The DP Interview w/Liz McLellan of

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Liz McLellan

I recently had the good fortune to interview Liz McLellan.  Liz runs, a site that matches “people up in yardsharing groups and neighborhood produce exchanges.”  Here’s our discussion.

Liz, could you start by telling us a little about yourself?

Well, I’ve been in technology since before the web had pictures and an activist all my life. I started out with very idealistic intentions about the promise of a networked world. I was a true believer…and still am. About 15 years ago I started to turn my efforts towards sustainability as I came to understand the depths of the impact we were having on the planet with our waste based highly consumptive lifestyles. I started to work in non-profits at that time, credit unions, sustainability research orgs. Eventually, I wanted ironically to orient myself to spending less time on-line and more time in the garden. I may have made an error. I do spend a lot of time growing things…but I don’t spend less time on-line!

Next, let’s turn to your site.   Can you explain how yard sharing works?

Yard sharing is really setting up a gardening group which includes people with yards and people without. Our site is like for people who want to grow food locally together. It gives you a chance to search for folks in your area, check each other out and get to know them a bit before committing to working together. People set these groups up for lots of reasons. Some folks live in apartments and don’t have access to land. Other folks have lots of yard space but perhaps have a bad knee or not as much time. The object for most folks who participate is to get more tasty organic food into their lives at lower costs. Others are focused on the community creating aspects. Times are tough and we are all seeking ways to feel more resilient and secure. We also help folks set up neighborhood produce exchanges. So let’s say you have a lot of lemons and zucchini and your neighbor down the street has an apple tree and a plum tree, and another has a ton of cherry tomatoes – that abundance really creates a good reason to gather your resources together and share! On the site you create a profile, list your skills and other resources – seeds, tools etc. We support you in building community where you live via food culture. Gardening also is much cheaper than a gym membership – and you get fruit and veg!

Image by: Salim Virji

This is a really different way of approaching community gardening.  How are people taking to the idea?

Some cities have a lot of folks participating, in other places its just a small group – or one brave soul has signed up. The idea is still very new but we’re confident as people start to understand how much abundance is possible, how good it feels to grow your own – and how incredible a homegrown tomato tastes we will grow steadily. We’re about to release a workbook which will help people get their yard share going and scale up with multiple yards. You can feed 20 people with an acre of land…and build an amazing vibrant community in the process!

Image by: Melissa Wall

Image by: Melissa Wall

I thought your site would be a straightforward interchange to connect people for arm’s length transactions, but it also has other offerings.   It seems more like you’re building gardening communities.  (Which makes sense!)  Can you tell us a little about that?

Yes! I am glad you noticed that! When I built the site I did not want it to be just a data exchange – a faceless directory of resources. I wanted people to get to know each other in their neighborhoods. If they decided to work together that was a cool bit of gravy…but my ulterior motive is to get people talking to their neighbors! The avatar pictures are big because I want people to have a sense of each other, to recognize their neighbor’s smile. I think it is our great weakness that we rarely befriend the people we are living closest to. We have so much abundance at our finger tips and yet we are so plugged in we are unaware of how incredibly wealthy we are. Our communities are our wealth and our support network. Those that know how to weave strong ties where they live – thrive! We don’t need to feel so anxious about the chaos in the world if we build real networks – face to face – where we live. A lot of techies look at this as just an asset problem – where listing the data is sufficient. I think it’s a national problem of isolation and atomised lives, a problem of how we relate to each other…. and so my focus is on getting people out the door, digging in the dirt, breaking bread and sharing more than just yard space. So yes, the site is more than a matching service. I try to bring a much fuller vision of abundance and how to get there to our members so that they may bring that vision of abundance to their neighborhoods.

Image via TLC

Last question.  Where do you see the yard sharing movement going in the next 5-10 years?

I think if you look at the flocks of people at the farmer’s market on a sunny Saturday, the clarity people are coming to regarding the toxic nature of processed foods, the cost of accessing alternatives….and the real joy and relief one finds in the garden – I don’t think we’re going away any time soon! Gardening is the perfect antidote to cubical life, to our lack of control and too our disconnected and anxious feelings. It’s hard to convey how healing growing things is,…but once you start it becomes clear immediately that the kinds of movement, the smells, the textures and colors are exactly what’s missing in most contemporary lives. I think the need for connection to community and to actual dirt goes very deep and the return of these things to the center of our lives, I think, is a movement based on our mutual deep human needs long ignored.

I’m with you Liz.  More people need to start getting dirt under the fingernails.  Your site is an interesting piece to the changing food landscape.  I wish you continued success and hope you continue to spread the joys of gardening far and wide.  Thanks for taking the time to share!

Closing Thoughts

Gardening is personal passion which I believe leads to multiple benefits.  Fresh air, exercise and possibly a decreased waist line to name a few.  You might also start to develop closer relationships with your neighbors and Getting a little soil under your fingernails can improve mental well-being and might even help fight tumors. I urge you to check out Liz’s site and stick a toe in while you’re there.   I assure you the water is fine.

Image by: Mikusagi