According to sources, veggie swaps in Australia first took off in Brunswick, Melbourne, in 2004 with the CERES Urban Orchard Project. The initial idea was to map household fruit tree plantings in the inner city local government areas of Moreland and Darebin, and to encourage householders to gather surplus and unwanted fruit and bring them to a central venue on a regular basis to exchange for other produce.
From those humble beginnings the CERES Urban Orchard now takes place every Saturday, with residents from over 200 households bringing their veggies, herbs, fruit, backyard eggs and more to exchange.
CERES can hardly claim ownership of the concept of swapping backyard produce, of course. As older readers will no doubt recall, the swapping of produce across the backyard fence would have been commonplace fifty or sixty years ago, when the tradition of home food growing was commonplace.
But the backyard veggie garden is making a comeback. Consistent with a ‘DIY’ and collaborative ethos of a small but growing food movement in Australia, a loose network of semi-structured ‘veggie swaps’ is now emerging to help backyard gardeners meet like-minded souls and find a good home for their surplus parsley, kale and pumpkins.
By some estimates there are now over a dozen regular veggie swaps in Melbourne, ranging from the large and public swaps like CERES and the Yarra Urban Harvest which happens once a month on parkland bordering Alexandra Parade, to smaller neighbourhood swaps such as the Bulleen Art and Garden (BAAG) monthly swap, and the Kildonan Fresh Food Swap, also held monthly on Sydney Rd, Coburg.
Veggie swaps are also popping up in other places, such as West Croydon in Adelaide. Bellingen had a veggie swap for a number of years.
And on 23rd June the first veggie swap was held at Sawtell Public School, from 11.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m. As one of the organisers I really didn’t know what to expect – we thought only a few close friends might turn up, with perhaps a few bunches of parsley.
But we – and school principal, Michael Cheers – were very pleasantly surprised. Over 25 people of all ages attending, including students with their parents, but also neighbours and residents from the surrounding streets.
And we were delighted to welcome Dave Pepper, who travelled all the way from Glenifer, and brought a ute full of ‘naughty pumpkins’ (naughty because they burst out of the compost and rambled all over the garden), along with buckets of sweet limes, mandarins, chokos, sweet potatoes and tumeric.
Other produce included organic bananas from Orara, a wide selection of herbs, many lovingly tied in bundles (thyme, rosemary, parsley, mint, coriander, holy basil, Vietnamese mint and lemon myrtle); comfrey, lemon grass, ginger, rhubarb, packets of rocket and lettuce, chicory and salad burnet. The school exchanged broccoli seedlings, propagated Geraniums, and native Dendrobium kingianum pups.
And to top it all we even had jars of homemade sauerkraut. Not to mention homemade cakes and cookies, with cups of tea and coffee.
The sun shone brightly as we chatted amongst the thriving school garden nestled amongst the gum trees. The produce was laid out on trestle tables and introduced by those who brought it, and then the ‘swapping’ begun: all present filled their baskets with what they wanted. There was plenty to go round and some to spare.
Everyone enjoyed themselves; and everyone went home to tell a friend about it. The next swap will be on Sunday 21st July, from 11.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m. If you want more information, write to Juliet Thomas, firstname.lastname@example.org.