By David Wagstaff and Patrick Mullin, Co-founders, Alfrea
Millions of environmentally conscious Americans are taking up their spades, ripping up their lawns and planting fruit and vegetable crops in an effort to boost heath, save money and reverse climate change.
But not everyone is enjoying the benefits of the new backyard garden movement, and a local New Jersey start-up called Alfrea wants to change that.
The National Gardening Association reports that Americans started four million new home gardens between 2008 and 2013, bringing the new total to an all-time high of 37 million. Over the same period, the number of community gardens tripled from 1 million to 3 million.
But two out of every three Americans still aren’t growing any of their own food.
This is true despite the tangible economic benefits: The same report shows the average gardener invests $70 and reaps a $600 harvest. Plus, numerous studies show incredible health benefits from gardening, ranging from improved mood to a lowered risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and dementia.
Growing your own food can even help reverse climate change, by reducing the number of miles food must travel to get to your table, and by fixing carbon in the soil.
So why isn’t everyone doing it?
“The reasons most often cited by non-gardeners for their inaction are insufficient knowledge and a lack of available land,” biologist and philosopher Branley Allan Branson wrote in Mother Earth News. “The average suburban or inner-city home has no room for a vegetable plot, they say. Furthermore, such individuals often claim that it's terribly difficult for beginners to acquire the know-how that can transform them from greenhorns into green thumbs.”
Alfrea now solves all these problems, and more.
The company has designed an online, social marketplace that empowers gardeners in three ways. First, they help people find a place to start a garden. Second, they connect gardeners with help and expertise when they need it. Third, they provide an online farmers’ market where people can sell the food they grow, and buy from others.
According to the company, they want to empower all Americans to start growing their own food again. The ambition is to start a worldwide movement toward a sustainable food economy. In each community, Alfrea wants to become a full-service food hub for people who want to grow, eat and earn income from local food.
It’s a big dream, but it started small. Co-founder David Wagstaff’s dad has a plot of farm land. He wanted to grow some food, but at 91 years old, he was finding it difficult to manage. There was nobody nearby to help.
Could the sharing economy come to the rescue?
After all, people today rent out rooms in their own houses. They take people for rides in their own cars. They lend tools, set up babysitting swaps, find house-sitters – all online. Could the sharing economy work for gardeners, and people who are passionate about local food?
The answer to that question is yes.
Let’s start with land sharing. Say a young woman named Alice wants to start a garden, but lives in a high rise and has no land. Through Alfrea, Alice can connect with a nearby homeowner who never uses his backyard. She gets a garden, and the homeowner earns some money by renting out the backyard.
The same process can work for community garden organizations who need more space, and for small farmers looking to expand. Developers and cities with vacant lots can post them on Alfrea and find someone to use the space. Simply put, Alfrea connects people who need land with people who have it.
Now, say Alice is heading out of town for the weekend, and the weather forecast is calling for a dry spell. Through Alfrea, she can find and hire someone who offers watering and weeding services for the weekend. Her garden gets watered, and the gardener she hires builds a lucrative part-time business, doing something she loves.
Garden help isn’t just for watering and weeding, either. Alfrea will help grow small businesses that offer garden design and construction, help with tilling, hauling or composting, and guidance on how to deal with soil challenges, weeds and pests. As the growing season comes to a close, gardeners can find someone to help them harvest and preserve their produce. The online sharing platform will connect all kinds of garden- and food-related businesses to customers who love local food, building a strong network of like-minded people in every community.
Finally, let’s say Alice grows too many tomatoes. Alfrea’s online farmers’ market will help her find neighbors who want to buy homegrown, local food. Another win-win. Maybe you have an apple tree, but you’re too busy to pick it – just post on Alfrea, and connect with a neighbor who wants your apples. Perhaps you are an established market gardener with a stall at your local farmer’s market – just post your produce on Alfrea, and expand your market online. Gardeners with surplus produce can even give it to charity through Alfrea!
Alfrea is the destination for people who want to take part in building a strong local food economy in their neighborhoods. It is a movement.
On June 17, 2016, the company launched in New Jersey, Philadelphia, P.A. and Frederick, M.D., and all areas in between, with plans to expand nationwide in the coming years.
Membership is free. Just sign-up and start renting space, hiring help and buying fresh, local food. An affordable upgrade allows you to start selling food or services.
The company’s website is www.alfrea.com.