Home Gardener Produce Exchange has big plans for the coming season

By Laura Hagar Rush, Townsy Media, May 2, 2021

At the produce exchange at the Sebastopol Grange. (Courtesy Sebastopol Produce Exchange)

There comes a time every season when, having prepared a certain type of vegetable 15 different ways over the last week, a gardener reluctantly realizes that he or she never wants to eat that particular vegetable ever again (or at least not this season).

And yet, outside in the garden, thanks to Sonoma County’s weather and soil, the plants are still growing—twisting up trellises, over-spilling their beds and churning out vegetables like something out of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

It’s this sort of abundance that the Home Gardener Produce Exchange at the Sebastopol Grange was meant to deal with. The produce exchange, founded by Dena Allen, Carol Henderson and other friends at the grange in 2019, was meant to both build community and cut food waste by sharing and trading the bounty of local home gardens.

The produce exchange is starting earlier this year than usual, opening on May 11. Allen and her confederates at the Grange have big plans for the summer growing season.

“This year, we’re trying to start earlier because it seemed very popular last year for people to trade starts, and there’s always a few people that seem to have some early produce to trade,” Allen said. “And with COVID going on, people are just so happy to get together, even for 45 minutes.”

The Bounty of the County

This year, in addition to just providing a place to swap vegetables and catch up on the latest gardening tips, Allen said they’re starting a new initiative called “The Bounty of the County,” encouraging local gardeners to grow an extra row of food crops to either share, swap or give away to local food organizations.

In the past, Allen has gathered up all the vegetables and fruits left over at the end of the produce exchange and donated it to a local food pantry, and she’ll still be doing that this year. But by encouraging local gardeners to plant that extra row, she hopes there will be both more to share and trade and more to give away at the end of the event.

“We’d heard of some people just planting an extra row and in Healdsburg somebody has a whole little farm that all they do is grow things for farm to pantry, so we were like, ‘Okay, what can we come up with?’ My partner Carol Henderson came up with ‘Bounty for the County.”  And we both thought, ‘That’s kind of catchy!’”

“So the idea is, whoever shows up in May, we’re just going to say, ‘If you’ve got room, plant an extra row with the idea that you’re for sure going to be sharing this or donating or trading,” Allen said.

Master Food Preservers table

Allen also hopes to get some experts from UC Extension’s new Master Food Preservers program out to the produce exchange this spring and summer.

“Master food preservers is the same as Master Gardeners, but it’s all about preserving food,” Allen said.  “I want to be able to share that information with people probably early in the season to say ‘Hey, don’t worry if you grow too many tomatoes, we have ideas about how to deal with that.”

Just like the Master Gardeners at the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market, she hopes Master Food Preservers can set up a table at produce exchange where people can ask questions and get real, practical advice. She’s working on setting up dates for that now.

Spreading the idea of produce exchanges

Allen, who is also member of the Sonoma County Food Recovery Coalition, said that group has put together a “how-to” package to help local gardeners start their own produce exchanges in their neighborhood or town.

“They’ve made the necessary documents available and also a sample flyer that people could modify,” she said. “The idea is to encourage people to just try a produce exchange once or twice if you don’t want to commit to a regular schedule.”

“It’s cool that they are wanting to promote sharing, in addition to gleaning and things like that,” she said, “Everything about food is connected.”

Stay up to date with what’s happening with the Sebastopol Produce Exchange at the Sebastopol Grange website: https://sebastopolgrange.org/. Wanna start your own produce exchange, find the Sonoma County food Recovery Coalition’s How to folder here: https://ucanr.edu/sites/SCFRC/Food_Donor_Information_426/