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The Sunny Side of Sharecropping

Proud sharecropper: Douglas Hopper (New Urban Sharecropper)

Sharecropper used to be a bad word. But in the urban "good food" movement, it's taken on a more positive connotation: someone who borrows outdoor space to grow his or her own food.

That's why Luke Hall named his new blog The New Urban Sharecropper. Without outdoor space of his own, the Washington attorney and his friend Douglas Hopper arranged to farm in a neighbor's backyard.

They built raised beds, and so far they've planted vegetables including zucchini, sugar snap peas, pole beans, peppers, green zebra tomatoes, beets and carrots. For rent, they're sharing some of the bounty. The owners' only other request was that Hall and Hopper plant tomatoes and jalapenos.

Hall, who also helps manage the 14th and U farmers market, had tried to grow tomatoes in containers last summer on his roof. But when his landlord found out, he insisted that get rid of them. This year, Hall, 30, and Hopper, 32, found the space through, which helps wannabe sharecroppers find land-owners willing to share.

(You can read more about the sharing backyards program here.)

Hall's blog charts the process of starting and cultivating a garden. So far the pair hasn't endured major challenges, though Hall did face an aphid scare last week. (If the insects reappear, he's going to get some ladybugs and praying mantis and launch a full-on insect war.) It's a fun read for armchair gardeners like me -- and a kick in the pants: Yes. You really can do this. Even if you live in an apartment with no outdoor space.

"I recognize that [the word "sharecropper"] doesn't have good connotations," Hall said. "But in some ways we're redefining it."

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  June 1, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Sustainable Food  | Tags: Jane Black, Web sites, gardening  
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Next: To Market, to Market: Olney and Garrett Park


I love this idea, especially as an apartment dweller with no dirt or sun to speak of. But I'd be too nervous taking over someone's yard without being a more experienced gardener - it's one thing to learn by trial and error on your own real estate, but the pressure of "sharecropping" would be too much for me! Props to the yard-sharers, though...what an awesome concept!

Posted by: lizlemon | June 1, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

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