food swaps: connecting with food and community

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What’s a food swap, you ask?

To quote Local Harvest:

Food Swaps are local gatherings where people swap excess homegrown produce and gardening extras. Items may include fruit, vegetables, herbs, eggs, seeds, seedlings, gardening tips and worm juice, but may easily extend to skills shares, stories and seasonal recipes.

Swaps are generally money free and run on an honesty system. Swappers bring their produce and then ‘shop’ from the table of goods left by others. The exchange should be a fair reflection of what has been given i.e. eggs for lemons and seeds for stories.

Why: To share delicious food, create friendships, build stronger communities, reduce waste and provide a grass roots response to food access issues.

I first came across food swaps back in early 2015 when I was looking for anything I could do to be involved in food. I wound up volunteering at a food swap in a neighbouring suburb and was instantly hooked – despite the fact I wasn’t even any of my own food except some herbs, the apple tree and a couple of failed attempts at growing tomatoes.

When you grow your own food, you begin to realise just how much effort is involved. And for those who don’t have large amounts of time to invest in growing multiple crops, it’s often easiest to focus your attention on just one thing. But then instead of having to struggle to find the 103rd use for that never-ending crop of zucchini, you can instead take the excess to a food swap and get some much needed tomatoes in exchange, for example. This is a far more achievable idea of growing food for many people, including me.

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Although I still don’t grow much of my own food yet (or when I do there’s very rarely excess), I’m constantly working towards the goal of being able to share at the swap, and the green thumbs there each month provide me with a wealth of knowledge as well as the occasional seedlings or seeds to get me started. Instead, I bake, collect ‘wee’ from my Bokashi bin, source recipes, provide toilet rolls, jars and the occasional bunch of herbs, and simply donate my time to a Food Swap I’ve since founded with a couple of other local ladies. There’s so many ways to be involved in a swap – all you need is an interest.

And there definitely is an increase in interest overall; new food swaps are springing up everywhere and Facebook is becoming a whole new means of facilitating direct swaps. This increase in interest shows just how much people now want to know where their food comes from; connect with their own food and others in their community; eat delicious, nutritious and unusual foods; and reduce food miles and food waste.

An integral part of our food experience is people. Normally we think of those we share it with at the table, but when you go to a food swap, the people and skills are just as important as the produce. A sense of community is something that is, in many places, fading slowly away – but we must hold onto it as best we can. Finding ways of becoming involved in your local area is so important, and a food swap is just one way of doing that. I’m so grateful for the people I’ve met so far – it’s always reassuring to know there’s lots of people our there like you!

We all need to reconnect – with those around us, with our food and with that amazing Mother Nature that gives us it all.

If you’re in Melbourne’s North-Eastern suburbs, check out Local Food Connect for a food swap listing near you.

Tess x

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