Are you just about done with all the summer squash coming out of your garden? Or been eyeing the neighbor’s plum tree, wishing you had some of your own? There’s a bench in North Oakland’s Mosswood Park where you can trade away your excess harvest and pick up something else you like.
The Mosswood plant and produce exchange offers a space for neighbors to barter herbs, fruits, vegetables, seeds and plants with their fellow gardening buffs. Several members of the Greater Mosswood Neighborhood Association organize the weekly, Saturday morning exchange, which began just a month ago. Already, there are big ideas for the future.
“We hope it’ll get bigger and some day be a farmers market-type thing,” said Karen Hancock, one of the organizers.
For now, the exchange is refreshingly informal. Shortly after 11 a.m. on July 3, Hancock and three other gardeners sat in the patio of the abandoned building adjacent to the Mosswood community garden, offering donut holes to incoming exchangers. Along the garden side of the building, a long wooden bench served as the barter table. Jars of dried herbs flanked a wooden tray displaying green beans and two types of squash. There were bags of plums, snap peas, homemade potpourri sticks, and even a jar of vinegar made from the popular fermented drink, kombucha.
Two more women walked in with a bag of lettuce, a handful of lavender stems and some squash blossoms. Soon, everyone was out of their chairs and perusing the items on the bench. Gloria Bruce, who recently moved to the neighborhood with her wife, examined the potpourri sticks.
“I’d be happy to trade you one for some squash blossoms,” said Diana Young, who made the sticks, along with the kombucha vinegar, and a tangy sauerkraut that she later spread on crackers for the exchangers to sample. Done deal. The two women swapped their wares.
The exchanging went on casually among talk of gardening and neighborhood happenings. Soon, Theresa Halula walked in and plopped down a shallow, blue bucket full of pepper and tomato seedlings—extras from a friend who owns a nursery. Minutes later, she and Hancock left the marketplace and began preparing the dirt in a nearby garden bed, to plant some of the seedlings. Hancock, who’s been unemployed for a year, plans to start gardening the raised bed with local teens.
In fact, the actual exchanging of produce is just one part of the weekly event.
“Even if there’s not a lot of produce getting exchanged, we’re getting together and talking about things,” said A.J. Benham, who’s a nurse practitioner.
“It’s nice to organize around something positive,” said Andrea Snedeker, who chairs the Greater Mosswood Neighborhood Association.
“Yeah,” agreed Benham.
“Not fighting against anyone,” added Snedeker, who described herself as “very vocal” in community affairs.
Talk wandered from gardening tips to the nearby Kaiser expansion. Hancock handed out fliers for two upcoming trainings on emergency preparedness. Soon it was well past the two hours allotted for the exchange. The remaining participants began to divvy up the unclaimed produce.
“Does anyone want these last snow peas that are left?” asked Hancock.
“I’ll trade you for the green beans,” said Benham. Done.
Ultimately, Hancock said, she hopes to organize the neighborhood’s backyard gardeners and get them more involved in the community garden at Mosswood. She’s also thinking about organizing garden work exchanges, where neighbors volunteer to help each other out with pruning, weeding or other garden chores.
“I never thought of myself as a community organizer, but that’s what I’m doing,” said Hancock, who, after a year of unsuccessful job hunting, is thinking about retiring at her 61 years of age. A barter-style Mosswood farmers market may be coming soon after all.
The Mosswood plant and produce exchange happens every Saturday from 11 am to noon at the Mosswood community garden, on the corner of Webster Street and MacArthur Boulevard.
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