won’t you be my neighbor? community food exchanges


Even I’m getting tired of repeating the news that this year is all about sustainability, vegetable gardening, and eating local. But what about the stuff we can’t grow in our own backyard?  How do we buy or trade with our close neighbors?  I’m interested in the next step up from absolute self-sufficiency, a state most of us will never achieve.  How do we turn solipsistic sustainability into a community effort, even if that “community” is just:

  • a couple of homeowners trading jam across a back fence, or
  • a guy at the mushroom festival trading his homegrown matsutake mushrooms, or
  • a meal sharing group, or
  • a local businesswoman who sells her bread as a cottage industry, or
  • a free garden on a sidewalk strip, or
  • an owner of an apple orchard who gives out apples in exchange for your help?

As part of an effort to build more community spirit in this year of local eating, I’m currently writing an article on itsy bitsy food exchanges in the Willamette Valley.  The stories about how and what we trade/sell to our closest associates are fascinating, and I’d love to hear about yours.  I’ll be giving a talk in August on the same topic to Oregon Master Gardeners at the statewide Mini-College conference in Corvallis, so it’s kind of a big project and I could use your help!

I participate in quite a few mini-food networks, and am sure that you do, too. For example, I’m a member of my neighborhood home gardening association (Friendly Neighborhood Farmers), I buy pork from a father-son team with a tiny operation, and I can tuna under the mentorship of a veteran Master Food Preserver.

What do you do?  Potlucks?  Selling your own chocolates or buying farm-fresh eggs from the lady down the street?

To participate in my fact-finding mission, please share in the comments, and I’ll try to include as many ideas as possible in the story or talk (but I can’t promise to quote everyone).   You don’t even have to be local to the Willamette Valley or living in a place where neighbors have their own apple orchards — in fact, I’d really love to hear about unusual exchanges on a very small level from all kinds of neighborhoods and all kinds of people.  The only qualification is that I do mean small — I’m talking local food networks even smaller than your CSA or your farmer’s market!

Thank you for your comments.  I’m really thinking of this article as one that could do us all good by building community, and I could use your help to make it as diverse and unusual as possible.

13 thoughts on “won’t you be my neighbor? community food exchanges

  1. Lelo 6 April 2009 / 5:46 am

    We grow produce for our neighbor who has chickens, and we get fresh eggs in return. It’s a perfect barter for us: she doesn’t have enough sunshine for veggies on her property, and we don’t have the right kind of space or desire to have chickens. We both win.


  2. Robin 6 April 2009 / 7:48 am

    What a great article idea! I started the Friendly Neighborhood Farmers group because I noticed a Craig’s List posting for a “chicken sitter”. The person posting lived 2 blocks from me. We have chickens too and I didn’t realize we had someone so close by who also had chickens. We connected and started watching out for each other’s chickens when one of us went out of town. I realized how little I knew about my neighborhoood after living here for 15 years. 89 neighbors have joined the online forum since I started it in October of last year.

    The focus of the group is on urban farming, including vegetable gardens, fruit trees, raising chickens, beekeeping, and organic and permaculture practices. So far, the group has had two potlucks, a seed and plant swap, and a cobb oven building work party. The online discussion forum has been busy with neighbors sharing gardening advice, project photos and information about local resources.

    Jennifer-let me know if you have additional questions. I can be reached at ronaclea at gmail.


  3. Friendly Neighborhood Doug 7 April 2009 / 7:54 am

    Hi Jennifer…

    Great story topic, neighborhood food exchanges (of course!). Also check with the folks in River Road Neighborhood who’ve started this same ‘ning thing’ recently, like Robin’s. Specifically my co-hort Jan Spencer on the city’s Neighborhood Leadership Council Sustainability Committee. You can reach him at spencerj ‘at’ efn ‘dot’ org. There are also a few friends lurking on the FNF site from other ‘hoods who joined on my invite specifically to learn about ning networking so to take to their own ‘hood like Jan. This is really heating up. Might be better to talk more on this on my own email or home phone. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll hook you up. Katie Lewis, also on Friendly Neighborhood Farmers, is interested in tree gleaning, so you should write her. She is writing on this… I’m at deeblack ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com.


