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At Temescal library, neighbors swap backyard produce and kids’ clothes

on July 17, 2012

Books weren’t the only things flying off the tables at the Temescal branch of the Oakland library on Saturday.  In the backyard, boxes full of succulent plums gleamed in the sunshine at the library’s North Oakland crop swap.

The swap idea took shape when Temescal resident and swap organizer Dana Hull realized that she had way more lavender than she could use.  Meanwhile, her next-door neighbor was overrun with lemons.  They decided to organize the crop swap so people could share the bounty of their backyard produce with their neighbors. At a swap, gardeners bring their extra fruits and veggies and set them on the table for others to take.  While there, they are free to choose from items on the table that their fellow gardeners have brought to share.

“Temescal is a neighborhood that had a lot of Italian families here, and a lot of people planted fruit trees generations ago,” said Hull as she lounged in the shade under the cover of an umbrella. “Right now everyone who has a plum tree is overrun with plums.  Four or five different people have come by with big baskets of plums, all different kinds.”

Plums weren’t the only thing in abundance at the crop swap, a cook’s delight with basil, baby carrots, herbs, squash, pohas and tomatillos finding their way to new homes and kitchens. As the exchanged produce, neighbors talked shop about gardening and parenting. Children ran around the trees while people queued up outside of the nearby tool lending library.

Tool or book borrowers, or anyone else who happened to stop by, were welcome to participate in the crop swap even if they didn’t have anything to drop off on the table. “We have so much in abundance that it’s a free thing. Anything that is left over I’m going to donate to the Alameda County Food Bank,” said Hull.  “My hope is everyone will take it.”

Produce wasn’t the only thing up for grabs.  Peggy Kass of Kassenhoff Growers sells tomatoes at the Grand Lake and Temescal farmers’ markets, but for the swap she had brought along a few kinds of basil, cucumbers, squash and tomato plants. “These plants are at the end of my season, so I just wanted to give them away,” said Kass.  “They’re in really good shape and they just need to be planted.”

San Francisco resident Emile Sandoz-Voyer became the excited new owner of a strawberry plant at the crop swap.  It was an unexpected acquisition, since she had actually crossed the bay to participate in the children’s clothing swap that was simultaneously happening in the basement of the library.

“It’s really nice to be able to bring your old stuff and pick up the new stuff and feel like someone else will get your cute newborn clothes,” said Sandoz-Voyer as her three-month-old daughter napped in a Baby Bjorn.

In the basement of the Temescal library, Liz-Briggs-Fandek was folding and organizing tops for babies during the fourth clothing swap she’s held there.  She and her husband and their 2-year-old son moved to Oakland from Philadelphia a year and a half ago and she wanted to recreate something she enjoyed on the East Coast.  The clothing swaps happen every four to six months.

“It’s just enough time to grow out of what you have before you need to go buy new clothes,” said Briggs-Fandek.  “Kids go through clothes too fast.  You should be able to get clothes for free and not have to pay a ton of money for them.” Swaps are also good for pregnant women and people with small children, she said, because they can trade for clothing a few sizes up that their kids will need in the future.

Saturday’s swap was a success,Briggs-Fandek said.  “People left with bags of clothing,” she said. She said the swap is also a great opportunity to create community and meet new people.  Leftover clothes that aren’t kept for future swaps are donated to a nearby center called Bananas, a resource that parents can use to find daycare or babysitters.

After the library closed, the North Oakland crop swap simmered down, leaving just a few folks milling about. All of the donated plants were gone, but there were still some fruits and vegetables left on the exchange table.

Hull said the plan is to do it again once a month for the next three months.  In the meantime, she is searching for a commercial kitchen that can be rented for cheap or for free where she can host a jam-making party so swappers can process their newly acquired fruit. “A lot of people in the neighborhood want to make fruit jam or can tomatoes, but no one has a kitchen big enough to do that,” said Hull.

A passing happy crop swapper gave Hull her regards as she excited the yard, hands full.  Hull called out, “You sure you don’t want more plums?”

Anyone who would like to volunteer for the crop swap or be added to the e-mail list may contact Dana Hall at danahull [AT] gmail [DOT] com.  The crop swap is scheduled to happen at the Temescal library again from 10a.m. to 1p.m. on the following dates: Saturday, Aug. 18, Saturday, Sept. 15, Saturday, Oct. 13.  You can also connect with the crop swap on Facebook.  Anyone who would like to volunteer for the children’s clothing swap may contact Liz Briggs-Fandek at ae.briggsfandek [AT] gmail [DOT] com.


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