The first Fruit and Veg Swap, named the “Urban Orchard”, was initiated by the Friends of the Earth at the Clarence Park Community Centre in 2007. In 2008, Julietta Cerin started the West Croyden Vege Swap at a local park so that she could share the abundant produce from her backyard fig tree rather than let it go to waste. Inspired by these Swaps, the Henley Fruit and Veg Swap began in October 2009 at the Henley Community Garden. The Community Gardeners were generous in offering space, tables, and plenty of encouragement. A monthly event to start off with, the Swap soon proved to be easy and popular and the Henley Swap is now fortnightly. There is now a Swap on the intervening Saturdays as well, which is hosted by the Organic & Sustainable Market at Henley Primary School.
The most frequent question we get asked is: “how does a Fruit and Veg Swap work”?
The Swap is for sharing rather than trading. There’s no weighing or calculating. No money changes hands.
The swap is informal and simple, and works on one main principle: people give whatever surplus home-grown produce they don’t need and can freely give, and they take whatever they can definitely use. So there’s no waste and any leftover food can be given to community groups or donated to the Henley Community Garden fund raising stall.
This is often greeted with disbelief at first but it has a way of working out. Sometimes people ring and say “I’m not sure if I should come, I don’t have anything” or “but I only have three spring onions!” and I always say, come along anyway and say hello. Every time, we have such an abundance of produce that people can be seen running away in terror at the end of the Swap as growers beg them to just take one more silver-beet leaf or an extra handful of herbs, or even scarier, an extra big zucchini!
As well as fruit, veg and herbs, we swap seeds, seedlings or cuttings, compost or vermiculture (worms), bokashi mix, flowers, eggs, honey, preserves, as well as small plant pots and seedling trays. The actual swapping process is usually a quick event. At Henley we have all the produce on the table by 10:30am on a Saturday morning so that people can take what they’d like straightaway and then get on with their weekend if they wish. Some people like to come along at 10am and help set up a table and others like to stay behind and chat until 11am or even longer. The atmosphere is easy-going and friendly.
The Swap gives us the opportunity to share produce over seasons – for example, some people have a huge over-abundance of fruit only once a year. We had washing baskets full of spectacular peaches in summer from one couple with a small yard, and that will probably be their one harvest for the year. In winter they will be able to share in the produce of someone else’s mandarin, orange or lemon tree.
The Swap is not restricted to people with back yards. We’ve had sprouts swapped, which can be grown on an apartment windowsill. Some people don’t have the space to grow fruit but do have the patience and time to preserve someone else’s fruit, and bring it back to share. Some people aren’t keen on growing food but are a great source of seasonal recipes. Everyone and anyone can be encouraged to get involved regardless of space, fitness, age or ability to grow food.
So the Swap has become just as much about swapping skills, wisdom, ideas, and building community as it is about fresh food. There is also the opportunity to share other resources such as tools, recipes, and gardening, harvesting, and cooking techniques. The Swap seems to take on an organic evolving life of its own as Swappers make arrangements to care for each-other’s gardens over holidays or form groups to do other activities together. When you need something for growing or harvesting, someone always has it, from plant pots to recycled jars.
Importantly, the Swap is FUN: People love to share food. Some swappers have said that they’re inspired to grow more seedlings to share. It’s easy to take care of a few more seedlings if you’re looking after some already, and the excess will be really valued and appreciated. People know that it’s ok if they grow capsicums really well but they’re no good with cucumbers, because they can grow lots of capsicums and still enjoy another person’s cucumbers. This all means less resources and time spent by individuals and yet eventually more food for everyone.
There’s also a lot of joy in sitting down to a salad or a meal grown by your own community – It’s just so nice to eat and be on “first name” terms with your food! Instead of just eating a salad for lunch in summer, we find we’re eating Ken’s lettuces with Sue’s tomatoes sprinkled with Bev’s spring onions, followed by a desert of a different Sue’s mulberries and a cup of tea with Nicole and Nic’s honey. Another nice thing is seeing someone bring loads of lemons, and then having other Swappers take them and return with lemon cordial to hand around to everyone at the next Swap.
Now that the Swaps have been going for a while, we can see how the community’s resources cycle and interact over a whole season: for example, I had too many cucumbers in summer and enjoyed offering them at the Swap, but my excess cucumbers were thanks to the cucumber seedlings I got from Len at the beginning of the season. Maybe my cucumbers were even pollinated by some of the bees from Nic and Nicoles’ roof! You can imagine our suburbs one day turning into a vast food producing forest with many caretakers.
At the Organic & Sustainable Market we’ve found that Swaps and local commercial growers can complement each-other. Produce sellers at the Market have been welcoming and supportive toward the Swap, without exception. As back yard growers most of us grow certain varieties of fruit and veg that we know will grow well for us, and are easy to fit into our busy lives and small spaces – plants that are planted once and crop over a long season, like tomatoes. It’s not so practical for most of us to grow food that requires a lot of time in a large patch of ground, like potatoes, onions, or garlic, for which we still need local farmers, and/or bigger urban spaces where we can share the growing of these foods. So whatever we don’t have on the swapping table at the Market, it’s very convenient to be able to buy from the farmer on the next table.
The flipside of this is that backyards can have great microclimates for food that’s harder to grow out in the open on a larger scale in Adelaide, like curry leaves, macadamias, ginger, and bananas (and we’ve had all these at the Swaps). In our backyards, we have the potential to more easily shelter and protect certain crops from weather variations and can create microclimates to nurture food not normally grown here commercially. Also, it’s a lot easier for us to transport small amounts of really soft fruit like sweet persimmons or mulberries just down the road to share at the Swap without getting them too squashed than it is for a farmer travelling a larger distance with bulk amounts.
So let me summarise some great reasons to Swap:
When we Swap, we:
- Reduce waste by redistributing surplus fruit, vegetables, herbs and seeds.
- We encourage good health in our community through easy access to fresh, in-season fruit and vegetables.
- We help build a stronger community, cultivating networks through the neighbourhood.
- We share skills on growing, harvesting and cooking great food.
- We live more sustainably and avoid carbon emissions by eliminating the need for food to travel long distances.
- We enjoy a more varied diet, including fruit and veg not commonly or affordably sold in shops, and to encourage the cultivation of locally developed food varieties that are hardy in our climate and conditions.
- We increase our food security for the challenges of “Peak Oil” and climate change.
- With seed-saving and sharing, we help to ensure the survival and cultivation of open-pollinated plants adapted to our own local environment
- We meet, chat, share, and enjoy each other’s company – quite a few Swappers just really enjoy the opportunity to meet new people in their own neighbourhood
It’s very easy to start a Swap! Grab some neighbours or put a few flyers around, and just name a place and a time. The Swap soon takes on an organic life of its own. A Swap can be as simple as a regular informal meet at a park picnic table – it doesn’t have to have a website or a newsletter, as I’ve chosen to do. Each Swap is going to have its own character, depending on whether it’s in a park, a community garden, hall, at a market, or even at someone’s home.
Would you like to join us, but have nothing to share as yet? Doesn’t matter! Come along and say hello anyway!
See the latest update on this site for the next time and location.
Alison Eastland, voluntary coordinator
West Croyden Vege Swap:
Julietta, voluntary coordinator
Info about The Friends of the Earth’s Urban Orchard Project, and other Swaps in SA: