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Homegrown produce and swap groups are breaking the supply chains that bind them

As vegetable aisles are stripped bare, the humble backyard garden now serves a greater purpose than attending to your inner green thumb.

People are looking out the back door for self-sufficiency and choosing to not be locked into supply chains and fluctuating costs.

Matthew Raabe finds joy in growing fresh produce for his family in Stanthorpe on Queensland’s Southern Downs.

He said while it is a hobby, growing food is a necessity of life.

“Food sustains life and yet it’s not a major cultural part for a lot of people,” he said.

“Being over dependent on supermarket chains, and not being able to grow things for themselves to a point of complete dependence, has become common.

Close up of a man and a cow.
Matthew Raabe grows produce to help sustain his family. (Supplied: Matthew Raabe)

“At the peak of sufficiency, four out of seven things on our plate were growing in the garden or was contributed by the garden.

Agribusiness lecturer and food security expert Dr Risti Permani said going back to basics with subsistence agriculture is still very common in developing countries.

“They’re like 24-hour farmers but can only produce what is sufficient for their family,” she said.

“I think there’s definitely a lot of discussion about to what extent this movement contributes to food security.”

Bringing the community together

A man and woman standing in front of an avocado tree holding avocados.
The Toowoomba Home Produce Swap Group meets monthly to share excess produce. (ABC Southern Queensland: Anthea Moodie)

Good seasonal conditions mean fruit bowls are overflowing and trees are filled with produce, but there’s only so much relish one can make with the leftovers.

The sharing and swapping of homegrown produce brings the community together while helping the hip pocket.

While the Toowoomba Home Produce Swap Group meets once a month, the excess produce shared between members lasts for weeks.

The communal aspect of the initiative is reminiscent of generations past where people grew and swapped only what they needed.

Group administrator Charmaine Williamson said there was a great variety to choose from.

“We have everything from egg cartons to empty bottles, right through to home produce and the more refined things like pickles from excess produce… or somebody making wine,” she said.

“We make jams and pickles with what’s left over.

Ms Williamson said it was much more than financial.

“The reasons for health and wellbeing, mentally, physically, are the real benefits of joining this group,” she said.

A lady smiling at a tree with red vegetables on it.
Toowoomba Home Produce Swap Group’s Charmaine Williamson says there is a great variety when they meet. (ABC Southern Queensland: Anthea Moodie)

Group member Ursula O’Brien said it cuts down wastage too.

“As a single person, and permaculture influenced, I can grow and process much more than I and my neighborhood wants and needs,” she said.

No silver bullet

There are great benefits to this movement but it is no silver bullet for the growing price and limited availability of produce.

Dr Permani said there were many contributing factors.

“There are concerns like resourcing and contamination,” she said.

“Especially if gardening in urban soils. There might be contamination by heavy metals. And how efficient the growers use land and water, and their knowledge of food safety.

“The diet diversity of people who grow their own food is also quite limited.”

A backyard veg patch.
Backyard food gardener Matthew Raabe said self-growing one component of the dinner plate is a step in the right direction.(ABC Southern Queensland: Anthea Moodie)

While the grow-your-own idea is an easy concept for some, it is not a viable option for those in high-density urban areas with little or no garden.

“You might be able to get one or two carrots, but then you would still rely on what’s available in a supermarket,” Dr Permani said.

“We might need millions of different solutions to that.”

Mr Raabe said if just one component of the dinner plate was self-grown it was a step in the right direction.

“And some people will become hobbyists with it, rekindle their love of putting their fingers in the dirt and growing things, watching the cycle of life,” he said.

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