FARMVILLE DOESN’T COUNT. Nor does weed whacking or hoeing with Wii (if such a thing could be). But what’s going on over at Shared Earth—the Earth Day-launched online organization connecting farmers and gardeners with people with farming/gardening space (Shared Earth prosaically calls them “land owners”)—has exceptional appeal as an inspired venture that truly connects earth, that is, soil or dirt, with the thoroughly modern, Internet-enabled PC. Consider it a promising marriage of old school and new, a fresh kind of dirty, with similar “share” ventures and their best practices pointing the way: Craigslist, Angie’s List, Freecycle, Backpage and UrbanGardenShare, to name a few.

Shared Earth, on its homepage, puts it this way: “Land owners get to make more efficient use of their land. Gardeners and farmers get access to land. Our community is built on the premise that we can create a greener, more organic and efficient world one garden at a time.” The organization, free to join at this point, invites you to create either a garden or gardener profile, which then gets entered into a searchable listing. It’s kind of like an online dating service but for the gardening set—and you don’t even have to enter your astrological sign, favorite happy hour tipple or profess your undying love for Beverley Nichols, Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver or Michael Pollan.

What you do enter is, if you’re a gardener, a headline and description about your gardening, what you can grow, your years of experience (neophytes out there, you can select “none”), how the work and compensation will play out, and if you can provide your own tools. If you have a garden, you enter a headline and description about your garden, its size (the pulldown menu here goes from less than 50 feet to 150 acres), if it’s ready to plant or needs some assistance, if you’re going to help and when gardeners can access your space. That’s all there is to it. You’re in the system, ready to connect and share some earth.

Shared Earth has partnered with the Sustainable Food Center in Austin, Texas, and the Coastal Conservation League in South Carolina, and is looking for additional partners and volunteers. It’s the brainchild of entrepreneur/venture capitalist Adam Dell who connected his land with a gardener online for his eureka!/voila! moment. As I write this, Shared Earth’s website proclaims, “28,079,280 square feet shared,” which to me is much better than “blankety-blank burgers served” any day of the week. There isn’t an imposing number of listings up yet, but they range in location from Brisbane and Nottingham to Little Rock and Onalaska (that’s in Washington state, BTW). And, please keep in mind, this Shared Earth thing is just getting started.

Farmville, Schmarmville—perhaps it’s time to get outside and try the real thing.

Allen

cover_bringing_it1“I LIVE IN A PART OF THE COUNTRY that at one time a good farmer could take some pleasure in looking at,” Wendell Berry intones in the opening essay of his new collection, Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009); a little farther down the page he continues, “Now the country is not well farmed, and driving through it has become a depressing experience.” This somber tone-setting essay, “Nature as Measure,” was written 20 years ago. Poet-essayist-novelist Berry—now in his mid-70s and who has farmed a hillside in his native Henry County, Kentucky, for more than 40 years—has had plenty to rail against when it comes to Big Ag, the politics of indifference and our alienating post-industrial age; but he also has had plenty to celebrate in clear-eyed observations of humankind interacting with nature, the value of true hard work (diametrically opposed to the digitally and plutocratically enabled “work” of accumulating phantom wealth) and the rewarding simplicity of sharing, of family, of community.

An out-of-touch cranky neo-luddite screeching for a return to prelapsarian times? Hardly. Berry’s vision is that of a hardy-yet-hoary realist, tinged by both optimism and pessimism (ah, the foibles of humanity!), attempting to show us a path out of our befoulment, a steaming, festering swamp we teeter face-first ever closer toward. And Berry’s prose? Gracefully worn and weathered to a burnished beauty, like a glacier-cast erratic, transfigurative in its straightforward simplicity. Read More »