During the busy summer harvest, we need to continue to remember that we don’t need to do it all ourselves. Swapping is a great way to offload excess produce from your garden while gaining food you weren’t able to grow yourself. But it’s also important to stay connected to your community during this time—not only to keep you from drowning in that pile of zucchini, but because community members can offer you emotional support to help you plow through the growing season.
We know the harvest season is busy, so here are some ways to incorporate your friends and neighbors into your harvest activities.
1. Glean Neighbors’ Unharvested Trees and Gardens
Is there a fruit tree you pass in town that every year goes unpicked? Knock on that door and offer your harvesting skills. Many times we’ve found that the owner might be elderly and no longer able to pick the fruit and is thrilled to have someone use what otherwise went to waste. Offer to both harvest and share some of the fruit if they’re interested, or better yet, bring the fruit back in a pie.
Last year, our 12-year-old son, Liam, took the opportunity to glean unpicked produce when he founded a project called Harvest Ninja, organizing local kids to identify untapped fruit trees and then donate the harvest to a local free community meal. Last year, the kids harvested more than 1,000 pounds of fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste, equaling over $2,400 in value!
2. Share Wild Edibles
Got blackberries, nettles, ramps or other wild edibles growing on your property? If so, knowing the prolific nature of these wild plants, you probably have more than you need. Invite folks over for a harvesting party, and use what you harvest to cook a dish you share together. This is a great introduction for people new to wild-food foraging; it can be a bit intimidating to scout for and cook with plants originally viewed as weeds.
Our friend, Brett Olson of Renewing the Countryside, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that champions rural communities and revitalizations, takes folks through the process of gathering various wild greens—from lamb’s quarters to purslane—and teaches them to use them as a tasty alternative to spinach in dishes like spanakopita.
3. Cook a Mega Potluck Dish
We’re not sure if our friends have caught on yet, but we always bring the same dish to summer potlucks: a big bowl of cucumber salad. We marinate cucumbers rice vinegar with dill and added seasonings. Why the repetition? We always have a ton of cucumbers this time of year and, even with our pickle-making obsession, the extras still pile up.
Because we always have more cucumbers at home, we even bring empty, clean containers for folks to take some salad home. Sometimes we take extra whole cucumbers and leave those on the potluck buffet, along with the cucumber salad recipe. (This is also a great way to make new friends!)
4. Trade for Non-Food Rewards
Even non-farmers who aren’t gardening themselves will appreciate receiving part of your harvest and can often offer you a non-food item in return. This strategy works particularly well when someone has something of value that they don’t want to give away for free, but might feel awkward asking a friend to pay money for. For example, a local friend is downscaling their garden this year and has extra irrigation drip tape he’s happy to pass on to us for some produce samplers throughout the season. It’s a win-win!