Sometimes simple solutions bring about so much more than you first expect. Take the Crop Swap concept for example – a growing number of local Facebook groups that facilitate sharing of excess veggies grown in people’s backyards or balconies. What started as a simple swap has become a vehicle for locals to connect, cook for each other, new skills and gardening advice, and even feed those in need with homegrown organic goodness. We chatted to Laurie Green who started the Crop Swap Sydney group (now 2000 strong) about how things grew from the ground up, and the pleasant little surprises along the way.

How did you start Crop Swap?

Crop Swap Sydney, and recently a new Melbourne chapter, developed out of a love for homegrown food, a desire to eat organically without the price tag, and because of an interest in heirloom varieties. The groups are based on simple bartering principles, but have been modernized by the existing social infrastructure of Facebook.

Through the Crop Swap community people can swap their excess produce, plants or seeds anytime, and often instantly. This platform is supported by swap events that allow growers to connect face to face with one another in their local area, whilst often being able to attend a workshop, tasting or talk at the same time. All aspects of the initiative are free.

It’s a great way to connect with your neighbours, chat to the grower, see where your food comes from, and to develop an ongoing local food loop.

It sure is – so what’s the most mindblowing thing you’ve stumbled across?

People are surprisingly considerate, more so than they would be as a paying customer in a supermarket. The fact that you can still end up with surplus produce, that is already excess to its growers needs, amazes me!

In an attempt to reduce food waste even further we have partnered with The Food Pantry in Marrickville who now collect any excess from our Sydney Inner-West workshops. This is a fabulous organization that provides affordable groceries, and free fruit and vegetables to people in need.

That’s pretty cool – what’s the most unexpected bit of produce you’ve seen swapped?

You just never know what’s going to turn up on the table, that’s part of the fun! The range is always eclectic but the most interesting items would probably be fresh elderflowers for making tea or cordial, cotton seedlings, homegrown loofahs and the seeds of a pepper that were smuggled in from San Sebastian generations ago.

The one thing that has been particularly elusive is a type of Yam with purple flesh throughout. There are a lot of people hanging out for that one!

Laurie Green Crop Swap Sydney 2

Sweeeet. Tell us about a “woah” moment from your swapping experience.

One moment that has stuck with me for a long time involves two ladies who lived in the same suburb. One was a grower, the other was a cook. The first offered up a bounty of huge eggplants from her front garden, while the other had nothing to swap, but loved to make babaganoush. The eggplants were gifted with no reciprocation expected, but the cook took the eggplants home, made the delicious dip, and returned some to the grower. This moment of strangerly kindness made me realise that the group could do more than help people to eat locally and affordably, but that it also had the power to facilitate information and skill sharing.

Aww, new friends are the best. Speaking of new things – often people taste homegrown produce for the first time and it’s like a total epiphany moment! What’s something homegrown you tasted that totally changed how you thought about how our food is grown?

Years ago I used to garden in a carpeted apartment in Sydney’s Kings Cross. It was a little bit crazy but I managed to grow quite a lot there. My first homegrown strawberry was warm, sweet and oh so juicy that it converted me for life. There weren’t many strawberries that grew in that small apartment but they were all delicious!

That’s so funny, homegrown strawberries were also my epiphany food haha. For those just starting out with growing their own strawbs, what’s the one thing they’ll probably underestimate?

When starting out, there can often be a temptation to save money by buying cheap potting mix, but the soil is what determines the taste and success of your plants, and most of the time you get what you pay for. Try making your own compost, or if you can afford it use a certified organic mix. Better still someone in the group may be able to help you out.

If you have existing beds it’s a good idea to contact Vegesafe who can test your soil for heavy metals to ensure that it’s fit for growing edibles.

This all sounds pretty awesome – what if someone were to start something similar to Crop Swap in their city? What advice would you give them?

The best way to start is just by connecting with people in your area who you can see are already growing. Try to establish a set of simple guidelines so that people know what to expect, and let them know what can and can’t be exchanged. It’s also a good idea to encourage the labelling of goods at events, and for growers to bring along jars of water to keep produce fresh.

May your gardens be bountiful with excess for swapping!

Image credits: Laurie Green

Zo Zhou

Zo Zhou

Zo is the National Communications Manager and will basically never shut up about vegetables.