Every month, we meet at a local venue in the small town of Nanango in Queensland, Australia, to share produce and household goods with the community. My friend suggested the concept three years ago, and I thought it was a fantastic idea. At first, there were only 10 people, and now, there are often more than 60 people gathered every month.
People bring excess produce from their gardens, as well as plants, seedlings, cuttings, and seeds. They also bring useful household items, such as newspapers, books, jars, and containers. They don’t just share goods, they also share a laugh and smile (one person even shared their musical talents one month). Our aim was to create community as well as share our excess produce, and it has been a huge success! Let me tell you how it works for us and encourage you to start a share in your own community.
The name is important. We nearly called it a “produce swap,” but it was clear from the start that we wanted people to share their excess, rather than feeling like they needed a fair swap for what they brought along. Making it a share simplifies the transactions. It’s more about giving than taking, which makes everyone feel good.
Be clear about the rules. Our rules are very clear and announced at the start of every share: Bring what you don’t need, take what you want, and make sure everyone around you gets to take something too. At the end, please take home anything that you brought with you that hasn’t been taken yet.
Research what you're allowed to share. There are food-safety rules that restrict us from sharing eggs and meat (however, eggs for hatching are fine). And our local council regulates sharing of preserves and baked goods. We ask that people don’t share these items unless they have the necessary licenses, to protect the reputation of the share.
Sharing isn’t for everyone. When I explain the concept of sharing, some people get it right away and some people don’t feel comfortable without a direct swap or barter system. The first category of people will enjoy the share, the second category will not. I just accept that not everyone is going to enjoy the idea of sharing, but the right people will come and be happy to join in.
It will take time to build numbers. It took about a year for us to establish the group. My friend and I promised that we would come every month for a year, even if it was just us sharing what we had. Some months, there wasn’t much to share, except for a chat and cup of tea, but we kept coming. Eventually, people found out about the share, and the numbers grew so that we now always have a decent number of people come along with plenty to share. It seems like there's always someone growing something in excess!
Make the share self-sufficient. We didn’t want to create another obligation. Everyone is busy, and most have gardens and animals to look after. Sometimes, you just can’t make it to the share, but the share needs to be able to run without myself or my friend there every month. We're lucky to have a small shed at the venue where we can keep a few things, and they also let us use some tables. It's very quick to set up when we get there and pack up again after about an hour. We start each share at 9:30 a.m. sharp, with a quick speech to thank everyone for coming and remind everyone of the rules. Now that we have a large group of regulars, the share can run with the collective effort of the community, and I hope that means it will be self-sustaining.
It's always exciting to see an idea transform into reality. Seeing people happily sharing their excess produce and building community has been worth the small effort to start the group. I encourage you to think about whether a share like this could work in your community. You'll have to be patient while the group grows, but eventually you could build a strong community around the concept of sharing.
Photos by Liz Beavis
Liz Beavis is a small-scale cattle farmer and soap-making beekeeper in rural Queensland, Australia. On her Eight Acres Farm, she sells beef-tallow soaps, honey and beeswax, and is the author of Our Experience with House Cows, A Beginners Guide to Backyard Chickens and Chicken Tractors, Make Your Own Natural Soap, and the Solar Bore Pump Handbook. Connect with Liz on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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