In years gone by, neighbours shared their abundance of tomatoes in exchange for your overflowing supply of cucumbers to foster community spirit, sustainable living and ensure no waste.
Today, the tradition has been brought back by the Kiama and Gerringong Crop and Swap group, where gardeners convene fortnightly to trade their homegrown bounty.
Organiser Janice Goodridge said the events, which started eight years ago, were held every second Saturday of the month in Burnetts On Barney in Kiama and every fourth Saturday of the month at the community garden at the Gerringong Bowling Club.
“Angie Ritchie, she’s one of the real estate agents in the local area, and a friend of hers, Matt (Russell), they started the group – they’re the original founders,” Janice said.
“Being a passion of mine, I read it in the local newspaper, and thought, ‘Oh, that’s me’ and I jumped on board and now it’s Angie and me that basically run the group.”
Janice said promoting community spirit and sustainable living was “at the heart of it”, echoing earlier times when neighbours relied on shared resources and connections.
She said it was also about helping overcome the challenges of modern suburban living, with organic gardening and permaculture now taking place within limited spaces.
“It’s about encouraging people to grow things with what we have,” she said.
“Because we live on small blocks now, you might have a lemon tree that’s going gangbusters and Joe Blow’s got a lime tree, but you can’t have both, so it’s swapping what you do have with what you don’t have.”
She said it also played a part in fostering connections with others.
“It’s very much bringing people out of their house and meeting, because I think we’ve lost a little bit of that connection with people,” she said.
“I think COVID really got everyone thinking about how we relate to each other in the community, so this is a space for that.”
During the events, knowledge sharing thrives, with participants exchanging gardening tips and experiences.
“When you come to these events, you get real-time knowledge, you get people living, breathing and doing what you’re doing in the same ecosystem, with the same weather, the same challenges,” she said.
“We can all commiserate with each other about how we got flooded this week or it was too hot that month,” she said, laughing.
Janice said her own plants had ended up in the backyards of most members now.
“I will bring a parsley seedling along for you and you’ll go, ‘Oh, I’ll throw that into my veggie patch and see how it goes’,” she said.
“A lot of people will find that’s how it gets started – just from bringing something home and going ‘Oh, I’ll try it’.”
She said there were no hard and fast rules to the events, with everyone welcome.
“There’s only really one unwritten rule: Don’t bring weeds,” she said.
“Because we often have small spaces, people get quite creative. People make things if they can’t grow enough, or they don’t feel they have anything to bring.
“A lot of those people might just hang out to the back and then they’ll take what’s left once everyone else has taken something if they don’t feel comfortable because they haven’t brought anything.”
She said what people brought could be quite diverse, from vegetable and herb plants to homegrown garden produce, tea and handmade crafts like soap and crocheted items.
“It’s mostly plants – and vegetables are the general theme – but you never know what you’ll come away with,” she said.
“A lady brought along these little crocheted bags to put your soap in. I use it every day. It’s the best thing ever.
“You do come across unusual plants because you’ve got different people from different cultures.
“People get excited by different things usually because of their cultural background or something that they’ve grown up with.”
She said the group was grateful for the support from Burnetts, which provided the venue for the Kiama events, enabling the group to convene regularly and in all weather conditions.
“Obviously, if you’ve got too many limes, you can’t always wait for the next swap, so we do swap on the Facebook group as well,” she said.
Janice said the event was self-sustaining, with a core group of regulars showing up who often brought new friends, plus promotion from Burnetts on Barney.
“We want to keep building on the goal of getting people out into the gardens and growing things,” she said.
“One of the great things when you come to a crop and swap is you find there’s a wonky carrot, there’s bugs that come with it and holes in your kale – but that’s all completely normal.
“That’s how food is.”
Kiama and Gerringong Crop and Swap is held at 9:30 am every second Saturday of the month in Burnetts On Barney in Kiama, and every fourth Saturday of the month in Gerringong Community Garden.