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Some of the backyard produce brought to the swap.

(Also posted at Food Renegade)

Yesterday afternoon, I took with me to the park nine tomato seedlings that I did not have room for in my garden and came home with a pile of Swiss chard, avocados, a zucchini, mint, mixed salad greens, a sage plant, loquats, a sweet potato start, and enough basil to make a batch of pesto. Yesterday, members of RIPE Altadena (Residential In-season Produce Exchange of Altadena) met in the park to swap their garden excesses. People went home with a week’s worth of produce, additions to their gardens, and, most likely, a whole lot more than that.

I got some advice on what could be plaguing my grape vines and how to get my peppers to grow. I overheard or took part in conversations about fermentation, solar ovens, seed saving, and seed varieties.

This is what I took home from the swap.

I joined RIPE Altadena shortly after moving into our home in Altadena five years ago when the group was still very young (and went by another name). Through the monthly park swaps and sharing via the email group in between, I have eaten and fed my family from the backyards and chicken coops of many neighbors.

The sharing/swapping of vegetables allows us to source our food hyper-locally, but it also brings us together to share knowledge and pool resources. A few springs ago many members all chipped in to buy a roll or two of wire grating used for concrete. We then spent the afternoon constructing sturdy tomato cages (which I am still using) that last much longer than the prefabricated ones offered at the nursery. Members and affiliates offer very low cost ($5 – $10) classes on many related topics including canning, seed saving, square food gardening, and tree grafting, to name just a few. At the swaps and through the email group members share their experience and knowledge on all things gardening, fruit growing, and chicken raising. The collective knowledge has become a prize resource for me.

I brought home enough loquats to can up some more jelly. It set this time!

RIPE Altadena now has over 200 members, and a brand new chapter opened in a city just east of us. Some people come to the group with decades of gardening experience. Others are just starting out. Some join because they have an enormous fig (or other fruit) tree that produces more fruit than one family could possibly consume. Others join because they raise chickens or goats. A few people just grow herbs and medicinal plants. No matter the reason for joining, we come together in the spirit of sharing and exchanging.

I think as we move toward more sustainable, just food systems, RIPE offers a model worth duplicating.

Mixed salad greens.