A powerful new online tool is bringing backyard gardening and husbandry into the sharing economy, connecting would-be growers with those who have soil to spare.

Alfrea.com helps cultivate sustainable communities by building citizens’ capacity to grow local, organic food close to home.

A farmer with unused land can earn extra money by renting space to a market gardener, or a young couple living in a downtown high-rise can tend a neighbour’s unused garden plot in exchange for a basket of homegrown produce.

An urban family who wants hens for fresh eggs can connect with a rural family that has extra space, or an inner-city school can strike a deal with a vacant lot owner, so the school children can learn to grow spinach and carrots.

The website will launch on April 22 – Earth Day – highlighting the extraordinary environmental impact the tool will have: Reducing food miles on American plates, putting unused land to productive use, and encouraging sustainable, organic growing practices.

 

It all started because David Wagstaff’s father had a problem.

At 91, he could no longer farm the family’s 31 acres, and there was nobody nearby to help.

Wagstaff’s solution was Alfrea.com, and now he and co-founder Patrick Mullin hope to capitalize on twin trends: a booming sharing economy, and surging interest in homegrown food.

From Morgan Spurlock’s explosive documentary Super Size Me to Michael Pollan’s contemplative best-selling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Americans are learning more about the health and ecological impact of their food choices.

Venerable food writer Wendell Berry famously wrote that “eating is an agricultural act,” and Americans have taken his words to heart. Now they want to get their hands dirty.

The number of American households with backyard gardens is skyrocketing as families look to eat nutritious organic food while increasing food security in tough economic times.

Studies show home gardens can save serious money: Some estimates suggest a $50 investment in seeds and fertilizer can produce up to $1,250 worth of fruit and vegetables purchased at the grocery store.

But the benefits go well beyond the pocketbook: Gardens provide exercise, a mood boost, and may even delay the onset of dementia.

 

Plus, growing your own food brings a unique feeling of self-sufficiency and satisfaction, placing vegetable gardening squarely in the domain of the growing do-it-yourself and maker subculture.

Inspired, young people are taking up their spades and hoes en masse, as they focus on eating healthy, local, artisanal foods in part to protest against corporate, mass-produced food.

 

Alfrea.com pairs this tremendous growth in garden culture with the booming sharing economy, which is expected to grow to $335 Billion in global revenue by 2025.

From renting out a spare room to ride-sharing, from peer-to-peer loans to borrowed tools, the sharing economy allows people to use the assets they have to earn money – and build community.

 

With Alfrea.com, the sharing economy extends into back yards, fallow acreages and unused lots across the U.S. and around the world.

Collaborative consumption expert Rachel Botsman has called the sharing economy “a powerful, cultural and economic force” that reinvents not just what people consume, but how they consume it. The key, she says, is that “technology is enabling trust between strangers.”

 

In the case of Alfrea.com, that trust has the potential to go well beyond a simple financial transaction like a quick ride to the airport or a week at a nice cabin.

Land sharing builds community in a way no other collaborative consumption can do, simply because growing animals and vegetables takes a long time.

Shared gardening requires people to join together to develop, nurture and sustain a growing space, which fosters connection and friendship unlike any other part of the sharing economy.

In addition, a garden produces food, and food is better shared.

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him,” farm worker and activist Cesar Chavez once said.

 

“The people who give you their food, give you their heart.”

 

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