Sometimes even farmers have too much of a good thing. Susan George and her husband Michael Fons own a commercial avocado grove in Morro Hills and thought it might be a nice idea to exchange some of their product with other gardeners.
“Our five-acre grove produces hundreds of avocadoes year-round, and I thought it might be fun to see if other farmers and gardeners had extra products to exchange.”
After posting her idea online at Next Door Oceanside, she found a fellow gardener, Liz Rae, who was as enthusiastic about food exchange as she was. Thus the Oceanside Crop Swap was born in 2017, and the two women found a spot at Luiseno Park in Oceanside to host a monthly event.
The group of farmers, gardeners and plant enthusiasts meet on a monthly basis to swap homegrown fruit, vegetables, succulents and ornamental plants. One member with too many lemons on their backyard tree can take their fruit to the swap and go home with arms full of another gardener’s excess lettuce, green peppers, assorted greens and avocadoes.
In addition to homegrown fruits and vegetables, the group often has members who offer up baked goods, homemade foods, arts and crafts, seeds, seedlings, cut flowers, plants and cuttings, succulents and succulent starts, eggs, nuts, honey, fresh spices, and books, magazines or tools related to gardening.
Liz’s brother, Chris Bany, attended one of the swaps at Luiseno Park and made new friends at the event. “After the swap is finished, we all gather to exchange gardening ideas and share information including organic pest control and disease management.
We all love meeting fellow gardeners and many of us have become friends.” Examples of Chris’ landscape business, California Food Scapes, can be found up an down Roosevelt Street in Carlsbad, where he combines edibles plus flowers in numerous storefront mini-gardens that not only attract business but also brighten up the street.
The group now has a Facebook page, Oceanside Crop Swap, which has over 400 members, and the public gatherings range from ten to thirty participants. However, since COVID, the group has not been able to meet in the park, so a local member, Diane Coale has volunteered to host the monthly meet at her home in Morro Hills.
Liz recommended becoming a member on Facebook, since the current meeting information is listed there. “During these times of food shortages, it is comforting to know that we can share vegetable and fruit products with our fellow gardeners.”
Susan added that she had learned about vegetables that were not a part of her normal cooking repertoire. “I had never cooked with kale or bok choy before, but when I received some at the Crop Swap, I now put both vegetables in stirfry at least once a week. Liz and I not only enjoy the process of organizing the meets, but we also reap the fruits of our labor!”
Of course, the practice of crop swapping is not new to residents of rural areas. When I lived in Upstate New York, I had a small greenhouse and grew annuals and perennials to sell at the local farmer’s market.
My neighbor, Farmer Bob as we called him, grew 20 acres of feed corn for his cattle and a small crop of sweet corn for people. The sweet corn was the best I have ever tasted since it was picked at 5 a.m. each day. In the front of his farmhouse each morning, Bob brought a huge batch of corn to pile onto his folding table with a sign that read, “One Dollar a Dozen.”
At the end of the day, if there was corn leftover, the sign was changed to “Free, Take Some!” Bob and I often exchanged corn for flowers, which was a part of the hospitality and generosity of rural New Yorkers.
It is a pleasure to meet such dedicated city folk such as Liz and Susan, who have continued the practice of Oceanside Crop Swap, in an area in which many grocery stores sell one lemon for 75 cents and an apple for a dollar. Contact Susan and Liz on Facebook at Oceanside Crop Swap to join the group.
I will continue to seek out food projects such as this and hope to hear from readers who can pass on more information about other volunteer ventures. Please contact me at [email protected]
Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener who served as the Director of the Master Gardener Program in Cooperstown, New York. Presently, she lives in Vista with her son and consults for community garden projects.