Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

The "Sharing Backyards" Idea

By Patrick Hayes
Economist - LifeCycles Project (
IT Committee Chair - Green Party of BC (
(250) 857-2308

Imagine a world where everyone has plentiful access to healthy, local, organic food. The goal of the sharing backyards program is to further that goal by making sure that anyone who wants to garden and grow food for themselves can. One of the biggest barriers to growing food in the city is access to land. A full 43% of Canadians do not live in single detached housing where the yard space is unequivocally theirs. The other 57% of Canadians who do have access to land in the cities often leave it underutilized.

Sharing Backyards encourages urban gardening by connecting those who have space to garden and are willing to share with those who would like to have a gardening space. The program makes maximum use of city space and by making sure that even those who dwell in apartments, condos, and shared housing have ample place to garden. It connects neighbours of different socio-economic conditions together in a atmosphere of trust doing something that beautifies the homeowner's yard and provides food for everyone.

So what makes an effective sharing backyards program? Location, location, location! An effective sharing backyards program would link people who are spatially close to each other. A garden that is close to where the gardener lives is more likely to receive the love and care it needs to thrive. Most sharing-backyards type programs rely on a flat list that forces participants to browse a list and visualize how 'close' a variety of addresses might be to their home or work - a highly discouraging process that limits participation. Our system would utilize cutting-edge geocoding and web-mapper technology to deliver a very intuitive interactive online map where users can instantly see which listings provides a potential partner.

A full fledged Sharing Backyards program is envisioned as a National (or International) sharing backyards website that acts as a single framework for Sharing Backyards programs across the country. Users would arrive at the website and would be asked to enter their city - the system would then bring them to the local sharing backyards portal for their city. This portal would list those offering to share space as well as those looking for space on an easy to use interactive map.

Local Partners

The Sharing Backyards initiative would be most effective if we could partner with local community organizations to help administer the program and champion the sharing of backyard space locally. We would actively seek out local partners and give them administration of their local "Sharing Backyards Portal". As an example, in Victoria this partner would be LifeCycles, in Vancouver the partner would be CityFarmer. The partner organization would have their logo displayed on the portal - and if they wished the portal could be integrated with their own website. Each Local Partner would be given a username and password where they could log-in, administer, and clean-up listing in their local area.

Local partners would also be given materials to help them promote the program locally and ideas on how to engage with seniors and peoples with low-literacy who might be unable to access the online listings. We would also provide a forum for local partners to interact amongst themselves.

Proof of concept sites:


Who is Patrick Hayes

Patrick Hayes is an Economist and Web Application Developer living in Victoria, BC. Graduating from the University of Victoria with a Bsc. in Economics and Econometrics, Hayes work spans the fields of Community Economic Development, Economic Research, and Participatory Web Application Development. Several of his recent projects include managing the development of the Green Party of BC's participatory website (, providing economic research for the Vancouver Island Local Food Directory (, and leading the development of the Common Ground Project's participatory online GreenMap ( Hayes can be reached by phone at 250 847 2308 and by email at

How the Sharing Backyard Project Could Benefit Various Aspects of Health, the Economy, and Social Concerns

Sharing Backyards will build social capital by providing an effective and grass-roots method for sharing space for gardening. There is no better way to build social trust than sharing space and working together for a common goal (In this case gardening to grow food!)

The project will increases economic well-being by reducing dependence on foreign food imports and freeing up disposable income for expenditure within the local economy. The program will also assist the global economy by reducing food miles and the various negative economic externalities associated with them.

The transportation of food also has many negative impacts on the environment that Sharing Backyards will help reduce. Sharing backyards, by reducing food miles, will curb the following pollutants: Hydrocarbons, Volatile organic compounds, Nitrogen Oxides, Sulfur Oxides, and particulate matter. Most importantly, Sharing Backyards will also significantly contribute to the reduction of greenhouse emissions and their impact on global climate change.

Sharing Backyards will boost physical health throughout communities by increasing exercise through gardening.

Sharing Backyards will benefit psychological health by creating a greater sense of community participation and self-sufficiency.

Sharing Backyards will revitalize cultural health by enabling individuals to participate in one of humanities oldest and most culturally rich practices: the communal and personal cultivation of food.

Sharing Backyards will enable spiritual health by providing an avenue for those with limited access to living systems to experience the miracle of life through gardening. Because gardening requires intimate contact with the intricacies of living systems, it provides insight into the birth, death, regeneration and balance of all living things.

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March 14, 2007

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture