Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Who Wants My Back Garden?

Food gardening by individuals and communities in South Africa is quite commonplace. Driving through many built up areas - often near areas of umjondolos (the zulu word for informal housing), you will often see gardens of maize, pumpkin, tomatoes etc. being well looked after - and all this, mostly on the verge of highways and busy roads.

But despite the fact that food gardening in SA is thriving, its also quite looked down on - as being backward or rural - definitely not something to be aspiring to!

So its interesting to see that there is a move in the UK and USA to make use of unused land for food gardening. Allotment food growing in the UK is so popular that there are waiting lists to get to garden in the small spaces allocated. Just look out the window on any train ride around London, and you'll see a green streak of community and food gardens going by.

But this latest push to get people gardening, and growing their own food, is aimed at matching up people with space for gardening, and those who want to garden. On Landshare, a UK based website, you can register as a grower, a land-owner, land-spotter or a facilitator.

The idea is simple - if you have a backyard (or any area for that matter) that would be suitable for growing - you can register it on their site. Anyone who is keen to get growing themselves can register on the site themselves, and look for an area close to them where they can get their hands dirty.

I've been wondering, how we in South Africa can learn from this latest agrarian advance? There are a lot more things to consider in our environment. The most obvious being security. Quite honestly, I'm surprised that roadside farming can thrive in a society where petty crime is flourishing - I wonder how often people help themselves to the fruit or vegetables of someone else's labours?
Sharing Backyards - a North American Site has a helpful list of things to consider - from time, to water use, to privacy and security concerns. But I think if its carefully organised, its a concept that could be adapted really well to a South African situation. So who out there wants to organise it?

Another thought that comes to mind - which is possibly far more Utopian. Wouldn't it be amazing, to truly share backyards? Although not suited to everyone, and every situation, wouldn't our neighbourhoods be better off, if we took down the fences that separate us, and linked our gardens. This would encourage birds and other wildlife back into our gardens, and who knows, maybe we would see real community growing alongside our vegetables?
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