Yarducopia: a means to spread space for gardening

Michelle Wilber teaches Patti Saunders how to start plants. (Hillman/KSKA)
Michelle Wilber teaches Patti Saunders how to start plants. (Hillman/KSKA)

So you like eating vegetables, but they’re expensive. You’d love to have a garden, but you don’t have any outdoor space. The solution? Yarducopia.

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Last summer, parts of Patti Saunders’s garden just languished. “I mean beets are like the easiest thing in the universe but not the last two years. I’ve gotten plenty of leaf. They look great. Wait til the end of the season, pull them out and you get this pencil stick root. ‘You’re supposed to be this little round red beet, and you’re not!'”

She says the beets could have been impacted by the weather. And some of her other problems were caused by over planting. But despite her produce predicament, one thing was a blooming success– the relationship she developed with her neighbor by sharing her garden space.

“And we could talk over the fence, you know. It was great. I would be up on the veranda, and she’d be down there on the other side of the fence. She’d be like, ‘What’s sprouting? Do you have flowers on the broccoli?’ It was really fun.”

Last year Saunders joined Alaska Community Action on Toxic’s Yarducopia. The project matches up people who have extra yard space with folks who need an area to garden. Sometimes the matches happen naturally between neighbors or during Yarducopia’s spring potluck. Others are assigned together based on proximity. Then, A-CAT’s Michelle Wilber helps the gardeners design and build an organic garden using materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill, like horse manure, yard clippings, and spent grain from local breweries.

“So it’s a way to build a garden without having to buy soil, without having to throw away a bunch of materials that would normally be thrown away but are still useful and have a lot of nutrients in them and grow really good plants,” says Wilber.

Wilber says the project goes beyond just teaching about organic gardening to produce healthier food. Yarducopia participants strive to build healthier community ties as well. The families split their produce and donate 10 percent to a local charity of their choice. Wilber says many people sign up to donate their yards, but they have a hard time reaching people who want to garden and lack space.

Saunders, a life-long gardener, says Yarducopia was the perfect choice for her.

“I have more garden space than I need. My kids are grown and have gone away, so it’s just my husband and me. So I thought I want to fill these beds, I can’t help myself. So I could share it then have my next door neighbor and her daughter playing in my yard. It was perfect. I’m hoping we can get some other folks on our street involved as well.”

Now she just has to pick which vegetables to grow. She flips through a pile of potential plants to start.

“Tumbling Tom. Okay, Tumbling Tom. That’s a good name for a tomato, don’t you think?”

The project is entering it’s third year and hopes to add 20 new gardens this summer. They recently received a grant for $75,000 from the North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action.

Anne Hillman is the healthy communities editor at Alaska Public Media and a host of Hometown, Alaska. Reach her at ahillman@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Anne here.

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