The lemon economy

Back in 2000 right around winter solstice while I was walking down a quiet Thornbury street I saw a basket of lemons sitting at somebody’s front gate with a “take one” sign.  I gratefully pocketed my lemon and went about my day.  But the lemon basket sparked an idea that grew to become the Urban Orchard produce swap at CERES Market – basically a communal basket (read card table) where people could bring their excess produce and take someone else’s in exchange.

At first I imagined people would just bring excess fruit, but from the beginning swappers turned up with veggies and herbs, seeds and seedlings, pickles and preserves, teas and tinctures, even cakes.  With the beautiful bonus that people hung around and talked; about their plants and gardens, how they cooked this or that and how we should get a marquee and a thermos here to make this more comfortable.  

People new to Swaps naturally wondered about fairness, ‘What happens if people only give a little but take too much?” is a common refrain.  But the opposite seems to run true with people giving more than they take and Swap co-ordinators having to cajole people to fill their empty baskets. Which is refreshing in the face of much of today’s “sharing economy” that deep down seems to be about getting somebody, already struggling to make ends meet, do some kind of  job for us at below minimum wage.

Swaps save and share so much produce but just as importantly many beautiful friendships have begun through swapping.  And because it’s such a doable idea produce swaps have been popping up all over the place and of course there are even “apps for that” these days.  So if your lemon tree is heaving under the weight of fruit then perhaps pop down to your local swap and if you can’t find one nearby you can always go “old school” and put a basket of lemons at your front gate.

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