Edible San Luis Obispo is always on the search for innovative ideas that work. The following comes from a new book LOCAL FOOD from the UK; chock full of practical and real life stories about how to make a local food system happen. Transition Towns is a relatively new movement in the US that focuses on celebrating our challenges with climate change and resource depletion. Since food is quintessential in discussing relocalization and transitioning from oil dependence to local resilience we share this successful project. We all have heard of the exchanges between land owner and gardeners and all the various complications. Well, this story has a very good ending and beginning. Please read on…

The idea
When Lou Brown joined the Transition Town Totnes (TTT) office team in 2007, she was encouraged to create and run a Transition project of her own, and, as a keen food-producing gardener and supporter of local produce, her thoughts immediately turned to the world of food. In the past, Lou had seen a garden share scheme turn disappointingly sour because of a lack of clarity between owners and growers, and this gave her the idea of setting up a project that could instead facilitate thorough, open and trust-based communication between the two parties. That way, misunderstandings wouldn’t distract from the more important tasks of increasing land access and decreasing food miles for local growers.

The action
For the first couple of months, Lou had the voluntary assistance of a local lady called Lin Scrannage, a valued cohort on the project, and together they bounced ideas around, devised ways of protecting the rights of owners and gardeners, and drew up the necessary documents. It was agreed that Lou’s TTT wages would cover the time she spent on the project, which has so far been run without any other kind of external funding. One of the first steps was to advertise for garden owners so TTT would have something to offer the gardeners when they came to the scheme. Up went Totnes Garden Share Project posters, and out went TTT newsletter blurbs and a press release calling for people who had available garden space to offer to a local grower. Offers began to come in and Lou’s matchmaking lists were opened. Once she had a good selection of plots, she then advertised for gardeners to take them on.

The way it works
On the phone or in person, owners are asked to fill out forms detailing the land they have to offer (including its size, aspect and condition, and available water, compost or storage facilities) and their expectations of the scheme (including what times and days they’d be happy for the gardener to have access, whether they’d mind more than one person working the plot, and what proportion of the harvest they’d like to receive in return). They are also asked to provide photos of the site to share with potential gardeners. At this point Lou outlines the scheme in full to the owners, to make sure they understand the commitment they are making.

Lou then goes through the same assessment process with gardeners who get in touch, asking them to come for a meeting in the TTT office to chat through their expectations, hopes and needs for a garden space, as well as their levels of gardening experience – all of which is recorded on a gardeners’ form. This part of the process has become self-selecting, in that some potential gardeners drop off the list because they realise they don’t actually have the time or enthusiasm to see the project through. Only those who are wholeheartedly committed to the scheme and to working within its necessary boundaries end up pursuing their land-seeking hopes to the final hurdle.

Those that do stick with the process go on the matchmaking list, and it is then Lou’s job to pair up well-suited owners and growers, bearing in mind what times and days work for both, what gardens are within walking distance of a gardener’s home and what expectations and hopes coincide. When she thinks she has a found a good match, Lou gets in touch with the gardener and owner in turn, and, without revealing any personal details, describes their potential garden share partner. She also shares photos of the garden with the would-be grower. If both sides are happy to go ahead, Lou gives them each other’s contact details and leaves them to get in touch. As long as each is happy with the match, gardener and owner sign the garden share certificate (a written agreement to respect the other’s rights and needs, downloadable from the website). Part of this agreement states that gardeners are committed to sharing a portion of their harvest with the owners, which is usually set at a quarter of the week’s produce. They are also asked to sign up to the roving insurance policy held by the local organisation South Devon Community Supported Farming (CSF) which, for £7-10 a year, covers them for public liability insurance and can help to put owners’ minds at rest. Lastly, the owner receives a garden share sign that, if he or she is willing, can be put up outside the garden so that passers-by will find out more about the project.

Lou calls up the gardener a week later to check how things are progressing, and gets back in touch every so often to make sure all is running smoothly. At the end of the season gardeners and owners are sent feedback forms to keep a check on participant satisfaction, and at the end of the scheme’s first year all were sent back with glowing responses, confirming it to be a resounding success.

Extracted from ‘Local Food: how to make it happen in your community’  by Tamzin Pinkerton & Rob Hopkins by permission of Green Books,