  4. sarah gilbert 7 April 2009 / 11:12 pm

    a couple of things…

    first, there is the sweetest little “community garden” in an ultra-wide parking strip up the street from my house, on 44th and cora. i’ve taken a few photos of it and plan to plant something there if there’s any space left when the boys and i get around to it! (oops, haven’t uploaded the photos yet, i’ll leave a comment when i do)

    second, “mini food networks” is something i totally aspire to, but don’t have any structure around yet. i have a huge yard, and my next-door neighbor is a fantastic gardener with a tiny yard; so i hope to share the produce of the many fruit trees we’ve planted with her when there’s enough. for now, i love to make jam, and many times have taken a gift of a goodly amount of fresh produce; pears or figs or apples or lemons from someone’s tree; and returned a gift of something really special (fig pear lavender jam, for instance). this is the most fun mini-food network i can imagine! and in the best of all possible worlds, i’ll teach someone how to make the preserves and spread the knowledge. i dreamt of offering my canning expertise in exchange for extra tomatoes and apples last year, but i never found the time.

    i also glean trees whenever possible; there’s a giant fig tree a few blocks from my house where the residents, well, they’re not foodies. the figs ripen and many people come, filling grocery bags and buckets, and everyone has all they can possibly pick and still the figs fall all over the ground by october, they are sticky and you can smell them when you walk by.

    this year i’m bringing a taller ladder.


  5. Eugenia 8 April 2009 / 5:09 am

    Thanks so much, everyone! I knew there would be some fantastic stories. Keep ’em coming!

    Doug and Robin, I’ll be in touch soon.


  6. kate 8 April 2009 / 9:02 am

    Hi there! There is a group in Corvallis that I’ve been watching with interest (I don’t live in their area, or I’d join them more actively). They are the Southtown Harvest and Resource Exchange (S.H.A.R.E.) group of South Corvallis and are found on Google Groups:


    I’m glad to read your post as I’ve been wondering how I can best connect with others in my area and help others do so through my blog as well. Best of luck with your talk in August!


  7. Jennifer 8 April 2009 / 1:05 pm

    Great topic. I have been wanting to start a neighborhood newsletter just to make little exchanges (of goods or services, like babysitting, etc.) easier. Drives me crazy to see apples rotting on the ground when I could be turning them into applesauce. Good way to get to know my neighbors better too.


  8. Liz Lawrence 9 April 2009 / 8:53 pm

    hey there! my partner has started trading home-baked bread with a friend of ours. there’s talk of receiving some homemade paneer made from goats milk (he and the friend both work at fern’s edge dairy and so have good access to raw milk!) the latest trade is for some of her original artwork. he made her some bagels this week and I guess will keep on baking for her til the art is “paid off.” he also does a lot of beer trading, as he’s a homebrewer.. a popular hobby to have in a friend ’round these parts! let me know if you want more info. we’re in the friendly neighborhood farmers network, too.

    love your blog, by the way :)


  9. Veronica Lamb 13 April 2009 / 5:29 pm

    My mom and I buy eggs from one of her coworkers, whose sister raises chickens in Cottage Grove. They are the best! The only problem is that, at first, only my mom and one other person were interested in her eggs, but now more coworkers have started buying them, and now there aren’t enough to go around, so I’m looking for another source. Luckily, my mom and dad are tired of looking for sources all the time and are now planning to buy chickens of their own. They’ve raised chickens before–in Los Angeles of all places! It would be great to be able to get fresh eggs from them. I am so used to eating farm-fresh eggs that last week–when I sadly ran out–I had to use supermarket eggs and was shocked at the sight of their pale yellow yolk (they were even “organic”). I’m spoiled!


  10. Jen V 14 April 2009 / 7:55 am

    My group of friends and I have been preparing food for each other after births or other health events. We have a total of 9 kids between four families. Other families participate from various circles. This is of course no new idea but a tradition of women helping other women. The other wonderful resource I’ve had is receiving berry canes from gardeners who have been keeping their gardens for 20+ years whereas I’ve been building mine for the last 5 years. I love the idea not just sharing food but sharing the resources to grow it. You know, give a woman a fish . . . give a woman a fishing pole kind of thing.

    Good luck with the article.


  11. Nate O 26 April 2009 / 9:04 am

    We’ve been home canning recently, though it’s in the slow season right now, so we haven’t been trading with the goods at full speed. About all the barter we’ve done with them was to trade the _Off the Waffle_ guys some of our tasty treats for theirs.


  12. Bob Jones 30 November 2009 / 3:00 pm

    I am interested in launching a food and produce exchange at a local farmer’s market in Nelson, New Zealand (~ 50,000 pop). I am an American but live here 6 months per year. I hope to start and use a local currency for the exchanges. I would also like to start a gleaning project to make use of wasted fruit and sell or trade excess fruit at the exchange. I may pattern it after another one in NZ – see http://www.ooooby.org

    I would welcome any ideas on how to set up and run such a venture.

    I also lead workshops here and in the US on using the no the dig gardening technique. If you want more information, you could go to http://www.transitionnelson.org.nz/no-dig-workshops or see our Youtube video.


  13. Loren Sperber 21 March 2011 / 10:57 pm

    This may be an old thread, but if there is anyone out there that might be willing to help me get the Coloma-Lotus, CA food exchange off the ground, it would be super appreciated! Thanks!


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