First published in the Coffs Advocate, 9.10.10
The soon-to-be launched Landshare Australia (www.landshareaustralia.com.au) is the work of ABC’s Garden Guru Phil Dudman and a partner, themselves inspired by the rapidly growing landshare movement in the UK.
Launched barely 18 months ago through the popular UK TV series River Cottage, Landshare UK now has over 55,000 growers, sharers (i.e., landowners) and helpers registered on its site, and many thousands more joining each month.
What the Landshare movement aims to do, according to the site, is “bring together people who have a passion for home-grown food, connecting those who have land to share with those who need land for cultivating food.” As Phil says, there’s been a tremendous loss of knowledge around food growing from the time when everyone either had their own veggie patch or knew someone who did. Together with closely-related movements like community gardening, Landshare is about recovering that knowledge and unleashing the spreading passion for food growing.
Landshare Australia is already generating great interest, even though the website will not be live till later in October. “We’re getting emails every day, especially from people with land to share”, said Phil. “That surprised us, because we thought that might be the most difficult part of it.”
The philosophy of Landshare, Phil says, is about sharing, i.e. making land freely available to individuals, families and community groups who want to grow food. In particular, Landshare Australia will be targeting church and other groups, encouraging them to embrace the challenge of making more of Australia’s idle agricultural land productive.
The focus on making land freely available doesn’t of preclude commercial leasing arrangements, although that is not something in which Landshare Australia will become involved. One such local arrangement which has been in place for 18 months is the leasing of five acres of Tom Hackett’s Kiwi Down Under farm at Bonville, by the specialist training and employment provider CHESS for its ‘Innovation Farm’. The five-year lease is a deal that “works very well for both parties”, said Tom.
The website will contain forums, blogs, tips and information about the Landshare movement. Importantly, it will also provide guidance for agreements between growers and landowners, setting out the rights of both sides. For example, says Phil, the guidance states that the grower must be working the land well and caring for it properly. It also recommends the inclusion of exit clauses, if the arrangement is not working out for either party.
There are a number of examples of non-commercial landsharing initiatives already underway in the Coffs region. Perhaps the best known is the North Bank Road Community Garden in Bellingen. Started by a small handful of individuals about two years ago on land owned by John Lavis and Hilary Weston-Webb, this garden now has around thirty regular gardeners and attracts large crowds to its local music and pizza oven evenings.
Crucial to the garden’s success, according to John and Hilary, has been the strong horticultural knowledge and expertise of the core group. John and Hilary have long wanted to share their land with local people to grow food, and after a number of unsuccessful attempts they appear to have got it right this time. “It’s not hurting us, it’s not hurting the land – they’ve enhanced the land”, said John.
His advice to any landowners thinking of sharing some of their acres or even their backyards to enthusiastic people wanting to grow food? “Just go for it!”, he grins. “It’s good for the young people, and for the little kids – why go to a supermarket and spend dollars, when you can grow things far better, and you know what you’ve done to them? And what you can’t eat, give it away, or sell it”, he adds.