Don’t you just hate waste – especially when jobs are disappearing? The US Yes Magazine is currently talking about producing local food. I followed up some ideas and found some good local info about growing and sharing produce.
More and more people are wondering how they will put food on the table. If you have veggie garden overload HOW can you share it?
In November 2007, Friends of the Earth Adelaide and the Goodwood Goodfood Co-op – inspired by Melbourne’s CERES Community Environment Park launched a homegrown fruit and vegetable exchange in the inner south-western suburbs of Adelaide. People have been doing this for yonks but maybe it’s time to really get behind the concept?
Start off with collaborative people in a region/suburb who are passionate about food and gardening. They’ll need a community venue/public space and kitchen facilities – this could be community centre or a market. They’ll also need a table, chairs, signs, sandwich board, labels for food and banners.
1. “Talk about the idea with people who you think might be interested in participating.
They could be neighbours or friends in your area. If you can find people who are excited by the idea, begin to plan together what you’d like to see as part of the exchange.
2. Brainstorm what venues would be good to hold the exchange at.
Ideally, it should be public, easily accessible and open to the involvement of a broad spectrum of participants. It could be a community or farmers’ market, it could be in a town square, or in or near a community centre. Consider what facilities it may need to have:
Toilets – a kitchen if you plan on conducting workshops on food preserving – does it have its own tables and chairs that you can use, so you don’t have to transport them?
Think about what other regular events happen in your community that the exchange could be a part of.
In Adelaide, we chose to conduct the exchange at a council-owned community centre that is famous for its food co-ops. We hold the exchange monthly, to coincide with the co-ops and a Local Exchange and Trading System (LETS) Community Market. In Melbourne, the Urban Orchard is part of a weekly organic produce market held at the CERES community environment park.
3. Consider approaching your local council and discussing your idea with them.
It’s the kind of thing that councils often like to support, and they could be willing to offer support with a venue, publicity, photocopying and advertising. They may already have a similar project running that you could support.
4. Contact local health services, food banks or homeless support organisations in your community to get a sense of what kind of foods they might accept or find useful should the exchange ever get a surplus of produce that can’t be distributed or processed among the participants.
5. You may wish to develop a brief questionnaire to distribute in your community.
This can serve a number of purposes:
It begins the process of building a network of contacts interested in the project, – it gives you a sense of what produce is available when (and thus allows you to get an indication of what workshops will be appropriate and whether the exchange will go into hibernation during certain times of the year), – it allows people to offer ideas and suggestions for what they’d like to see as part of the project and, it promotes the concept.
We distributed the questionnaire through targeted letterboxing (if you can see a fruit tree, put a questionnaire in the letterbox) and through an online survey, promoted through email (you can develop free online surveys at websites like http://www.surveymonkey.com).
Contact community and school gardens in your area and invite them to participate. You may also consider what address you want the paper surveys returned to. It could be someone’s residential address, or care of the council (with their permission).
Consider also providing an option for people on a low income: they can drop it into a box at the council offices if the cost of a stamp is a problem, for example.
Consider also whether you’d like to get the questionnaire translated into other languages.
We chose to translate our questionnaire into Italian, Greek, Mandarin and Arabic, as census data showed that these were predominant languages other than English in our area, or that cultural groups that speak these languages regularly use the community centre we planned to use as our venue.
Friends of the Earth has a translation service, and may be able to assist with translating your questionnaires.
Consider what kind of membership system you would like. In Adelaide, we’ve kept the system very informal. We considered the need for a formal membership process (for example, people receiving a membership card once they’ve registered) but found that people responded well to the idea of self-regulating participation.
The responsibility to contribute is on individuals, demonstrating trust that people will “do the right thing”. That no one keeps count of how much individuals have taken and brought is something people appreciate. After all, the central idea of the exchange is to share surplus, guided by the simple principle of contributing what you can and taking what you can use – or as CERES’ Urban Orchard slogan goes: “donate and take-away”. This format ensures that all the food is distributed and that the project remains accessible.
No one is excluded from participating if they don’t have produce available at a particular time.
6. Once you have the basic details of your exchange sorted out (venue, regularity, starting and finishing times, starting date), start promoting it to the contacts you’ve collected through the questionnaire, through the council or community centres, relevant community groups (permaculture groups, seed savers, rare fruit societies, Slow Food) and your local media.
Getting local media coverage will give your exchange extra exposure and may draw in further participants.
7. Consider what equipment you might need to have at the exchange, and begin to assemble a basic kit. It might include an eye-catching banner to be hung along the front of the table, or a sandwich board, plenty of surveys or flyers about the event for people to take, a contact list for people to leave their names and details and some kind of list where people can volunteer to set-up or pack-up at future exchanges.
We also have a blackboard available where people can write what they hope to bring next month, and have also been planning to make reusable labels for all the produce indicating the area it was grown and its ‘food miles’ (for example: “Grapes, Black Forest, 400 metres (transported by bike!)”).
8. On the day, talk to curious passers-by, chat, eat good food and share ideas for what to do with artichokes. Don’t feel any pressure to rush into having a spectacular program of workshops scheduled from the very beginning. Let it grow, and see what direction it takes.
We’re four months into our exchange in Adelaide, and we’re still to have a proper workshop. However, we can always guarantee delicious fresh fruit and scintillating conversation!
One of the exciting by-products of such a community event is that it ends up being an informal skills exchange, as people inevitably share how they’ve grown a particular thing, or how to prepare some other mysterious herb or vegetable.
There are also a number of unexpected opportunities such a project might attract. As the reputation of the exchange has grown, we’ve also begun to receive invitations from local farmers or land-owners who don’t have the time or capacity to harvest a particular crop, but are happy for us to come and ensure it doesn’t go to waste.
As the project grows, it might eventually be held fortnightly, alternating between the community centre and a local farmers’ market. Perhaps most unexpectedly, in 2008 the WOMADelaide world music festival invited us to conduct a fruit and vegetable exchange and workshop there.
9. As the project grows, think about developing some kind of roster system for setting up, monitoring and packing up the stall.
This will ensure that the responsibilities for running the project are shared over a greater amount of people, cultivating broader community involvement and ownership of the exchange.
For more information, visit:
You’ll be amazed by what can be preserved from what your veggie garden produces. With ten quarts of pumpkin puree in the pantry, and not a jar of tomato sauce left? Throw a bottling/preserving swap party!
Gauge interest with your friends early on. Then remind them throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting season to set aside extras for canning and swapping.
Don’t be afraid to grow a lot of something.
If you’re a budding salsa artist, plant that extra row of tomatoes. Or if you see a good deal on a box of local pears—get them.
Ferne Edwards, Sustainable Cities Research Officer with the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL), is passionate about food, all the associated issues plus suggestions for possible future directions. Her Mapping Meals paper is well worth the read.
Ferne presented her food mapping work at the 2008 Agri-Food conference in Sydney and if you click here you will reach the VEIL website and the link to Ferne’s Melbourne Food Map paper.