Creating Community Connections: Establishing a Food Swap to Foster Local Sustainability and Build Social Capital

“Agriculture and food is an area where everyone can begin today. That is why the garden is so important. It teaches us that there’s something we’re all capable of doing” – Environmental activist Vandana Shiva

As part of an assignment for my Master’s degree, I was required to creatively address a sustainability issue in a way which I felt had the potential to create change. Having just moved to Harrietville a  small alpine town in North East Victoria, I wanted this project to be integrated into the community as a method of creating personal networks and developing long lasting sustainability initiatives.

Considering that food security is an issue which I am passionate about and a topic which affects all of humanity, I decided to use the excess food I was producing in my small garden plot to swap with other members of the community. I contacted local clubs and organisations to discuss the idea of creating a food and produce swap in order to reduce the towns overall waste and consumption. This idea was met with enthusiasm and it is an initiative which I hope will lead to sustainable change within the broader community. According to Seyfang (2010, p.1) alternative methods of economic exchange and consumption such as trading and bartering have the ability ‘…to overcome the barriers to sustainability identified in conventional money systems’.

For example, my partner and I live behind a Café and occasionally cross paths with the owners who are also into gardening but have limited room / time to grow a lot of produce. We now have a standing arrangement that they can help themselves to our excess veggies in exchange for free drinks / a meal at the café. This agreement has the potential to reduce the amount of food the café owners’ purchase from supermarket chains and is a win – win situation based on mutual benefit. Upon moving to Harrietville, we have also made an effort to source our groceries from around the local area including the nearby berry and fish farm as well as farmers markets and regional orchids

In addition to this, we currently have a surplus of chilli seedlings which we planted using the seeds from last year’s harvest. Therefore, we spent an afternoon repotting around thirty plants into small containers and have decided to offer the seedlings to our work colleagues and neighbours. As I am typically shy, this is the perfect way for me to establish connections and become involved in the community as it incorporates my interests with the potential for local change.

Although alternative food systems such as community gardens and food swaps are still very much in the minority compared with large agribusiness companies and supermarket monopolies, Coveney (2013, p. 97) outlines that these methods allow consumers to ‘…regain control of their food supply’ and develop food sovereignty and a sense of empowerment.

As Ben Hewitt (2010, p. 15) states, reclaiming control over the resources which sustain us is crucial to the health and vitality of communities. In the 21st century, it seems that many of us live in a disconnect with the real world. With rise of the internet, social media and smartphones it is possible to talk to people on the other side of the world and gain information at the drop of a hat. Yet how well do we really know our neighbours? It is easy to keep up with the world news but many of us fail to understand the problems going on inside our own communities. Food swaps and farmers markets present a way of overcoming some of these challenges as community members meet face to face on a regular basis therefore exchanging healthy produce as well as social capital (Robinson and Hartenfeld, 2007, p. 1).

Although it is in its infancy, it is my hope that this food security project fosters connections within the local region which lead to sustainable change and increase the resilience of the community in the face of climate change. I intend to keep growing produce and using food as a method of developing social networks and advancing the adaptive capacity of society.

I will keep this blog updated as the project progresses.

Reference:

Coveney, J. (2013) Food, Routledge, The United States of America

Hewitt, B. (2012) The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food, Rodale, The United States of America

Robinson, J and Hartenfeld, J. A. (2007) The Farmers’ Market Book: Growing Food, Cultivating Community, Indiana University Press, The United States of America

Seyfang, G. (2010) ‘Bartering for a Better Future? Community Currencies and Sustainable Consumption’, Working Paper Submitted to the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE) University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK, pp. 1 – 17

Repotting chilli’s and other produce in my garden, January 2014

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