2011-09-04 "Popularity of crop swaps is growing; Bay Area among U.S. leaders in crop swaps, as farmers barter over backyard bounties" by Stacy Finz from "San Francisco Chronicle"
An American subculture is trying to fend off the apocalypse, one heirloom tomato at a time.
Crop swaps - meets where people trade their backyard bounty - are sprouting up all over the nation, but especially in the Bay Area.
The seeds were planted decades ago: I'll trade you a few of my Meyer lemons for a couple of your golden zucchini. Then, with the advent of the grocery store, consumers were more likely to buy just what they needed. But in these times of economic crisis, bartering for food is making a comeback.
The weekly - or monthly - food exchanges may seem like a neighborly way to show off gardening prowess or to parlay an abundance of tomatoes into a week's worth of variety. But for some, it's a survival tactic: building resilient communities to not only withstand a recession, but to endure severe energy shortages and global warming.
"People want to connect," said Carole Bennett-Simmons, co-organizer of Transition Berkeley's two crop swaps. "We want our neighborhoods to be strong in hard times, and that means building a strong economy and strong urban agriculture."
The Transition movement started gaining traction in England five years ago and was spearheaded by permaculturist Rob Hopkins. Its doctrine preaches that greenness and sustainability are not enough. For communities to prevail against exorbitant oil prices, climate change and a collapsing global economy, they have to become self-sufficient. There are 400 Transition "towns" in 34 countries, 96 of them in the United States, including in Richmond, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.
While not all crop swaps are sponsored by Transition United States, the concept is basically the same: to encourage bartering - money is never allowed - to support urban agriculture and bring together neighborhoods.
In the early days, Robin Mariona, Albany's recreation program coordinator, would show up at that city's crop swap to find she was the sole participant. Now, nearly three years later, 25 to 30 people typically attend, bringing everything from peas and beans to squash and apples.
"It depends on the season," Mariona said. "Right now it's great. We've got rhubarb, artichokes, beans, two different summer squashes, strawberries, lettuce, herbs and flowers.
"Someone brought small heirloom tomatoes," she said. "Those sell in the store for $4.50 a pound."
Julie Brand holds a zucchini as her neighbors exchange vegetables at the San Anselmo Garden Exchange, which also has eggs.
Credit: Photos by Lance Iversen / The Chronicle