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In an ideal world, we’d all have a friendly neighbor willing to loan us a cup of sugar, a post-hole digger or a shovel. The nice lady down the street could do your taxes while you clean out her garage, and a few of your friends would drop by to help you mulch your garden beds. It turns out that you don’t have to live in an ideal world or even that close to people who share their equipment, expertise and enthusiasm: Organizations across the United States and around the world can help you to share tools, skills and labor with people in your community. Organizations across the United States and around the world can help you to share tools, skills and labor with people in your community. Tool libraries, time banks and work parties are opportunities for reciprocity and collaboration that no urban farmer should miss.
1. Tool Libraries
A library is an excellent place to find out when to plant seeds, what to feed chickens and how to preserve food, but when you’re ready to put down the books and start turning the soil, building a coop or canning salsa, a tool library is what you need. Some tool libraries are part of a town’s public library system, while others are separate nonprofit organizations that require membership or a small fee to join. A tool library card gives you access to thousands of tools for building, gardening, home maintenance, and often canning, brewing or cooking. You can find anything from a cider press or a pair of pliers to an ice-cream maker, a wheelbarrow or a compost aerator.
Originally started to support community revitalization, tool libraries are being established to encourage sustainable living, sharing and collaboration. Shana Hostetter, a volunteer organizer of the Maine Tool Library, in Portland, Maine, believes that the success of a tool library depends on a getting away from the idea of individual ownership. As she points out, shifting our economy to one that values shared ownership is necessary to create a sustainable future.
Sharing tools not only saves money and allows more people access, it also creates the invaluable resources of community and connection. Chances are you will meet other library members or staff who can tell you exactly which drill bit to use or give you tips for building a hoop house. Many libraries host fix-it nights so you can bring in something that is broken and learn how to to make it work. A tool library can put an entire city’s worth of tools, knowledge and expertise at your fingertips.
To locate a tool library near you, visit LocalTools.org.
2. Time Banks
Maybe borrowing a book or a set of tools from the library isn’t enough for you to learn how to sew curtains or make jerky. Maybe you don’t have the time or skills to build the raised beds you want for your backyard. Time banks provide the perfect opportunity to connect with people who have the skills you really need.
Time banks don’t involve money; instead, they focus on time, a commodity that no one can get enough of. Members provide services for one another, and everyone’s time is valued equally, regardless of the services they offer. As a member of a time bank, you might bake a cake, prune trees, tutor or design a website which will earn hours for your time-bank account. You can “spend” these hours on services from other people, like legal counseling, car repair, massage or carpentry.
Time banks are truly a wealth of resources which allow their members to access skills and services that would otherwise be a significant financial investment. Although you can save money this way, time banks aim to impact more than just your wallet. TimeBanks USA, a nonprofit advocate for time banking, believes that this model supports and values the work it takes to create a healthy, thriving community, which is not always a priority in the monetary economy. People whose work is not financially lucrative can get the goods they need, provide valuable services and find stronger financial footing with time banking. Everyone who participates is making an investment in their community while getting back just as much, if not more, than they give.
3. Work Parties
The self-reliant path is so much more enjoyable when there are others walking down it with you. Tool libraries and time banks are two ways to find community and connections, but intentionally gathering a group of people to work on a common goal is another incredibly satisfying and productive approach to urban farming.
Farmers of generations past helped each other to harvest crops and build barns, and there are still many ways to do this today. Closest to an actual barn-raising is a community work party, in which people gather together to build, maintain and transform a piece of land. Often these work parties are organized in support of a community garden, park or nonprofit that relies on volunteer labor, but they can also be done on an individual’s land to accomplish big projects, made lighter by many hands.
One type of work party growing in popularity worldwide is the Permablitz. Permaculture, a philosophy of ecological design that works with nature, is ideal for growing food in small spaces and encourages collaboration of all kinds. Permablitzes yield huge results for the land owner, but they also ensure that everyone gives something and gets something in return. The Permablitz host provides and plans the necessary materials to build gardens, plant trees and accomplish other tasks. Participants help to transform a piece of land and in return they learn and practice skills that they can use in their own gardens. Working together is an opportunity to connect with like minded growers, to have fun while working hard, and to create more growing spaces in your community.
Search for work parties and Permablitzes in your area or visit their website for ideas on how to get started.