By Meg McGowan
A small group of people have just co-created the first ever Matcham Holgate Community Produce Share event. I consider myself very fortunate to be part of that group. Central Coast Permaculture extended their insurance coverage to the event and helped to promote the day as an extension of their commitment to spreading permaculture throughout the community. We are deeply grateful for their generous support.
It’s more common for events like this to be called a ‘produce swap’ but ‘share’ is a much better description of what we’re hoping to achieve. A produce share is a great example of how permaculture extends beyond gardens and out into the community. It’s an event where local people bring their surplus produce and give it away to others. That’s it really. No money, no bartering, just people with more than they need giving it away to anyone that wants it. People that don’t have surplus food also bring cuttings from ornamental plants, seeds, seedlings and cut flowers.
I created these three principles to describe what we are hoping to achieve with our produce share:
- Give generously with no expectation of a return
- Receive gratefully with no obligation of a debt
- Share fairly with others and take only what you will use.
Produce shares operate under the umbrella of the gift economy, an alternative way of transacting with others that has generosity at its heart. This is very different to establishing a local growers’ market where people sell produce, or a LETS scheme where things are given a notional dollar value and records of transactions are kept. In the gift economy, you just give away anything you don’t need. Sometimes you might bring home something in return and sometimes not. When you’re in the position to give generously to others, what you receive for your gifts is not the point. You give because you are fortunate enough to be able to do so.
Generosity benefits everyone. Those of us that grow food don’t end up with waste when we have a glut and those that receive it get access to free, healthy, local food. Best of all we get to meet each other, to make new friends and to learn more about how to grow food in our own area. This increases our food security.
Here’s an overview of how the produce swap stacks up against permaculture’s three core ethics.
The most sustainable food grown in your own community using no chemical inputs. It travels very little distance to be available to you, and you travel very little distance to obtain it, reducing the impact of fossil fuels in food production and delivery. Most produce share events favour organic or ‘beyond organic’ methods, and some, including ours, will also allow food grown using agricultural chemicals provided the growers let people know. Allowing these gardeners to share information with organic growers helps them to learn more sustainable practices, which also helps the earth. By coming together to redistribute our surplus we reduce waste. The excess produce is eaten, people potentially make less trips to the supermarket and eat less packaged food, and everyone learns how easy it is to grow something at home.
Produce shares are great community events that help neighbours come together to share information, food, stories and laughter. In an increasingly isolating world we are all starting to recognise the benefits of community. Supportive communities have less crime, less mental illness and less loneliness. They also have greater resilience during difficult times. Of course produce shares also make fresh, healthy food available and give people the opportunity to exchange ideas for preparing it. Local growers often have much greater diversity than a supermarket because food doesn’t need to be transported or to have a long shelf life. Having greater dietary diversity has been shown to have significant health benefits. Being part of a gift economy lifts people’s hearts. They see that there are other kind people in the world that share their values.
The ethic of ‘Fair Share’ is sometimes expressed as ‘Share Your Surplus’ or ‘Share Abundance’. This ethic is often poorly understood. It encourages us not to be greedy. It’s predicated on the notion that if everyone living an abundant life would share any surplus then a lot more people would be living an abundant life. It also reminds us that surplus is waste if we don’t redistribute it, and hoarding more than you need is detrimental to the environment. When you give away your excess then others don’t need to grow or purchase as much and this means we have all lessened the demands upon the planet. Produce shares are a great example of this ethic made real. Sharing allows those with the capacity to share to reflect upon their good fortune, to realise that they already have a bountiful life and that they don’t need to buy into the consumer culture. Sharing allows those without to access the collective abundance of the community without the need to generate or exchange money. Everyone benefits.
We’re excited to be partnering with Fires Creek Winery for our monthly produce share events. One of the directors, Nadia O’Connell, explained their participation by saying, “I don’t usually have any excess produce but I can contribute by sharing this space. I want everyone living locally to know that the garden is here for all of them, any time they want to visit.” Nadia is as enthusiastic about the gift economy as we are.
We are also excited to see how we can join what we are doing with local charities. People with nothing to share sometimes stay away from these events, concerned that they will not be welcome. We will invite a different local charity each month to share our sign in table with us. Those without produce will be asked to donate $5 per person or $10 per family (or whatever they can afford) to that charity in lieu of having any produce. On our first day, this worked well. Those without produce didn’t feel awkward about sharing the abundance and those with produce didn’t feel that others had taken any unfair advantage. At the end of the share event we also had left over produce. This was delivered to Coast Shelter (a local charity providing food and support to homeless people). Involving charities helps us to extend the permaculture principle of ‘fair share’ beyond the share event and out into the community.
We have now provided all of the information about how we put the day together via our facebook page (Matcham Holgate Produce Share) and the Central Coast Produce Swap page, as well as sharing it via a number of permaculture related sites. This is just an extension of our commitment to sharing. Everything we’ve done and all of the photos we’ve shared are freely available to anyone else hoping to start a similar event.
So how successful was our first day? Over 80 people attended and we had a huge diversity of produce including some rare citrus, some cross-bred heirloom pumpkins, turmeric, mountains of fresh herbs and a table stacked with plants, seeds and cuttings. Someone even brought along ten bags of horse poo (it didn’t last long!). Best of all we’ve had wonderful feedback from people that were there and we supported two great local charities. We will now be holding share days on the second Sunday of every month and look forward to seeing you there.