A little bit over a year ago (before I knew about my food allergies), I wanted organic fruits and veggies but didn’t like how expensive they were to purchase at my local health food store. So I thought– why can’t we go back in time back when we bartered for our food? “I will trade you a sack of apricots for a loaf of fresh baked bread.” As I would drive around my neighborhood, I would see trees sagging under the pressure of fruit and them dropping on the ground going to waste, except for the rodents having full bellies. Why can’t our neighbors come together once a week and do a produce exchange? In our modern society, bartering is a long ago tradition that no one does these days. I wanted to revive it. So, I set about to make my dream idea as reality.
I went right online to look for such a group, but I did not find one for my area. Instead, I found a website called www.foodswapnetwork.com and searched for the closest one. MapQuest said it was 41 miles away or a 55 min drive. Apparently, MapQuest doesn’t understand California traffic and how those mere 55 mins can turn into 3 hours any given day. But the swap was on a Saturday morning, so I thought, why not? I wanted to see a food swap in action so I could start up my own group in my area.
How Swaps Work
You simply bring something to swap. I was new to the whole gardening thing, so I had nothing to swap at my first one. The host told me I could bring used coffee grinds for gardens, or something for the potluck breakfast. I brought bottled waters.
After I relaxed, I took in my surroundings. There were maybe ten blankets laid out, and each had their own wares on them. I saw bales of straw, bunches of beets and other veggies, sacks of oranges, lemons, and grapefruits. Some people had small seedlings in containers and even some larger seedlings in 1 and 5 gallon containers.
Everyone was milling around talking to their neighbors. I was the only one from Orange County, and had driven the furthest. I had explained that I wanted to see a swap in action so that I could start my own group in my area. These people knew each other and probably talked to each other outside of coming to the swap. I wanted that as much as the bounty of goodies. I left a couple of hours later, after helping to break down and clean up, with a large sack of grapefruits, a mini mango tree, some beets, and avocados. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for me to get the ball going on my idea.
Starting a Food Swap
When I got home, I first made the OC Food Swap Facebook group, then went to Orange County Craigslist to invite people to come and join the group. After two weeks, I had 20 people who asked to joined the group. It was time to have our first swap. I was the creator, so I decided to have it in my yard. We had plenty of parking, a kid and pet friendly area, and I didn’t want to drive to a park and have no one show up, cause then it would be a waste of my time. So, I made the announcement on Facebook and Craigslist, under events, and set up my front yard and waited.
No one came to the first one. But I was excited anyway, and let the group know it was going to happen every week on the same day (Wednesday) and the same open house times 3-5 pm (summer time is 3-6 pm) and that I would see them the next week. No one came the next week, that’s fine. The next week 2 people came; one person from Aliso Viejo and the other from Costa Mesa, we were making progress. But then the next week, no one, and the next week, no one. So I stopped having them.
Perseverance Pays Off
Because everyone has a life, I turned the Facebook group in to a gardening group – just to keep it alive – and kept the ad on Craigslist under community. Every now and then, I would get a request to have someone join the group, but no one wanted to come and swap anything. I was depressed. Summer turned into fall, but no one wanted to meet for a swap. Fall into winter, no one. Winter in to spring, nothing. Now here it is a full year later, and I’m pumping energy back into the group. I was finally able to get our small group listed on the Food Swap Network, and we got some new fresh members to join our group. I also posted it on our NextDoor neighborhood website, and I had actual neighbors from my street come!
After talking to my neighbors, they are very excited about the swap group and told me it was a wonderful idea that they wished I had thought of it sooner. So I explained that I had started it a year ago and did some door-to-door handing out flyers, but no one came. They all agreed that using the NextDoor website was the “way” to go, and that they planned on sharing the event with their neighbors and friends. So, I am very excited to see who and what comes next week.
I had to offer: egg shells, lemon balm, bee balm, mint, orange mint, Egyptian walking onions/scallions, 2 lemons, 2 grapefruits, and a tangerine.
My neighbors brought: homemade whole wheat bread, 2 variations of kale, and 12 seedlings of achojcha (calgua).
I have some left overs that I plan on swapping for more grapefruits from a neighbor who could not make it tomorrow.
http://orangecounty.craigslist.org (Events & Community)
OC Food Swap: