Cash-free bartering markets are on the rise around the country, as more folks tune into curbing waste and where their food comes from. And with the price of organic produce, pasture-raised eggs and honey soaring, crop swaps are a great way to keep enjoying Mother Nature’s bounties.
Laurie Green’s family saved $2,500 off their annual grocery bill last year by growing their own and supplementing other items by swapping.
“Free, local and organic food is unarguably the best kind," says Green, who runs 13 nationwide groups under the Crop Swap Australia umbrella.
“Share economies such as our Crop Swaps facilitate the building of local community connections, help to reduce waste, promote knowledge sharing and enable individuals to make cost efficiencies.”
Crop Swap began in Sydney in 2016 but has since branched out into 12 more locations around Australia, from Melbourne to the Northern Rivers, to Cairns and Tasmania. Green attributes the speedy growth to more interest in eating organically without the price tag and around heirloom varieties.
The informal events, which pull up to 60 swappers at a time, are based on age-old bartering principles, with help from modern day tech (Facebook) to help facilitate the meet-ups.
“Generally, people are happy for their excess to be given away for free but some ‘high value’ products such as honey or eggs are often exchanged in conversation for like commodities.”
On NSW’s Central Coast, Rebecca Keane says there’s a similar push towards connecting with locals and with the food production cycle.
“We normally swap with neighbours or friends with veggie patches. We have a lemon tree that yields 80 lemons every couple of months, so we’ll swap them for pumpkins, lemongrass, turmeric – anything you can’t eat quickly enough, really. It’s the norm here,” Keane says.
“Once you see how much care it takes and how tough it is to grow [a crop], you don’t want to waste it. You only need a small pot of rosemary on your balcony to have something of value to swap. It’s such a cool way to do your shopping.”
“Once you see how much care it takes and how tough it is to grow [a crop], you don’t want to waste it."
Herbs are also commonly swapped at the national Crop Swap events along with edible plants, homegrown produce, seeds, honey and eggs. But the meetings aren’t limited to just crops; Green says “baked goods, preserves, gardening goods, live cultures (scoby, grains and sour dough starters) recipes or advice,” frequently exchange hands, too.
“There’s a lot of appeal in the element of surprise – the hope that you may find that elusive purple sweet potato or take home something new to try,” tells Green. “Probably, the most unexpected items we have seen exchanged would 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.”
Green’s favourite Crop Swap story tells of two ladies who live in the same suburb. “One is a grower, the other is a cook,” she explains. “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 stranger 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.” For more on Crop Swap's events, visit their website.
In Melbourne, a similar exchange of food, recipes and ideas happens at the regular Community Fruit and Vegetable Swap organised by Sustainable Fawkner on the second Saturday of every month.
River Cottage Australia's Paul West is another fan of bartering for his produce - and he's been been doing a lot of it to prepare for a "grown local" dinner in tonight's episode, 6pm on SBS then on SBS On Demand.