It is a strong childhood memory that Louise Mundey drifts back to when asked about what drives her today.
The scene features her pop exchanging vegetables with his neighbour next door, both of whom had gardens filled with fresh produce.
“My pop would hand over an excess of beans and Merv would hand over cucumbers. They would actually do that all the time,” Mundey recalled, with a fondness carried clearly down the phone line.
“When I first had a garden ... I didn’t have that community or people around me that actually grew vegetables. I’ve always been the one to grow them. And I’ve handed them on to people when I’ve had too much. It’s nice to be able to swap it and get something back sometimes, which sounds a bit selfish but it’s nice to build that relationship with people”.
That idea – however old it may seem – is one at the root of changes to how people are understanding and interacting with their food. An idea shared by over 400 others in one Launceston-based Facebook group and thousands more in similar arrangements across the state. One that reaches across into health, sustainability and affordability. A growing network of people taking food sharing from the fence, to the internet, and back again.
Crop Swap Launceston is one of three online communities Mundey formed in early 2017, with others in Hobart and Tasmania’s North-West. The idea came about after discovering the original Sydney-based group formed by Laurie Green. One hosted, but not constrained, to Facebook; one that shared food and seeds, growing tips and preserving tricks; one that spilled out into regular physical meet-ups.
“I said to her – because her idea was we just have one in Tassie – ‘I know Tasmania, and everyone is going to want their own area’,” Mundey laughed. “That’s why I did set up the three, because I knew what it would be like.”
Tasmania now hosts six of the groups, more than any other state except its home in New South Wales. The Crop Swap name stretches across the Pacific Ocean to Vancouver, Canada. But it’s only one of the many ideas, schemes and systems driving change.
“The local food scene here in the North of Tasmania is building momentum,” says Sandra Murray, a lecturer in food, nutrition and public health at the University of Tasmania. Online, Murray pointed to other groups like Tasmanian Seed Swap, Food Swap Tasmania and the Deviot Basket Market Swap which take a similar approach. And there is plenty more happening on the ground, too, in the Launceston suburbs of Mowbray and Ravenswood.
“Over the last 10 years, particularly in our low income communities, I’ve seen a movement from reliance on emergency relief to self-reliance in the form of an emergence of community gardens, food social enterprises such as the Veggie Bag Scheme at the Northern Suburbs Community Centre and the Food Forest at Ravenswood,” Murray said.
Food trading and swapping is a growing trend, she continued, and an example of the community’s move towards consuming what is being dubbed a “sustainable diet” – one now being talked about by the United Nations and making contributions to food and nutrition security, with low environmental impacts, and seeking to provide a healthy life for present and future generations. It’s now being included in Murray’s curriculum.
“What’s been missing in healthy eating has been the environment,” she said. “That’s starting to change with these examples – things like Crop Swap. It’s fundamentally what we are trying to do. It’s all interdisciplinary.”
Crop Swap founder Laurie Green thought as much in 2015, balancing a young baby and a mortgage with the expenses of life in Sydney. “I thought there must have been a better way,” Green told me. “I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just create these old school communities – bartering has been around for such a long time. People are also sharing recipes and growing tips. It really is so much more than food.”
When Kim Croker moved from Brisbane to Tasmania in 2017 she wanted to “be more self-sufficient”. Croker, who runs the free-range pork operation Fork it Farm through a community supported agriculture model, also trades some of their product through Crop Swap Launceston. Along with allowing her to share her own alternative food models, the group has enabled her to avoid waste and learn some new skills.
As for what she looks for when trading, Croker says it depends on what is needed. They grew some of their own garlic this year, but are still waiting for their cucumber and tomatoes to be ready. “I’ve just been in contact with someone yesterday”.
Some other groups around the country hold regular meet-ups and workshop days, something Mundey says she hopes to achieve with her Crop Swap groups in Launceston, Hobart and the North-West. “That was something I wanted to do from the start,” she tells me. “But my energy is spread in about 10 different directions at the moment.”
“We’ve constantly grown in Launceston – nearly every week we have new people coming in. But we can all work together. And having it be swap based … it’s not a selling thing, it’s something everyone has access to.”
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