A woman in my neighborhood had this great idea for the swap and she turned it into a reality. Once a month participants drop off whatever they've got to offer and get back a bag of goodies. It's called The Hillside Produce Cooperative and Hynden Welch is the organizer. It's been so successful that Hynden has been teaching people how to start a swap in their own neighborhood. You can read all about it in this post that I wrote last year.
On top of getting a free bag of fresh, local produce, what I love about this idea is how it eliminates waste. If you've ever grown zucchini or had a fruit tree that produces a lot of fruit, you know that it's nearly impossible to give away all that you can't use. And it feels terrible to let delicious, nutritious food go to waste. This is a great solution. It's also a fun community-building event.
What we got (roughly clockwise from the back): burning sage, zapote, avocado, butternut squash, lemon, a type of banana called saba, cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, strawberry guava, banana bread, figs, and tons of fresh herbs including rosemary, basil, bay leaves, and chives.
Not only was I thrilled about the figs and the tomatoes and fresh herbs, there were three items I've never even tasted, which is incredible for someone who has lived in Southern California most of her life. My husband and I shared the zapote that very night, a delicious banana-like fruit, and both became immediate fans. The next morning my husband left me me a note: "I (heart) zapote!" The strawberry guava I grabbed for myself, and it tasted exactly like the name suggests, like a blend of those two fruits. And the small bananas are like plantains in that they're not supposed to be eaten raw, so I steamed them and we ate it with black beans and again, it was delicious. A much more subtle flavor than a commercial banana, and a more pleasant consistency.
An added bonus was that when I sent out a thank you to the group in which I mentioned that I was over the moon about the figs, the woman with the fig tree responded that I was welcome to come by and take more anytime I wanted because the tree would be producing for another two weeks and most of it was going to the squirrels. I took her up on it a few days later when we had a small party because I wanted to make this simple appetizer that my husband and I had loved so much. It takes about five minutes and looks beautiful on a plate, and it tastes incredible!
I highly recommend joining a produce coop or starting one yourself if you don't already have one in your own neighborhood. I couldn't be happier about ours, and feel so lucky to be part of it even though I don't have any produce to offer. I'm always happy to put my baking skills to use.
Do you have a coop or produce swap in your neighborhood? Tell us about it if you do. And click here to find out more about Hillside Produce Cooperative and how you can bring the idea to your own community.