Ben Hart – HerbShare

Profile-Ben-Hart-HerbshareThere’s a great deal of interest in HerbShare at the moment – and for good reason – they are currently crowdfunding to jump start their project; one that encourages the mapping and sharing of herbs between neighbours, and a simple signage system to give you the go ahead to grab some if you need it.

Update Jul 1, 2014: Unfortunately HerbShare did not reach their funding goal – this time. Don’t expect that to be the last you hear from them though. We’ll keep you updated on any new developments.

One of the Co-Founders of HerbShare, Ben Hart gives us some more details about the project, what started it all, and what he’s currently growing in his garden.

What was the motivation to start HerbShare? Around two years ago I was cooking a lamb roast at home on a Sunday night and had forgotten to get rosemary. I wasn’t growing any at the time and the greengrocer had closed so I went out searching in the neighbourhood and pretty quickly found some sticking out of a  neighbour’s front fence. I took some but as I was walking home, feeling guilty, I started thinking about how good it would be if there was a map of the neigbourhood where all the herbs grew and it was the people who grew the herbs that put them on the map, so people weren’t having to sneak around in the dark.

I spoke to my brother Flynn, who is a landscape architect, about how you could develop the idea as a project. He and his business partner, Dan Nunan had recently set up a new firm called Pollen Studio and had already created some great community projects, mainly for councils.

Over lots of coffees and pre-work meetings we started refining our ideas HerbShare. Over this process we arrived at key principles, things like to access the map you also need to have your own herbs on the map so that everyone was giving and taking. We also came up with the idea of the two sided marker that indicated to other HerbSharers whether the herbs were available for picking or needed a rest.

We’ve also done some design work on how the maps will look on the web but really the most important thing is to get some funds to get it off the ground. That’s why we launched a crowdfunding campaign in May to raise money to build the site.

Why did it start? There’s so much food growing all around us and we really only ever use a fraction of it. So for us this is about unlocking a hidden food source that exists across urban and other populated areas.

It’s also about community. In the city it’s so easy to get sucked into your house and stop engaging with your neighbours. HerbShare is about creating those chance encounters between neighbours that lead to conversations and sharing of information about herbs, cooking and other things.

Finally, there’s a cost issue. Fresh herbs from the supermarket or greengrocer are really expensive. HerbShare creates a neighbourhood-wide, free food network that allows people to cook with delicious, fresh ingredients at absolutely no cost.

What’s its purpose? We joke that if HerbShare’s purpose is to make supermarket herbs a thing of the past, because everyone will be able to get all the fresh herbs they need from HerbShare.

What are you hoping to achieve? I think it’s good to have big, expansive ideas about what we could achieve. We obviously haven’t started yet and may not get to our target with the crowdfunding campaign this time around, but the ultimate goal is to have people joining up to HerbShare in cities and towns across Australia and beyond. Importantly, we want some of them to be people who have never grown herbs before. HerbShare isn’t just about mapping existing herbs. It’s about encouraging everyone to grow their own food and share it with their neighbours.

What’s your passion? I’m passionate about helping to strengthen neighbourhood connections by encourage people to create their own community resource. That idea that you can take something that previously you may have just grown for yourself, behind your fence, and making it available for anyone: friends or strangers.

I love it when I come home and some of my mint or parsley is gone. It means someone, somewhere has used it to feed themselves and their friends or family. That’s such a good feeling.

What kind of garden do you have? We have a small terrace in the inner north of Melbourne so there’s no room to grow herbs in our back courtyard. Flynn helped me build some planters from plastic tubs. I put them out in the laneway next to our house and started growing herbs in it. It became a bit of a testing ground for the ideas we were having about HerbShare, like the reversible markers. My 8 year old son, Oscar, made a sign that basically says to the neighbours: ‘These herbs are for everyone’.

What would we find growing in your garden? Sage, Parsley, Mint, Rosemary, Rhubarb

How would you describe your gardening style? Conscientious but not based on a huge amount of knowledge. I ask our mum, who is a fantastic gardener, a lot of questions. If something works, I keep doing it. If something doesn’t, I ask Mum how to fix it.

What’s your favourite fruit or veg to grow and why? Rhubarb is really the only ‘veg’ I grow. One of the tubs is exclusively devoted to rhubarb. It’s taken about three years but it’s finally starting to produce some decent stalks (if that’s what you call them).

Your favourite meal with food/produce straight from the garden? Anything with fresh herbs. Last night I made a shepherds pie and grabbed masses of thyme to put in right at the start. It came up really well.

Garden gnomes: Yes or no? No, not even in an ironic way.

To find our more about HerbShare, join their Facebook page:


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