Crop Swap: An Interview with Laurie Green

Different gardens and gardening conditions breed the opportunity for some plants to thrive and survive. In fact, in some cases, you may be left with too much of a good thing. In my case, this took the form of radishes. I used them as a salad topper, to make relish, I baked them, but eventually I became a bit too radish-ed out, even though they kept on growing. In the same vein, I have always struggled to grow veggies such as salad greens, whilst my neighbour has a garden full of it. This is when initiatives such as Crop Swap come into place, filling a much-needed gap within the gardening community.

An amazing initiative spearheaded by Sydney local, Laurie Green, Crop Swap aims to create a community whereby individuals can exchange their produce, plants or seeds, acting like a bartering system. In doing so, not only are individuals provided with the opportunity to gather an array of diverse produce that they may not have been able to grow or access themselves, but also avoid unnecessary food waste, save money and gain an opportunity to connect with their community. Together, individuals learn an array of techniques, skills and information, which they can use to empower themselves in their food growing and consuming journey.

Since its inception, Crop Swap has expanded from Sydney to Melbourne with 15 crop swap communities, and created an impressive network of people, reaching approximately 14,000 individuals across multiple platforms, including Facebook. Here, individuals share recipes, advice and are informed of upcoming events and workshops, where they can swap their goods. It also costs nothing to join, so avid gardeners what are you waiting for!

Totally inspired, I feel lucky to have been provided with the chance to ask Laurie a few questions about Crop Swap and where she sees the initiative heading into the future.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself, what is your background and why did you to start Crop Swap?

I have a mixed background in design, advertising, film and marketing but have always chosen to work on sustainable and ethical projects.

Crop Swap Sydney, and a subsequent 15 other crop swap communities, developed out of a love for homegrown food, a desire to eat organically without the price tag, and because of an interest in heirloom varieties.  The groups are based on simple bartering principles, but have been modernised by the existing social infrastructure of Facebook. 

In case I haven’t covered everything, how does it work?

Through the Crop Swap community people can swap their excess produce, plants or seeds anytime, and often instantly. This platform is supported by swap events that allow growers to connect face to face with one another in their local area, whilst often being able to attend a workshop, tasting or talk at the same time.  All aspects of the initiative are free.

The essence of the group is dictated by its members and I have heard many stories of people connecting, and continuing to swap with one another on a regular basis.  My favourite anecdote involves two ladies who live in the same suburb.  One is a grower, the other is a cook.  The first offered up a bounty of huge eggplants from her front garden, while the other had nothing to swap, but loved to make babaganoush. The eggplants were gifted with no reciprocation expected, but the cook took the eggplants home, made the delicious dip, and returned some to the grower. This moment of strangerly kindness made me realise that the group could do more than help people to eat locally and affordably, but that it also had the power to facilitate information and skill sharing.

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What is the most interesting thing you have ever swapped?

We always see a broad range of produce come through the door at our events.  There’s a lot of appeal in the element of surprise – the hope that you may find that elusive purple sweet potato or take home something new to try.   Probably the most unexpected items I have seen exchanged would be fresh elderflowers for making tea or cordial, cotton seedlings, homegrown loofahs and the seeds of a pepper that were smuggled in from San Sebastian generations ago.

If you are a first time ‘swapper’ is there anything you need to know? If you don’t have anything to swap, can you swap other things?

Involvement in the group can be as much or as little as you like – if you’d rather swap on your own time the facebook groups work well but many like to connect face to face and that’s where the events work well.

Either outlet can be a great way to learn, connect with neighbours, chat to growers, see where food comes from, and to develop an ongoing local food loop. We’re always on the lookout for new members who are keen to grow, chat, swap and eat. Members can swap items such as: Honey, eggs, edible plants, homegrown produce, baked goods, preserves, seeds, gardening goods, live cultures (scoby, grains, sour dough starters etc.) recipes or advice.

What is your garden like at home?  Have you got any tips and tricks for the novice gardener to help it flourish? Where did you learn all your gardening knowledge?

Our garden is a hard worker with many people to please.  It’s a standard suburban block with edibles crammed in where possible, running space for the family and flowers for the bees.  If you’re establishing your garden I would recommend starting small and growing what you like to eat.  It sounds simple but it’s easy to get carried away!

Aside from food, are there other areas of sustainability that you are passionate about? If so, why?

I have always been passionate about native wildlife, frogs in particular, as they are true indicators of a healthy environment.  Our garden has an “if you build it, she will come” mentality.  We have a large insect hotel for native pollinators and have enjoyed watching fauna return to the garden since we took over the plot, as we choose not to use any form of chemicals.

Did you ever imagine that Crop Swap would grow into what it has? You must feel so proud! Any plans for the future?

I never imaged that it would become so popular! I just had small hopes to meet locals and to share excess seedlings that I had lovingly nurtured.  Years on, good food, recipes, advice and encouragement continue to be exchanged in spades. In the past year, the initiative has hosted 30 events with more scheduled for this year. We also continue to collaborate with a variety of local organisations such as Vegesafe, Eat Me Chutneys, Pocket City Farms, Sydney Native Bees, The Diggers Club, Permaculture groups and Community Gardens.

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