Home grown produce

If cost and logistics weren’t an issue, it’s likely that most would choose organic produce and never look back. What if someone told you that there’s a way to access home-grown food without the price tag or a plot of land? The answer is not a new invention or a radical overhaul of your life. It’s a simple technique that has been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians. It’s just a little easier now that we have Facebook.

Crop Swap Sydney is a community of people who have excess produce from their garden, plants and seeds and are willing to trade. The beauty of the scheme is that all can participate, as tradeable items include honey, baked goods, preserves, live cultures and even recipes and advice. All you have to do is join a Facebook group and connect with traders in your area, find a swap event or get area-specific growing advice. Crop Swap is totally free.

We chat to founder Laurie Green, who tells you everything you need to know about Crop Swap:

Why did you start Crop Swap?

Crop Swap started in 2015 out of a love for homegrown food, a desire to eat organically without the cost, and because of an interest in heirloom varieties. I was looking for an accessible way to connect with local growers on my own terms. I wanted to share my excess, save money and feed my gardening habit without the associated investment.

Since its inauguration, the initiative has hosted more than 30 free swap events. We’ve also collaborated with organisations like Vegesafe, Eat Me Chutneys, Pocket City Farms, Sydney Native Bees, The Diggers Club and others.

Who uses Crop Swap and how does it work?

The network is growing all the time. The Sydney group has 3,500 members at the moment and events usually attract anywhere from 15 to 60 people.

The thing about growing and swapping locally is that people‘s excesses are seasonal, so the items offered vary constantly. Members can swap items such as honey, eggs, edible plants, baked goods, preserves, seeds, gardening goods, live cultures for fermented drinks and sour dough bread and even recipes and advice. Many members like to preserve and dehydrate foods so excess never goes to waste.

Jars of Kombucha tea fermenting on a kitchen counter.
Jars of kombucha tea fermenting on a kitchen counter

Swap events take place at various Sydney venues, and the group meets at Pocket City Farms at Camperdown Commons every month. When people arrange to swap through the Facebook group they can do this offline at a time and place that suits them.

Why do people use Crop Swap?

Through the Crop Swap community, people can swap their excess produce, plants or seeds anytime, and often instantly. You can also meet others with similar interests, at a workshop, tasting or talk.

What should people bring if they’re not able to grow their own?

Be creative – you’d be surprised what you have to offer. We see worms for worm farms, homemade cakes and beeswax wraps, gardening goods, books and excess seeds. Many people who are starting out swap in good faith and return this when their garden has started producing.

How did you get interested in growing your own produce?

I enjoyed the experience of growing plants from a young age, but 6 years ago I started an indoor edible garden in a carpeted apartment in Kings Cross.

I had mushrooms in the cupboard, a worm farm in the dining room, bokashifor composting in the hall cupboard and an indoor garden bed made out of an old kitchen carcass that drained into Tupperware containers. We had very small yields which I supplemented from a community garden in Redfern. It was a great challenge!

I hate waste, love a bargain and our house is almost entirely furnished through freecycle and second hand communities. There’s nothing better than eating locally, pesticide free and doing it with the help of community.

A couple of swappers also agreed to share their tips:

s1 Kit

Swapper: Kit from Blacktown

What do you swap?

Seedlings, guavas, beeswax, honey, homemade jams.

What do you usually get in return?

Homegrown eggs, salad greens, interesting seeds and seedlings not normally found in shops. Plus, other stuff that’s good for the garden, like coffee grounds and worm wee.

Whats the best thing about growing your own produce?

Access to fresh fruit, veg that tastes super delicious and fresh, for example alpine strawberries, guavas and spring asparagus.

Why does Crop Swap work for you?

I get to try new and unusual things that I wouldn’t have ordinarily planted or don’t have space or patience to grow myself.

Any tips for newbies?

Be inventive! If you don’t have anything to swap this month, maybe bake a muffin or a cake. Or take something today, and bring it back next month in another form. For example, take this month’s excess rosemary, and bring it back as rosemary jelly!

s1 Liz

Swapper: Liz from Newtown

What do you swap?

I usually have various herbs, silver beet, seedlings and seeds as they are available nearly all year round. A few months ago, I had lots of citrus to swap, in another month it will hopefully be tomatoes and cucumbers. We mainly focus on excess produce, but other items can be useful too, such as coffee sacks (for use as grow bags) or jars (for preserving).

What do you usually get in return?

You never know what will be at a crop swap, everyone’s garden is different. Usually there are herbs and leafy green crops. I’ve previously gone home with choko, Chilacayote squash, pumpkin, mulberries, purple sweet potatoes…the list goes on.

I know this sounds corny, but I also always go home with new knowledge. People are always keen to discuss pest control that has worked for them, share advice on different plant varieties, seed germination, recipes and more.

What is the best thing about growing your own produce?

The best thing, without doubt, is the taste. Also, it’s satisfying to see a plant you’ve grown from seed flourish into something you can eat.

Why does Crop Swap work for you?

Most gardens, mine included, usually have a plant that produces more than expected and because the produce is so good, and lots of work goes into it, you don’t want it to go to waste. Swapping means you get to share your produce and enjoy the fruits of your labour, literally.

Any tips for newbies?

Find a Crop Swap meet that you can go to, see what’s in your garden that you can swap and just go!

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