by Eileen Weber
Ever feel like there are just too many tomatoes and not enough time? Come August, there will be plenty of backyard gardeners who would agree with that statement. And that’s where food trading comes in. Home growers are sharing their produce in a free trade system online and in communities across the country.
According to an article in The New York Times on June 10th, there are a growing number of participants in food trading. The concept is based on the fact that “it’s a shame to let fruit go to waste” and “neighborhood fruit tastes best when it’s free.” Well, really, doesn’t everything taste better when it’s free?
If you, like the founders of Veggie Trader, had excess lemons from your lemon tree, wouldn’t it be nice to see someone else make use of them? You could trade those lemons for, say, herbs or zucchini. You get to give what you have more of and take what you have less of. It’s a win-win.
In the New England area, Brian Alcorn, Founder of the Vermont Garden Exchange, wrote that many times a gardener has too much to use himself and doesn’t have the time to preserve the excess.
“The idea is to open it up so that you can trade anything,” said Alcorn, who founded the site with his wife. “You could even trade a cord of wood if that’s what you had. I just don’t want it to become an online grocery store. That’s not what it’s about.”
Lynn Seigel-Boettner, Founder and Organizer of the Santa Barbara Food Not Lawns chapters, agrees. “It’s more than just sharing food. It’s about bringing a community together and connecting people. We’ve forgotten how to do that.”
Seigel-Boettner said that she’s always surprised when someone looking for a particular item locates it only a few houses away. “I find it curious that neighbors are meeting each other over the Internet. Two neighbors live only a few doors down from each other and they don’t know they both have chickens.”
Her food sharing idea started in March 2007. It has since grown from one Sunday a month in the Mesa area to 13 different community chapters spanning over several miles. The organization emphasizes the importance of edible landscaping. Seigel-Boettner is quick to point out that she doesn’t oppose lawns so much as she opposes the use of chemicals on the lawns going down the drains. Organically growing fruit or vegetables and sharing them with friends and neighbors sounds like a much better alternative.
She said the community exchanges are like Kindergarten for grown-ups. She sees it as an opportunity for everyone to come out and play. “Let’s get back to the ‘Can I borrow a cup of sugar?’ mentality with our neighbors.”
But what Seigel-Boettner considers an opportunity for neighbors to bond, Kaytea Petro and Oriana Sarac, Co-Founders of NeighborhoodFruit.com, hope to see some future revenue in their online fruit trading.
“Down the road, we’re hoping to charge a small finder’s fee of about $4,” said Petro. “The revenue will be strong during the summer and weak in the winter. But we’re planning on having the site up all year round.” For now, it remains free of charge.
Having both graduated from the Presidio School of Management in the San Francisco Bay Area with an idea and a dream, Petro and Sarac did a soft launch of the site on April 1st. But they really hit the ground running on June 5th. They have grown to a few hundred registered users in just a matter of weeks.
While they planned on initially focusing on the Bay Area, they have already grown pockets of traders across the country. There are users in Washington, Utah, Texas, Florida, Minnesota, New York and New Jersey. Even a few from Canada want to get in on the action.
“We’ve gotten a lot of attention,” said Sarac, who not only co-founded the company with Petro but is also the Technology and Operations Manager. “When one person finds out, they seem to pass it along to their friends. It seems to be growing in a really interesting way.”
Word of mouth can be worth its weight in gold. Perhaps that gold can pave its way into Connecticut. I’ve got some extra thyme in my herb pots. Anyone interested? Call me.
Images courtesy of Santa Barbara Food Not Lawns.