Maine Land Share: What it Is & How it Works

Overview

The Maine Land Share Project is organized as a statewide, cooperative hub to coordinate land sharing for sustainable, community food production and to help connect land-sharing gardeners and farmers with resources to support their growing and distribution efforts. In making these connections, we are committed to seeking land justice–prioritizing land and resource access for members of communities most affected by structural injustice, including colonialism, racism, and class inequality. 

Current collaborating organizations are Land in Common, Presente! Maine, and The Resilience Hub.

We are collecting land offers, land needs, and resource-sharing ideas using online surveys that link to a database. Using this information, we will work to find matches that meet everyone’s needs and requests and to find the resources needed to support new food-growing projects. In making these connections, we prioritize requests from members of communities most affected by historical harms and current social and economic challenges. We may not always be able to find a match in each location, but we will do our best.

We describe more below about how, exactly, this all works and what we can offer in support of each land-sharing site.

Why Land Sharing Matters Now

As the reality of COVID-19 grows and we respond with necessary protections, many of the systems that we’ve relied upon are shutting down or limiting their operations. People who experienced stability and safety before this crisis are feeling more vulnerable, and people who have long been surviving in the face of difficulty are experiencing even greater challenges. This is a time when we need to come together to build life-sustaining community, grow solidarity, and share resources—all while maintaining safe physical distance to slow down the spread and impact of the virus on those most vulnerable.

It is more important than ever—especially as so many of us are experiencing loss of income,  and as our wider economy comes unraveled—for us to meet our needs as locally and cooperatively as possible. Growing food for ourselves and our communities is one powerful way to meet one of our most basic needs.

In Maine, we have the blessing of abundant land for growing food. But those who have land aren’t always able to use it for this purpose, and those who dream of growing a garden don’t always have access to land. What better way to increase access to healthy food, prepare for possible food system disruptions, build new relationships, and work together in ways that maintain safe distances outdoors than to share land for community food production?

This is what the Maine Land Share Project seeks to do, as best as we can, on a very short time-line: to match those who have land with those who will use it to grow gardens to feed families and communities. 

A Note on Urgent, Imperfect, Action

This is a project that, under normal circumstances, could take a year or more to get up-and-running using best practices of organizing and administration. But the situation of COVID-19 calls for urgent action. We recognize from the outset that this project will have some rough edges and that we will make mistakes as we go. At the same time, we know that even a rough version of this work will literally “bear fruit” that can make real, nourishing impacts in our communities. We commit to doing our best, to seeking and welcoming feedback at every turn, and learning from our experiences. 

How Land Sharing Works

Land in Common is acting as a coordinating “hub,” working with partners, to do the following:

  • Outreach. We have created this online portal, as well as an email version of the call for land offers and requests, and we are working with partners to get the word out as widely as possible. This also involves working with organizers from various communities to connect with people who don’t have access to electronic media. 
  • Intake. We are using a series of Google Forms to collect basic information about land offers, land requests, and resource-sharing possibilities. These forms ask questions that help us identify potential matches (see next point). All information that we collect is confidential and will be seen only by Land in Common project volunteers and partners with whom we are working closely on potential land-matching. 
  • Matching. As we collect information, we will identify potential matches between those offering and those seeking land to use for the growing season. We then reach out to both parties to have a more detailed conversation via phone or video conference, to ensure that the potential match is truly a good one. If both parties are interested in pursuing the match further, we will “virtually” introduce everyone using whatever means are most comfortable and accessible (phone, video, etc). 
  • Values & Safety. As part of this connection process, we ask all parties (those offering and those seeking land) to agree to a set of Guiding Commitments as well as a set of COVID-19 Safety Protocols to ensure that everyone is on the same page about core values and safety. [Note: we are currently in the process of drafting the Safety Protocols based on best practices from others, and will have these ready in time for the growing season] 
  • Land-sharing Agreement. Maine Land Share will also work with both parties to create a custom land-sharing agreement that includes logistics, personal boundaries, resource-sharing arrangements (if any), and other specific needs of land share participants. These, along with a waiver of liability, are then signed by both parties. 
  • Connect & Support. As the season unfolds, Land in Common will do our best to support growers by connecting them with other organizations and individuals who are able to provide needed resources: seeds, seedlings, soil, compost, tools, technical gardening assistance, conflict-resolution services, etc. We will maintain regular contact with both the land-owner and the land users throughout the season to make sure that everyone has what they need and to provide support along the way. 
  • Assessment. Recognizing that this is a big learning experience for everyone, we will be in ongoing conversation with partners and participants, seeking and responding to feedback, and making changes as needed along the way. 

Criteria for Offered Land

To make the project as manageable as possible, we have identified basic criteria for the kind of land we’re encouraging people to share. These include:

  • Land is clearly owned or secured by stable, long-term lease by the person offering it, and this person is empowered to make decisions about its use by others.
  • Land gets direct sunlight for at least 6-8 hours during the growing season (i.e., it is not significantly shaded)
  • Land does not need to be cleared of significant trees, shrubs, or invasives (i.e., it could be tilled or worked without a great deal of prep work). 
  • Soil and drainage are adequate for growing vegetables (i.e., no low-lying wet land with saturated soils, no known toxins such as heavy metals).
  • Reliable (all-season) water source to which a gardener can have regular access. 

Priorities for Matching Land Seekers with Land

In keeping with our core values (Land in Common; Resilience Hub) we will do our land-matching work in ways that prioritize communities that are most affected by racism, colonialism, xenophobia, and class inequality. These communities have also experienced long histories of land dispossession and unequal access to land, and are often faced with the hardest effects of the COVID-19 crisis (See also here).

This does not mean that we will only help match some people and not others with land; we will do our best to make connections for everyone who is interested in growing food this season. It simply means that we will prioritize matches for people from communities whose lives and needs have not been widely prioritized in our society. If you would like to talk further about this approach, please contact us

How You Can Get Involved

  • Are you able to make a financial donation to the project? 100% of donations we collect for this project will go directly to organizers and gardeners/farmers from most-impacted communities. This includes purchase of seeds, soil, tools, and other necessary resources, assistance with childcare and transportation as needed, and support for front-line organizers helping to facilitate work on the land. You can donate here.