Martinez crop swap: no buying or selling, just trading
By Lou Fancher
Surprisingly, the ultimate homegrown delights aren't on the produce-laden tables at the Crop Swap held monthly at the Center Avenue Community Garden in Martinez.
Oh sure, there are apples, honey fresh from the comb, heirloom tomatoes, and nectarines, oranges, and grapes along with baskets of zucchinis and cucumbers. There are even "mystery packets," of seeds with directions for melons, strawberries, lettuce or herbs.
But for the gathering's greatest pleasures -- common courtesy and camaraderie -- a person must look to the people. Smiling, sharing, taking reasonable portions and not tracking what a neighbor brings or how much is taken by others, the people and even dogs that are welcome, greet each other like old friends.
"Dave Mudge and I wanted more sharing. It was both our ideas," says Jennifer Brennan, a co-founder and organizer. "We like to see our society more about giving instead of being focused around money. It's real giving: it's not the kind of thing where if I brought two apricots, I want two peaches from you."
The Crop Swap began three years ago as an offshoot of the Martinez Permaculture Center, a community group dedicated to supporting sustainable lifestyles. The swap meets on the fourth Wednesday of each month, March through November, and retains its grass-roots makeup.
Anyone may participate; there's no requirement to bring something, although most people do. Brennan said at the July swap that attendance is from "all over the map," and 40 people is approximately the maximum she can recall. Her online alerts are sent to about 5,000 email addresses.
"A lot of people are busy; I'd love to see more people come." What the swap may lack in numbers is made up for in generosity. In addition to the July swap's vegetables and fruits, there are herb and succulent plants, pots of gazpacho, a freshly baked fruit pie, eggs, recipes, announcements about gardening classes and plenty of idea sharing.
Anika Allysun, of Martinez, has been coming to the swap from the beginning.
"So many people who come are expert gardeners, or excellent crafters. There are goods, but also the tips and information. It's wonderfully people-connecting."
And it's fun and full of surprises.
"I bring weird stuff," says R.C. Ferris, of Pacheco, laughing. "Today, I brought nectarines and compost buckets."
As a recycling coordinator for Republic Services, Ferris has professional as well as personal inclinations that cause her to value items another person might disregard. Brennan worked with Ferris before retiring and said her former co-worker has brought everything from fabric scraps for sewing projects to bottle caps that craft artists incorporate into multimedia artwork.
"People bring a range of things. I'd say the best thing that I can recall were the cabbage rolls someone brought once. They shared the recipe, too."
Tammy Moulton, of Concord, said the hot peppers she brought last November were probably the most unusual thing she's contributed. "I had very late seeds last year. I suggested people could have a spicy Thanksgiving using the peppers."
Perhaps the very best aspect of the swap is when giving becomes contagious and expands itself, rippling throughout a community, Brennan said.
Dawn Nelson's story is evidence.
The Pacheco resident lives in a trailer park and doesn't have a lot of room for a garden, but having been inspired by other people's generosity, she helped an elderly neighbor to harvest apples.
"I made applesauce to share -- it's the best ever."
Nelson also paints decorative garden labels on tongue depressors to mark her few crops -- basil and orange flesh watermelons -- and said she might bring a supply to the next swap.
"It's heartwarming, especially in this time, to know there are people who really care," she says.
"You don't have to ask for things; you just come."