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Nibbling Through The Nosh-o-sphere
updated: May 08, 2010, 9:50 AM

By Billy Goodnick

You're probably a few months from that frightful moment when you machete your way to the back of your veggie bed, lift an umbrella-sized leaf and behold a zucchini big enough to have its own zip code. I don't know if this is an urban legend or something I heard on A Prairie Home Companion, but there's supposedly this town in Wisconsin (or San Diego or something) where at the end of summer, when the garden is pumping on all 12 cylinders, people sneak under stealth of night, dumping their unwanted green bioblimps on their neighbor's porch. The neighbor, in turn, fattens the collection with a few of their own and then tiptoes away on their own ninja escapade.

The Burden of Bounty

It's easy to go overboard planting fruit trees and other edibles, only to find that you'd have to be a reality-TV family like Kate & Nate and Their Horde of 38, to eat everything you've grown. Simpler to find a willing recipient for your overstock and find something else to feel guilty about.

You can find a welcoming home for your extra edibles by checking out what Santa Barbara Food Not Lawns is doing to make our area a healthier, better connected, sustainable community.

Bring It, Share It

The concept is simple: One Saturday morning per month, neighbors within a strollable/bikeable/short-drive-if-you-absolutely-mustable geographic area gather at someone's driveway or back-yard, bringing something to exchange. The bulk of the trading is seasonal surplus from fruit trees, veggie plots, herb gardens and berry patches. Eggs are frequent fare along with heirloom seeds and seedlings, munchies, recipes for all the stuff you're taking home, plus a bunch of folks thirsting to chat about life, the universe and everything.

Like a lot of green ideas that take hold in the area, the concept of garden exchanges sprouted on the Mesa-our hip, little Berkeley On The Bluff-starting with a brainstorm by Owen Dell. "A guy from down the block came to me with some extra lemons and asked if I had any ideas on how to keep them from going to waste. I suggested he knock on his neighbor's doors and ask if they wanted any."

That was the spark. Not long after finding a home for the lemons, foodsheds popped up in a few other parts of the Mesa. After the first garden exchange in March 2007, word got out and interest picked up. There are now 16 exchanges between Carpinteria and Isla Vista. If there isn't one near you, it's easy peasy to start one. You can get help at their website or from the old hats. You might even get the SBFNL Energizer Bunny, Lynn Boettner-Siegel, as your coach.

The garden exchanges are loosely organized via a web site developed and managed by Lynn. Her own Mesa home's front-and-back yard food factory isn't just bountiful; it's playfully artful. Her front yard also features a simply constructed "free box" and small bulletin board where neighbors deposit anything they'd like to find a home for-books, fruits and veggies, a surplus toaster-or post messages of interest to locals. One day when I was visiting the garden, a neighbor strolled by the curbside box, helped herself to a basket of Lynn's sun-warmed lipstick-red strawberries, tipped her sunhat and continued on.

Local Star Power

The schedule for the local exchanges is posted at the SBFNL website, but I need to highlight one especially groovy treat coming up this month. On Saturday, May 15, the San Roque neighborhood garden exchange will be hosted at the home of Isabelle Greene , a visionary Santa Barbara landscape architect of world renown. It might be a great place for the uninitiated to get their feet wet and see what the buzz is all about, all while taking a voyeuristic snoop behind the fence of a great designer.

What's in a name?

A few years ago, our local garden exchanges aligned with the national Food Not Lawns umbrella group, gaining links to more resources and adding their voices on broader issues. Food Not Lawns started in Cascadia, OR, promoting just what their name says. They ask people to consider reducing or removing their water-hungry, chemically dependent, fossil-fuel consuming turf and put the land to a higher use growing something yummy. The next logical step is to share, an act that builds community.

Yes, I'm always leading the charge to murder lawns, but don't let this group's name make you assume that lawnicide is a litmus test for hanging with them-no guilt trips here. There's nothing that says you can't have a reasonably sized, intelligently managed patch of turf and grow food.

So if any of this stuff-delicious food grown nearby, like-minded locals, sharing recipes, or visiting other people's gardens-ignites your curiosity, Santa Barbara Food Not Lawns is a smart place to start. The first step is to check the up-to-date info at their website's schedule of exchanges. Once you're there, poke around-lots of good stuff.

And just to cover my butt, if you get arrested on a Section 2, 579-A Muni-code violation (Malicious, nocturnal deposition of oversized Curcurbita pepo), don't come looking for me. I'm just passing along information.

Food Not Lawns

National Food Not Lawns Website

Garden Wise Guys TV Segment On Food Not Lawns

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