What to do with excess garden produce? Food swaps!

I’ve been curious about food swaps for years but I haven’t had an opportunity to go to one because I’ve never had a garden. But now that I have learned about urban foraging, my friend and I had 19kg of produce to share!

Note: if you also want to get your hand on free local food, I have made a guide about urban foraging here.

I’m hoping this post can show you how simple and welcoming food swaps groups are and how they are a great solution for people with excess produce from their gardens.

What are food swaps?

DEFINITION

Food Swaps are free events that usually occur on a monthly basis where people can bring food from their garden to swap with food from other’s peoples garden. This offers garden growers to get a more diversified range of food or to share food when your garden is producing more food then you can eat.

HOW ARE THEY SUSTAINABLE?

I wanted to quickly highlight some key points on why I think they’re such a great sustainability event!

  • They prevent food waste for people who’s garden produce too much food to eat.
  • They enable local food growing through sharing knowledge, seeds, seedlings, and cuttings.
  • They enable mostly plastic-free food.
  • They most often boost organic food production.
  • They bring communities and like-minded people together.

WHERE TO FIND FOOD SWAPS?

Food Swaps exists all around Australia and are organized by different organizations depending on where you live. In Moreland for example, it’s organized by the Moreland Food Gardens Network, whereas in Darebin, it’s organized by the Darebin Transition Network. Just do a quick Google research “food swap + your area” to find who, when and where it’ organised in your area.

If you live in Melbourne, Local Food Connect has made a great map overview of Food Swap groups.

Usually, for each council there are a few food swaps at multiple locations on different dates. This means you can go multiple times a month depending on your garden needs!

WHAT YOU CAN SWAP

A food swap involves swapping food like homegrown vegetables, fruit or nuts. But it’s not restricted to that!

If you’re are a garden-less gardener like me, here are some other things you can bring:

  • Homemade fertilizer like bokashi juice or worm juice
  • Worms for composting
  • Manure
  • Baked food
  • Seeds, seedlings or cuttings
  • Recycled hessian bags (gardeners like them to build wicking beds)
  • Gardening books or magazines
  • Preserves
  • Honey
  • Empty preserving jars
  • Ferments like kombucha SCOBY, water kefir limes, sourdough starter…

My food swap experience

HOW THE EVENT WENT

I am quite a shy introvert, but this event was so easy-going and welcoming I really enjoyed myself!

I went to the Fairfield Food Swap where there was a mix of regulars and new swappers. The organizer and the regulars made sure to explain how everything worked and to make us feel welcomed.

The food swap lasted for one hour. Most people came around 11 am and put down their food produce. Then, everyone chatted and presented their produce – how to use, cook, or grow them. Some people took some of the produce straight away, but most of the produce was picked towards the end.

If you don’t have a full hour to devote to this, you don’t have to stay a full hour. I would then probably recommend you coming towards the middle somewhere and stay for a 10-20 minutes.

I really enjoyed how all the regulars were encouraging us to take more. Food swaps seem to not be about swapping equal values of food, but rather a social event to share as much as you can to avoid food waste and to spread produce and knowledge around.

From memory, here was the food people brought over the course of one hour:

  • Fruit: lemons, mandarins, apples, oranges, kefir lime
  • Vegetables: pak choi
  • Seedlings: rosemary, salad mix
  • Seeds: many different kinds! They had a sort of seed library they have accumulated over time.
  • Herbs/herb cuttings: marjolaine, vietnamese mint, coriander, parsley, rosemary, bay leaves, curry leaves, kaffir lime leaves
  • Root: rhubarb
  • Flowers: a few, but can’t remember the names
  • Ferments: water kefir grains (with printed instructions!)
  • Homemade products: jams, strawberry guava paste

There was a higher proportion of herbs compared to other food, but I am going to guess this is due to the fact that we are in winter.

WHAT WE FORAGED TO SWAP

As I’ve said, I don’t have a garden, so we did some urban foraging the day before to have food to bring to the food swap. We chose to drive directly to trees Mathilde knew had a lot of extra produce. Usually, we don’t drive around, we make it a nice long walk with the dog, but since we wanted to bring a lot of products to the food swap, we chose to make carbon exception. We still kept it all within 2 neighborhoods, so it wasn’t too much driving.

This is what we harvested!

Produce value is based on prices found on Woolworths’s online shop, 22 June 2020, in Australian dollar. It’s also based on non-organic food, but in reality, this food is probably all organic, so the monetary value would be higher.

Let me emphasize that all this food was picked from branches that were overhanging fences in back alleys – so legal and fair game! And also, that these trees in particular, were seemingly all “abandoned”. Meaning, the fruit within the garden wasn’t picked either.

I’m pointing this out to emphasize that we aren’t taking away food from people that want/need it and that we essentially saved the food from falling and rotting on the ground. In fact, there was quite a lot of fallen produce that had already started to rot around those trees.

WHAT WE SWAPPED

We didn’t bring all the produce to the food swap for two simple reasons. One, we wanted some of these delicious mandarins for ourselves. Two, we wanted to bring the nicest and ripest fruit.

Here’s a summary of our swap:

I don’t know if you can tell, but we were pretty stoked about our swaps! My favourite swap was the water kefir grains as I’ve been trying to get my hands on them for a while!

I hope this article open your eyes to what food swaps are and how easy low-comitment they are to attend.

Please share this post to a friend who has too much of one food growing in their garden to encourage them going to food swaps. I hear people saying too often they have

Happy food swap!

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