How do I organise a veggie swap?
August 24, 2010 7:01 PM   Subscribe

There's a gardener coming to speak at the library I work on next month and I thought I would also organise a veggie swap afterwards. So the publicity has gone out, my neighbours are coming and there has been interest from the local council and environment groups who are interested in starting their own if it goes well. My problem is I'm not sure how to practically run it. Should I issue tickets roughly based on market value when people drop off their produce or should I let it go for a free for all working on a trust basis. Anyone run one of these before? Any advise in general?
posted by nicole.hilder to Food & Drink (8 answers total)
If I'm understanding right you want to let people sell/swap vegetables after the gardener talks. Are you asking if you should tell people what to charge for their vegetables? Because if that's the case I think you should just let it be what it is and have people decide for themselves.
posted by theichibun at 7:13 PM on August 24, 2010

Depending on the crowd you're expecting, a ticket system could work - 1 avocado = 2 apples = 4 lemons = 2 limes = 1 bunch celery etc. If everyone knows each other, or if it's an easy-going, trustworthy group, then an honesty system could be worth a shot.
posted by twirlypen at 8:06 PM on August 24, 2010

I remember something like this happening when I was a kid. The way they did it was with scales. When you showed up you had your produce weighed and were given a ticket with that weight rounded down to the nearest half pound. There were scales set up at every table and you were supposed weigh what you wanted and stay under the weight on your card. I think it might have been done on the honor system, but there may have been "checkout" girls with scales at the exit. That part of my memory is fuzzy.

The excess (from rounding down on the weight and from people who brought in 50 lbs. of something but only took 10 lbs. of whatever home) was donated to the local food bank. If I remember correctly there was quite a bit of leftovers. Especially zucchini, I remember a lot of zucchini.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:58 PM on August 24, 2010

Any advise in general?

Zucchini and squash should count for about 1/4 the value of anything else if you set up any sort of trading or barter system.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:57 AM on August 25, 2010

I don't understand what you want to do. Why would anyone 'drop off their produce?' Please clarify.
posted by jon1270 at 2:26 AM on August 25, 2010

I think it's best to have people trade between/amongst themselves: "I have these 10 heirloom tomatoes, can I trade you for three butternut squashes?" That way people work out the value of their goods themselves and take home anything of theirs that no one wants.

Another way to do it is to have people drop off the produce they grew in a specific area and take whatever they feel is worth what they brought in exchange. This way is good for people that just want to dump off their 50 pounds of zucchini but don't really want anything in return. It might also allow people to get a variety of stuff, i.e. I bring 10 heirloom tomatoes and pick out one butternut squash, two cucumbers and a bell pepper. The downside is that you are responsible for any left over produce that no one wants.

I would not bother with forcing a value on the produce people bring either way. Honor system will do just fine.
posted by radioaction at 6:20 AM on August 25, 2010

It sounds like the ultimate goal of your event is to build community, not to implement a precisely equitable system of vegetable exchange. If that's the case, don't create a market; create an opportunity for people to connect with each other and to voluntarily demonstrate their goodwill. Nobody is going to visit a public library and sit through a talk about gardening just to run away with more than their fair share of home-grown squash. (Unless they are extremely hungry, perhaps, in which case you're doing something good for your community by feeding them).

So, make this an opportunity for the neighbours to get to know each other, for keen vegetable gardeners to inspire new hands, and for everyone to learn something new about what grows well in your area. Specify that people should bring their garden surpluses, so that no-one's too worried about getting a perfectly "fair" trade. Set a big table aside before the talk, and have a member of staff on hand to receive the produce. Thank everyone who brings something to the table, however small. Tell them all that their vegetables look delicious - yes, even the seven kilos of giant squash. Let them admire the bounty while they listen to the gardener speak.

Then after the talk, ask the participants to gather around the table and take what they think they can use. Offer tea and coffee, maybe some fresh fruit, to encourage people to hang around and chat. By turning the swap into a social event, you'll be exerting strong social pressure on them to refrain from overtly greedy behaviour. People like to be seen as generous; this alone will almost certainly be enough to prevent fist-fights breaking out over the beets. If you're particularly concerned, you could have a staff member keep an eye on the table and quietly remind any particularly grabby folk to please leave some for the others. Donate whatever's left over to the local foodbank.

(Not a big vegetable swapper myself, since I rarely harvest enough to have a surplus. But I am a social policy wonk by training, so I have a reasonable understanding of social capital and know that market-based systems are sometimes not the best solution for building it. You're doing something really good for your community, by the way, so well done! I hope the night goes brilliantly).
posted by embrangled at 6:49 AM on August 25, 2010

Gah, that should be social capital. Not that it's a particularly good article, really. Super quick version: help people connect with one another other and you make your whole community, and all the individuals within it, more resilient. Sorry to get all nerdy, but this is such a perfect example of market vs community that it's almost a case study for the concept.
posted by embrangled at 6:54 AM on August 25, 2010

« Older How can I learn to paint?   |   Bite The Big Apple, Don't Mind Deux Magots Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.