North Hollywood community garden also has a waiting list. Santa Monica’s community gardens have 117 plots spread out across three sites, but 175 people are still in line for a spot.


With demand outpacing supply, grass-roots efforts are underway to help apartment dwellers and condo owners who have the will to till, but not the land. Some call it share-cropping, though others prefer terms such as garden swapping or yard sharing. The idea is the same: Would-be gardeners get a place to plant and tend, and homeowners lacking the time or interest to garden themselves can share the fruits of someone else’s labor.

When Altadena writer Ellen Snortland gazes at her quarter-acre lot, she sees space to grow zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes for her ratatouille. There’s just one problem: her busy travel schedule.

For nearly a year, Snortland has been searching for a garden-sharing arrangement. She’s willing to provide the space, the water and the supplies. She just needs someone else to help maintain the landscape and split in the bounty.

Snortland is working through Victory Vegetable Gardens, the landscape business founded by Jesse Muson, who looks at the arrangement as a “kind of matchmaking.” Another one of his clients, Pauline Holley of Monrovia, says she finds garden work “sheer drudgery” and would gladly share her yard in exchange for some backyard assistance.

Developing these kinds of arrangements is the goal of Liz McLellan, founder of Hyperlocavore, an online social network of would-be gardeners and garden owners. Since the nationwide organization launched in January, more than a dozen Southern Californians have expressed interest in yard-sharing.

Helen Bierlach of Los Angeles says she signed up because health issues have limited her ability to tend plants. She sees the arrangement as a mutually beneficial way for gardeners to grow food, even if they don’t have any dirt of their own.


Yard sharing is not about exploitation, McLellan says, “but about making the most of what you have close to home.” She says the group is developing a workbook with questions to help prospective yard-sharers set ground rules for how they will grow food together.

“Yard sharing is a lot like dating,” she says. “You don’t want to just jump into it with just anyone.”

Unlike some large-scale Community Supported Agriculture models in which homeowners pay to have a garden planted and maintained and participants buy a stake in the urban farm’s fruits and vegetables, the yard-sharing arrangements developed by McLellan and others involve no exchange of money. They are small-scale personal arrangements.

Santa Monica is planning to chip away at its community garden waiting list by launching a yard-sharing program that would match potential growers with property owners.

The L.A. Community Garden Council, a group that oversees 80 gardens in Southern California, has developed the yard-sharing site, a hybrid of community gardening and social networking.

Mary Tokita, president of the Community Garden Council, said the organization also is exploring a partnership with the L.A. Conservation Corps to have at-risk youths build raised beds in participants’ backyards.


The corps built three raised beds as part of a pilot program earlier this month. The Eagle Rock backyard of Nancy Shannon is now the site of herbs, cucumbers, squash and peppers. Neither Shannon nor her garden partner, nearby apartment dweller Veronica Price, has much experience, so master gardener Milli Macen-Moore has been volunteering as a mentor.

More groups are emerging as facilitators of the matchmaking process, including the environmental nonprofit Cultivating Sustainable Communities, which recently launched a sharing program.

“It’s definitely an idea whose time has come,” landscaper Muson said. “We just need to spread the word.”