Growing backyard fruit and vegetables is a popular activity. For me, it brings simple pleasures such as connecting with the earth and watching plants grow and multiply. It also saves us money, provides us with high quality, safe food, and reduces our environmental impact. Starting an orchard and vegetable garden was one of the things I most looked forward to when we bought our first home, and letting it go was one of the hardest things I had to do when we moved. However, I’ve started afresh and like many backyard growers we sometimes have excess food, seeds, and plants.

One way of dealing with this excess is to share it with friends, family and work colleagues, but not everyone has these social connections in their community.

Another way is to preserve the food but many people don’t know how, don’t have the time to spend in the kitchen, or don’t have the space to store the surplus.

A third option is to find or start a produce swap (also known as food swaps or crop swaps) for backyard growers. If you are in Gippsland, check out this map to find a produce swap near you.

Produce swaps have become very popular since I started the Poowong Produce Swap in early 2010 which ran for four years with the help of others. Back then I could only find two other groups in all of Australia. So not long after we started I found myself giving presentations, taking phone calls, and answering emails from all over Australia about how to set up a swap. Technology and the uptake of social media has raced ahead since 2010 giving people online methods of sharing backyard produce, but I still think there is a place for the original idea of coming together to redistribute the food that has been grown.

The Poowong Produce Swap. People leave their excess food on tables and take what they can use from the excess left by others.
The Poowong Produce Swap. People leave their excess food on tables and take what they can use from the excess left by others.

How does a produce swap work?

A produce swap works by having a set time and place for backyard growers to bring their excess food to share with other members. It is a very casual affair and nobody keeps score. By bringing your produce you are saying that you are happy for anyone to take what they need because it is excess to your needs. It is simply a way of sharing your food with the people in your neighbourhood.

Gatherings might last for an hour or people could leave food on a table and take what they like as they pass by. This approach works well on market days but does require someone to take responsibility for any leftover produce. That might involve taking it home to the compost heap or chickens or donating it to an organisation willing to use it.

Items being swapped and shared at a Poowong Produce Swap meet.
Items being swapped and shared at a Poowong Produce Swap.

If you choose to hold the swap on public land, you should check with your local council about permit requirements and other needs. Be aware that you are not allowed to sell the food without all the correct permits. If you would like to invite non growers to benefit from the swap you could welcome them with open arms or you could ask that they provide a donation which goes towards advertising or a special project. I organised workshops on keeping happy hens, propagating, and pruning for members of the Poowong Produce Swap using this approach.

A pruning workshop at Strzelecki Heritage Apples for members of the Poowong Produce Swap.
A pruning workshop at Strzelecki Heritage Apples for members of the Poowong Produce Swap.

What are the benefits of a produce swap?

I discovered an immense number of benefits from participating in our produce swap.

  • I found people who were thrilled about taking my excess food which would have been composted.
  • I could enjoy delicious seasonal food that wasn’t growing in my garden.
  • I saved money.
  • By not shopping in a supermarket I avoided the issues associated with large food miles.
  • I discovered local food that I had never heard of before.
  • People gave me cuttings, seedlings and seeds to start growing these new foods myself.
  • There was no packaging involved except for maybe a plant wrapped in newspaper, an envelope to hold seeds in, or a reused pot or jar.
  • People shared gardening tips, cooking tips, and other ways to use the produce – I learnt so much!
  • I made lots of new friends in my community of all different ages and backgrounds. I got to know some wonderful people and I am really thankful for this.

If this sounds great to you, get growing and share what you don’t need.

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