Zero waste field trip: Food swap in Australia

I tell you what, Simple Year friends, I get the best post ideas just reading your comments. When Anna shared what grocery shopping looks like in the UK a few weeks back, Loretta chimed in about her experiences in Australia — and how, frustrated by the lack of local produce available in town, she started a food swap.

Um, wait, what?! I can’t be the only one intrigued by such a comment, right?

So I sent her a message and she kindly sent details to share on the blog. The more I learn about this little project of hers, the more I love it. Here’s how the food swap works, in Loretta’s own words:

Bring along your excess produce and place it on the communal table, then take whatever you need. No money exchanges hands, so it’s a frugal way of getting fresh fruit and vegetables! Share friendship, food, recipes and community spirit, and stay for a cuppa.

The first food swap took place in 2014, and, while she and her organizing buddies weren’t sure how many to expect, about 50 came for that inaugural event. “When I saw everyone’s excited, happy faces coming through the door, armed with wicker baskets bursting with their own produce, I thought my heart would burst with pride at how the local community showed up,” she says. “I admit I had a tear in my eye, too.”

The event has grown into a monthly gathering and is a way for people to share excess goods ranging from fruit and veggies to preserves and eggs. It attracts residents of nearby towns as well.

Besides homegrown items, the food swap also provides an opportunity for participants to share ideas, seedlings, recipes and knowledge about growing, eating and cooking, according to the nice writeup she sent me about their first event. She also noted in the same article that her town’s location and reputation as a strong agricultural area made it a perfect place to host such a swap.

They get a variety of people passing through — “homeschoolers, little old couples who have lived in town forever, uni students setting up gardens at their rental properties, school mums with kids, farmers.” It’s a good way to meet people, she says.

“Not having money exchanging hands is a really important point,” she says. “… Some swaps charge gold coin ($1 or $2) for entry to cover their insurance costs. I went to one once, and the vibe was just cold! Free is good.”

But she adds that they “agonized” over what to say to people who wandered in and wanted to purchase something.

“At our first swap an adorable old lady wandered in and wanted to buy some lemon curd and we said no. I am still kicking myself for not just offering her a jar for free. Now, if we have visitors to the area, or just locals popping in to see what it’s all about, we let them take what they want (and there is always excess). However, we don’t have enough excess to donate to the Food Bank in the next big town just yet. We either take it home (there is always lots of leafy greens/herbs) for our chooks, or give them to the local pubs/restaurants.”

(Can I just say right now that I am super jealous of those lemons? I totally am. Lemons are not a Pacific Northwest fruit.)

I think what appeals me the most about this is that it’s truly a neighbors helping neighbors kind of thing — a way to insure garden abundance doesn’t go to waste, to get items into the hands of those who need them (i.e, I have five tons of tomatoes but no eggs), and foster a sense of community. Plus, you know, no packaging, etc. This would be fun to plan as a block party — anything more than that would require a team to help get it going. (Lots of logistics to work out the bigger it gets.)

There are five people who organize this food swap — Loretta is the point of contact and sends out monthly reminders via email. There’s a woman who has donated the use of her storefront, and then three of Loretta’s friends, “one of whom is usually there to help set up and greet people at the door, and get contact details from newbies.”

I especially love that, in areas where farmers’ markets are lacking, or local food isn’t really available, that this would give people the option of choosing homegrown food.

Again, many thanks to Loretta for taking the time to share this with us. I really, really wish I could see this firsthand!

Next up: Five items I no longer buy at the grocery store.