A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How We Live - Meet the Sharing Gardens Founders

Update: To read this post with an amendment that covers 2012 - 2015, CLICK HERE

Many people have expressed curiosity about Chris' and my living situation. How do we afford to have the time to dedicate the many hours a week we devote to the "Sharing Gardens"? Why do we so rarely invite anyone over to visit us in our home? Are we independently wealthy or just very frugal?

About three years ago, at the same time we were getting the Alpine "Sharing Gardens" started, Chris and I decided to seriously downsize. We were spending about $800/month on rent and utilities (not to mention all the other costs of running a household). Our house was way too big for our needs and we felt disheartened at seeing all that rent money being spent for nothing tangible that could grow in any meaningful way. We put up some posters around town advertising for a new place to live. The first people to respond had the perfect situation: An 8' x 40' travel trailer - hooked up to plumbing, sewer, and electricity, in a little grove of trees overlooking 400 acres of farmland. It was a place we could rent for a small fee and several hours a month of work-trade. Free from the stress of meeting such a big monthly financial obligation we could slow down our pace of living and devote our energies to the "Sharing Gardens" and other service projects.

We live a simple life. We rise early and spend time with our spiritual studies; acknowledging all we have to be grateful for, getting quiet inside so we can listen for guidance, then we do some yoga on the floor. Most mornings we choose a simple project, preferring to get one or two things accomplished without haste or pressure, rather than facing a huge list of tasks that can never all get done in the time allotted. On any given day, we may not get much done but, like the Tortoise, we find that - "Slow and steady wins the race." Reflecting back I can see just how much we have accomplished unaccompanied by the sense of hurry and pressure that so many people experience, engaged in the usual busy, modern lifestyle. Afternoons usually include a nap, or at least a rest-time; a pause before taking on an afternoon project, going for a walk, computer-time or other household maintenance tasks.

Tomato sauce - 2009
We are ovo-lacto vegetarians, eating plant-foods, eggs and dairy products. This is not a religion for us but we notice we feel better eating this way and know it helps us live lighter on the planet (and easier on the pocket-book!) Through the "Sharing Gardens" we are able to grow a high percentage of our food. Mid-August through Thanksgiving are the busiest times for us as we convert the harvest into stored goods that will see us through to next year's garden-season. In Autumn we also fill our pantry with gleaned fruits and nuts and wild mushrooms foraged in the woods near our home. We keep our two food-dehydrators going almost non-stop during this time and 'can' a variety of foods and juices.

Loft-bed with root cellar below.
Living in such a small space can be a challenge at times, especially in the wet, cold, winter months when we spend more time inside. A few months back, we removed our dining room table and chairs and began eating "Japanese-style", sitting on the floor to make room for morning Yoga. We have a plastic table-cloth we pull out to sort seeds, do craft projects or other things we used to do on the table. The side-benefit of this arrangement is that all the "ups" and "downs", several times a day, for meals etc has also increased our fitness and flexibility. But it has also limited who we can have over for extended visits, as not everyone is up for these forced calisthenics!

We appreciate as well, the blessings of this lifestyle. It has prevented us from accumulating excess possessions (as a friend put it, who also lives in a travel trailer, "You empty your pockets and its time to clean house!"). It has encouraged us to be more organized as well. For example, we have many of our shoes hanging from a peg-board, we hang plastic bags we've washed for re-use from cup hooks using clothes-pins and our bed is built up on a loft which provides a "root cellar" and cool storage space below! Such a small space encourages us to get outside often for walks and find projects that can be done in the shop-space we have in the barn.

We can dream, can't we?
However, as much as we love our little home, lately we have begun to feel urges to move to a new situation. We would like a place with 3-4 bedrooms so we would have room to invite guests to stay; host some interns to learn about the "Sharing Gardens"  - to transplant this model to other towns and cities. Ideally our expenses wouldn't rise too steeply. A fixer-upper farmhouse, or care-taking situation where we could do work-trade for part of our rent could be a real win-win. We'd like a place we could really grow into--developing a garden site on the property, managing a greenhouse; having a shop-space for projects and a big enough living room to host song-circles, other community-building gatherings and classes in rural-arts skills as we've outlined in our Mission Statement.

These times we're living in are calling for people to return to having many basic skills our grandparents took for granted: growing and storing food, repairing things instead of just getting new ones, making and mending clothes and taking care of each other in a spirit of family, "neighborhood" and community. We would like to create a welcoming home/school where people could teach and learn these kinds of skills and develop friendships based on the meaningful exchange of information and service. Do you happen to know of such a place? We'd like to hear from you.

Planting trees.
In an effort to increase our cash-flow and prepare the ground for this next step in the "Sharing Gardens" ministry, Chris and I would like to offer our services to the people in Alpine, Monroe, Junction City and Harrisburg on a sliding scale basis. Both of us bring skills and experience in a variety of trades, from gardening and landscape maintenance, to painting and handyman work. We can also do cleaning, hauling and organizing. Your support in hiring us will go directly towards keeping the "Sharing Gardens", and all they stand for, thriving and blossoming in South Benton County and beyond!

We can be reached by phone or email:

Llyn and Chris - (541) 847-8797
Click here to send an email

The Sharing Gardens is a non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist entirely through donations. If you have found benefit from our project or our site, please consider making a donation through PayPal. (Click button below.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

An Inspiring Village - Todmorden, England

Todmorden resident, Estelle Brown, displays a basket of town-grown veggies.
Imagine if the "Sharing Gardens" grew beyond the two established plots to include the whole towns of Alpine and Monroe they are nestled in? Imagine walking down Commercial street and grazing on some fresh-picked peas as you pass City Hall, or later in the summer picking a bouquet of flowers from the curb-side plots in front of people's houses you pass to give to a friend you're visiting in the hills near the water tower? If you live in a larger city, imagine whole neighborhoods growing food and flowers in publicly accessible plots in order to build a sense of community, and create greater food-security as well. This could be possible if we adopted a way of life like the group, Incredible Edibles has done in Todmorden, England.

They began modestly enough: just a few small gardens in public spaces around town, using their own tools, seeds and physical effort. Gradually more and more people became involved and things, well, really "blossomed"! The gardens are on public and private land: in people's yards, in front of the police station, at a bus stop... Though in recent times they have begun to receive recognition for their efforts and some monetary awards as well, the project has been primarily an all-volunteer effort.

Here are links to three articles I found about Incredible Edibles in Todmorden, England - a real inspiration!

Britain's "Greenest" Town

Improved Civic Life through Growing Vegetables

Carrots in the Carpark; Radishes in the Roundabouts