Starting a Crop Swap: Top 5 Tips

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Here at the California Environmental Protection Agency, we believe in talking the talk and walking the walk. For instance, as California phases in mandatory commercial organics recycling, we have food waste bins in the break rooms on all 25 floors of our building. And, even though CalEPA employees often have produce from the nearby farmer’s market at their desks and have informally shared homegrown produce with others, our building refrains from using chemicals to treat pest issues as a matter of course.

A grass-roots effort to formally share homegrown produce in our CalEPA building—a crop swap—is our latest sustainability venture. Along with the focus on food deserts, community gardens, community fruit harvesting, farmers markets, and the farm-to-fork movement, crop swaps (aka food swaps) are a growing opportunity to think global and eat local.

We’d like to share some tips we’ve learned in the process.

1. Test the “market.” If people are already sharing homegrown produce informally, they’ll likely enjoy a formal crop swap too. Nearly every floor of our CalEPA building has a “giving table” for people to share free stuff on an ad hoc basis. That’s a great place to find interested participants and build an email list for a crop swap.

2. Build your base in the winter. If you can build a core group of crop swappers through the winter months, your swapping is more likely to take off in the more productive summer months after you have worked out some of the kinks. We found someone always has oranges to swap for grapefruits and grapefruits to swap for lemons in the winter months, but you will get a greater variety to swap in the summer months, and more swappers swapping.

3. Keep it informal at first. We learned to appreciate the heart of the crop swap is one-on-one swapping. Especially when it’s with co-workers, people tend to be fair without too many rules. Most people already share the bounty of their overproducing fruit trees without rewards, so they may consider getting a variety of crops in return to be a bonus. However, even that small reward can help your crop swap thrive. People come to swap, but they stay to share their interest in gardening.

4. Be flexible. Some co-workers are busier than others. Offer to swap their crops for them. Others may want to stay after the official swapping and share tips about how their garden grows. That may lead to more formal presentations from some of your members who really know gardening. However, keep presentations as an option at the end of the meeting.

5. Broaden your scope. Every group occasionally has a potluck. Crop swappers have even better options—try a tomato tasting party so guests can plan which tomatoes they want to plant in their own garden next year. Have a chips and salsa party using your homegrown tomatoes and any other fresh ingredients you may have. Try swapping homemade “products” like lavender sachets, canned fruits, or homemade marmalade.

If you’re still not convinced that crop swapping is a great idea for your office or neighborhood, consider these additional benefits:

  • Studies show eating a diverse diet rich in whole foods such as fruits and vegetables can lead to a diverse microbiota, which is beneficial for your health.
  • Every homegrown vegetable you grow can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2 kilograms when compared to the store-bought counterpart. Homegrown vegetable gardens also contribute nearly 8 percent of the total greenhouse gas reductions sought by California by the year 2020.

Here are some links for more information:

Sample of regular crop swaps:

—Burke Lucy

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— Burke Lucy
Posted on Jul 6, 2017

Summary: Here at the California Environmental Protection Agency, we believe in talking the talk and walking the walk. For instance, as California phases in mandatory commercial organics recycling, we have food waste bins in the break rooms on all 25 floors of our building. And, even though CalEPA employees often have produce from the nearby farmer’s market at their desks and have informally shared homegrown produce with others, our building refrains from using chemicals to treat pest issues as a matter of course.