Connecting landless gardeners with landowners: A proposal by Co-op member Dana Cocargeanu

About the author

Dana Cocargeanu is a permaculture designer and consultant based in Dublin, currently working for Food Forest Abundance, a permaculture design company from Florida, USA. Dana studied permaculture with Graham Bell and Mark Shipperlee from the UK Permaculture Association, and with Geoff Lawton and his team at the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia. She is now setting up her own permaculture design and consultancy business in Dublin.

Before becoming a designer, Dana used to teach English as a Foreign Language, worked in academia and completed a PhD about the translation of children’s literature, at Dublin City University. She is passionate about the environment and is particularly interested in growing food with earth-friendly methods, protecting biodiversity, eliminating waste and using water wisely. In her free time, she likes to take nature walks and to watch Japanese anime with her Japanese husband.

Dear Dublin Food Co-op members,

I would like to invite you to join an initiative connecting people who want to grow their own food, but have no access to land, with people who have garden space that they would like to share with others.

Why do people want to grow their own food?

I am certain that you are aware of the benefits, so here is just a quick recap:

  • Better health, both physical and mental, through access to freshly picked, nutrient-rich food, through moderate exercise and interaction with the natural world;
  • Safety and freedom from breakdowns in supply chains;
  • Reduction of the negative environmental impact of current modes of food production, for example, transportation-generated pollution and packaging waste;
  • Support for biodiversity in an urban context.

 

Not everybody in Dublin can take advantage of these benefits, though. 

If you want to grow your own food, you need access to land. Some people might own a garden, but there are limited options for those who are either renting, or own a home without a garden. Community gardens? There are several in Dublin, but not enough – there is a limit to how many people a community garden can accommodate. Allotments? One joins a long waiting list – provided that the list has not closed because of too many applications – and then waits, not knowing when or if they will receive an allotment. 

In addition, both community gardens and allotments may be too far from where one lives, especially for people who rely on public transport to get about. Going there by car? That’s contributing to pollution and climate change. How about cycling? Fine, if you don’t mind all the media reports about cyclists hit by cars in Dublin, or cycling under lashing rain.

 

And yet, there is so much under-used land in Dublin, where so much food could be grown: LAWNS.

Lawns take up most of people’s front and back gardens, use resources to maintain, and don’t do as much as they could for people and the environment. True, lawns help soak rainwater in the soil and thus contribute to preventing flooding. They offer children playing space, and adults, somewhere to relax in a relatively natural environment. However, in accordance with modern ideas of tidiness, they need to be mowed, and “weeds” need to be removed, which uses resources like fuel and electricity, and pollutes the soil with herbicides. The space for insects and birds is often reduced to shrub or flower borders. Ornamentals, rather than food-producing plants, prevail. 

Turning these lawns into gardens would allow them to keep fulfilling the functions above, while adding food production, with all its benefits. Adequate space could be kept for the kids to play in, and they would definitely benefit from the experience of seeing food growing right where they live.

 

Sharing garden space will also bring benefits to the hosts.

The potential hosts are people who might not have the time, inclination, energy, physical strength or financial resources necessary to take care of their lawns or gardens. They will receive some additional income from a fee paid by the gardeners, or a share of their fresh, nutritious produce. They will be able to enjoy seeing their gardens transformed into beautiful and productive spaces, and spending time there.They will experience the joy of generosity and sharing. Both hosts and gardeners will also benefit from developing friendships, becoming a part of new networks, learning from each other and maybe even working together. 

So, let me recap: on the one hand, there are people who would like to grow their own food, but have no access to land. On the other, there are a lot of people who own potential growing spaces and who would benefit from sharing them.

Why not connect the two? 

I propose setting up an online platform where landowners would list the garden space they have available for renting, and gardeners would look for land that meets their needs, e.g., in terms of location, or size. This could be an extension of the Dublin Food Co-op website, or a separate website.

There are several initiatives of this kind worldwide, such as Prêter son jardin (pretersonjardin.com) in France, Shared Earth (sharedearth.com) in the US, and AllotMe (allotme.co.uk) in the UK, the latter set up in 2021 by Belfast-born Conor Gallagher. In addition to helping gardeners and landowners connect, the AllotMe website features resources on gardening, advice on how communities can get their local governments to allot more space for food growing, and ideas for corporate developers to integrate allotments in their projects.

To set up such a platform, I need your involvement. It would take me too long to acquire all the necessary skills and do this by myself, and I hope that some of you will also be able to contribute your expertise. I am bringing a lot of enthusiasm and motivation, permaculture design knowledge, writing skills, and an ability to learn quickly and adapt to new tasks. How about you? What could you contribute? 

If you would like to get involved, please contact me at gardensharingproject@gmail.com.

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