Heads Up Homesteaders: Crop Swap Begins in Berkeley

by Sarah Henry on July 18, 2011 · 21 comments

in berkeley bites,community gardens,food events,growing greens,urban farming,vegetables

It’s that time of year when the abundance from a backyard vegetable garden can be a tad prolific. How many zucchini squash can one family eat? Or perhaps your produce problem comes from human error: you simply planted way too many onions and not enough greens.

Help is on the way. Beginning tonight the people behind the newly formed grassroots group Transition Berkeley invite residents to share their harvest at a Crop Swap in the public park next to the Ohlone Greenway on Sacramento Street.

It couldn’t be simpler: you show up with your freshly harvested lettuces or lemons and share or swap them for some plums or potatoes. That’s it. No money changes hands.

Berkeley is just one of a grassroots network of more than 300 transition towns around the globe organizing their communities to become more resilient, self-reliant and sustainable. In keeping with that philosophy, the Berkeley coalition, which numbers 80 members and counting, encourages locals to lower their carbon footprint, grow food close to home, pool resources, reduce their use of fossil fuels and foster community. Such behaviors are critical, transition advocates say, to facing challenges such as climate change, oil dependency and depletion, and a persistent economic downturn.

The nascent group, which held its first meeting at the Ecology Center in February, has co-sponsored a garden building day, conducted an emergency preparedness workshop, and hosted a potluck film screening. Members hope to work with local government, business, and community leaders to achieve its mission. One defined goal: to help the city cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, as mandated in the Climate Action Plan.

But back to the far easier matter of exchanging excess fruits and vegetables. Gardeners who grow their own food have always shared their surplus with neighbors. Who among us hasn’t been the beneficiary of spinach, rhubarb, or cucumbers from the avid grower next door? Or, as Leah Garchik recently noted in her Chronicle column, arugula and cilantro, the Berkeley equivalent of summer surplus.

The Crop Swap simply invites fellow urban food farmers to trade kale or carrots beyond their block. Similar swaps are already under way in Albany and Oakland.

“We hope this will be a forum for people to get to know others in the community who grow produce and exchange ideas about growing food,” said co-organizer Carole Bennett-Simmons, a retired public school teacher, who tends a plot at the Peralta Community Garden, where she’s currently harvesting Swiss chard, bok choy, and beets.

Folks are encouraged to walk, bike, or catch public transit and come share their homegrown, ripe goods, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Plans are to run the Monday meet-up through October and then return in the early spring with seeds and starts for garden planting.

Share food, save money, eat well. Sounds like a Michael Pollan-inspired recipe for success.

Crop Swap takes place on Mondays, starting July 18, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., in the public park next to the Ohlone Greenway on the east side of Sacramento Street at Delaware, across from the North Berkeley BART station

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

merr July 19, 2011 at 9:56 am

Good food, good community and friend building. Very inspiring on many levels.


Sarah Henry July 19, 2011 at 11:33 am

New recipes, too, or so I learned at last night’s crop swap. Who ever thought of adding angelica to homemade ice cream?


Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi July 19, 2011 at 11:04 am

I sure could have used something like this during feijoa (pineapple guava) season. Two hundred kilos of a fruit that doesn’t keep for more than a few days at a time is more than the two of us can eat fresh and I only managed to preserve half of it. Most of the rest of it was given away, but it would have been nice to get the odd onion or what not in return!


Sarah Henry July 19, 2011 at 11:35 am

Odd onion, you could have fed yourself and the hubbie on all the bounty you could have traded for those pineapple guava in peak season. Maybe something to think about starting in your neck of the woods next season, M?


Susan July 19, 2011 at 11:43 am

Yum! I swapped some fresh mint from my backyard at a recent food swap but I like the idea of a produce swap because then you can turn the produce into whatever you want.


Sarah Henry July 19, 2011 at 11:50 am

Exactly, and then you can trade your jam, pesto, or mint-flavored liquor at the next food swap. Sharing run amok.


Kerry July 19, 2011 at 2:14 pm

sharing run amok, I like that. so you went to the crop swap? what else did you learn, aside from angelica ice cream recipes? were there many people there, and what crops did they share?


Sarah Henry July 19, 2011 at 2:40 pm
Kris @ Attainable Sustainable July 19, 2011 at 7:37 pm

This is a wonderful idea. I love the community coming together to share abundance. We have a crop swap here, but I’ve yet to attend. My liliko‘i are just coming in, though, so I’ve finally got something to swap.


Sarah Henry July 21, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Will have to pick your brain about your local crop swap for another story I’m writing, Kris, so I hope you have a chance to go soon.


Living Large in our Little House July 20, 2011 at 3:40 am

What a great idea! We do this somewhat around here, although I haven’t had an abundance yet to trade. Our neighbors are kind enough to share anyway.


Sarah Henry July 21, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Sharing excess bounty, formally or informally, is what it’s all about, LLLH.


MyKidsEatSquid July 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Lovely idea, lovely pictures. You mentioned community gardens–as I was reading this I thought that might be a prime spot for other communities to start this. So if they already have a community garden, then those within it could sponsor a swap and invite those who have plots along with members of the community? Just a thought. My community doesn’t have a gardening plot, but a neighboring one does and I like to look at the people working on their plots as I drive by.


Sarah Henry July 21, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I suspect, MKES, that a lot of produce trading takes place in community plots in an informal way. I’m headed down to such a garden tomorrow to pick up my CSA box, so I’ll ask and see.


Melanie Haiken July 20, 2011 at 7:44 pm

This is a great idea; do they do it for fruit, too? I hate watching all the citrus going to waste in my neighborhood, lying under people’s trees when I’d be happy to make lemonade with it. And meanwhile I’m drowning in apples….


Sarah Henry July 21, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Fruit, for sure, M. Lots of plums, lemons, strawberries, loquats, and rhubarb at the first swap. I’m always sharing my Meyer lemons and happy to accept some Santa Rosa plums in exchange (also totally fine with just spreading the wealth and giving away with no expectation of anything in return, as many folks do).


Casey@Good. Food. Stories. July 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Would love to get one of these started in my town – but I don’t think my garden yields enough to participate!


Sarah Henry July 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm

I know what you mean, Casey. I give away excess lemons and some bunches of herbs every now and again but everything else gets eaten on site.


Donna Hull August 6, 2011 at 6:05 am

What a great idea that’s also a community builder. My lemon tree is prolific, I’m always sad to see much of the fruit go to waste. There are only so many ways one can use lemons. Next winter, I’m looking for a food swap.


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