Share the earth

Janet Moore’s backyard once revealed that an active gardener lived in the south Burnaby home.
Beautiful mature perennial plants made the yard into a sanctuary while the packed vegetable garden produced a bounty for the dinner table with the surplus going to thankful friends and family.

Eight year-old Sasha gets a drink from the hose during his family's visit to their garden plot behind a privately-owned Burnaby home.

But priorities changed for the now single mother of two. In the past two years, the hours once spent in the garden are now devoted to her job and children.
“I don’t have the time anymore, working full time, single mom, two kids and all that,” she said. “It’s a shame to see the garden go.”
Brenda Ceaser and her husband Greg Felton had the opposite problem—an interest in gardening but no land.
“I’ve become interested in growing my own food because I’m concerned about food security in the future,” said Ceaser, who lives in a New Westminster townhouse.
For people living in apartments and townhouses, the waiting lists are long to get a garden plot at one of the community gardens in New Westminster and Burnaby.
But there is another solution for those with land but no time and others who are “dirt poor” but garden envious, as Moore and Ceaser discovered.
It’s called Sharing Backyards ( and that’s how the two women met.
Ceaser and her family now garden in Moore’s under-utilized backyard. Ceaser is learning how to garden and growing her own organic vegetables while Moore is happy the land is being used and will share in the harvest.
“I thought it was a good idea because I have a half acre of land and no time to garden,” said Moore. “So why not give someone who likes to garden an area to garden?”
And for Ceaser, “What I’m doing is teaching myself to be self-sufficient.”



The rationale for the program is simple, said Patrick Hayes, who helped the program get rooted in Canada.
Everyone should have access to healthy, local, organic food. But one of the biggest barriers is access to land—especially in cities.
That’s even true in Canada, where an estimated 43 per cent of Canadians live in multi-family housing without yard space. That leaves another 57 per cent who might have garden space to spare.
Hayes, a green economist working with LifeCycles Project ( in Victoria, says the idea of sharing gardens came from community gardeners.
Someone pinned an ad on a community garden bulletin board stating they had backyard garden space they were willing to share. Others, both land owners and land wanters, followed with their own ads and people started connecting with each other.
Gardeners in Portland, Ore. and Victoria were among the early trendsetters. Hayes took the idea and put it online three years ago.
And now, in the last year, Shared Backyard cities have sprouted up like lettuce heads all over North America.
Vancouver and Washington D.C. soon followed while Nanaimo, Maple Ridge, Nelson, Vernon, Winnipeg and Brandon in Manitoba, Ontario cities of Thunder Bay and Kingston, Boise, Idaho and Cleveland, Ohio are others recently started.
Seeds have been sewn all across North America, said Hayes.
Many of those taking part are worried about food security, the concern that the high price of fuel will make fresh vegetables and fruits expensive and scarce.
Another motivation is eating healthy organic food.


Burnaby condo owner Beth Rogers can relate.
“My parents always had a small garden in their backyard but I was never really involved with it. It’s really only been in the last year or so that I’ve started to eat more organically and really focus on eating locally. A big part of accomplishing that is growing your own food,” said Rogers, who found a New Westminster landowner willing to share his backyard.
“It’s important to think about things like the 100-mile diet, eating healthy and reducing transportation costs of my food. So whatever I can grow is great,” she said.
And for property owners like Janet Moore, it’s a program that just makes sense.
“I’m pretty glad to share it because I feel pretty guilty having so much land,” she said.
Moore had no idea there were so many people looking for garden space.
“I didn’t know if I’d get any response or not. I got quite a few calls as it turned out, five or six responses from different people.”
She’s happy she chose Ceaser and her family.
“I gave them an area to use but they’ve widened it quite a bit,” she said, laughing at the eager gardeners she hosts. “They even put in raised beds, so they’re improving my garden.”
“I’ll continue with it next year because I know I’m not going to have any more time than I have this year. At least it’s getting used.”


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