EVERYBODY WHO HAS A VEGETABLE PATCH or a fruit tree is familiar with the seasonal boom and bust cycle of growth. We spend our free time tending and nurturing plants into maximum productivity only to discover that a bucket of kumquats is sufficient for a normal human and an additional five buckets is just ridiculous. We’re too good at growing!
There are many ways of dealing with gluts, including preserving for long-term storage and sharing the abundance among family. As a last resort, animal fodder or composting.
Sharing — a radical notion
Perhaps a bit more radical is the notion of sharing or swapping with strangers. Sharing is already a troubling idea for many in the self-centred society in which we live… and strangers are to be feared, aren’t they?
Luckily, after you’ve swapped homegrown vegetables with someone and chatted about best practice in pumpkin seed-saving over a cup of coffee, you’re no longer strangers!
A new idea and a good one
This idea of swapping produce within the community is the basis of a number of schemes popping-up around Australia. All these schemes have common goals including community building, avoiding food waste, increasing food security, sharing garden knowledge and resources, re-localising food production and ensuring that the food we eat is as healthy and natural as it possibly can be.
It was for exactly these reasons that we recently started the Waste Not! Fruit and Veg Swap here in Wollongong, NSW. Originally, a version of this idea was hatched when my partner and I lived in England. We had an allotment and were constantly astonished at the amount of food other people left to rot. Worse was the fact that our allotments were surrounded by council housing, the residents of which had very limited access to fresh food. We had an idea to collect the excess produce and distribute it among the local community, perhaps as a box scheme.
Fast forward a year and we now find ourselves in the Illawarra, one of the most fertile and productive areas in Australia. Our temperate climate with sub-tropical niches allows us to grow just about everything that’s good to eat. But just like England, the local ability to grow food outstrips the opportunities to redistribute the excess.
After consulting with Jonny at the CERES project Urban Orchard (the best known and longest running swap: the Waste Not! swap was launched several months ago.
www.ceres.org.au/farm/urbanorchard/) and with the support of our local community garden (The Garden: firstname.lastname@example.org
It really works. Participants bring their excess lemongrass, bok choi and coriander and leave with an armful of lettuce, kale and parsley. No money changes hands and the fairness of exchange is left to the individual. So far this has worked a treat, mostly due to the fact that everyone understands that we are building community and that trust/integrity is essential.
Our friends from the Port Kembla Men’s Group, who are developing a social enterprise café, add value to the event by serving up fantastic fair-trade coffee. Participants hang-out, admire the beautiful (and often unusual) produce, have a chat and meet new people. It’s a social event with a purpose, and a very nice way to spend a sunny Saturday morning.
Is it crazy to suggest that every Australian city should have numerous community swaps to redistribute excess backyard produce? There may come a day when local urban agriculture is essential to our food needs. In this context, produce swaps could play a vital role within community networks ensuring we are resilient, healthy and happy now and into the future.
So, gather up your excess backyard produce, get down to your local community garden to share the wealth and celebrate the emergence of the fruit and vegetable swap!
Story and photos: John, Illawarra food-swap catalyst, Wollongong North Community Garden