Long Beach resident Tiffany Carmona, 36, fills her bag with freshly picked collard greens during the Crop Swap on March 4, 2017. (Photos by Desarae Gomez)
Five-year-old Mary McDermott eagerly walks along the lines of the small crops at the back corner of the old North Long Beach Fire Station No. 9 on Saturday morning.
Mary’s mother, Kasia McDermott, 40, points and identifies the leafy greens poking out from the dirt. Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, kale and broccoli to name a few. Kasia cautions Mary to watch her step as she passes over to one particular crop. Small purple pollen-like clusters stand out amongst the dull green leaves surrounding it.
“You see it coming in?” says McDermott as she motions to Mary to take a look. “Isn’t it cute? It’s a little purple cauliflower.” The mother and daughter giggle as they observe the baby plant.
The old fire station has become the site for awareness and education on sustainability and gardening for this North Long Beach community.
Every first Saturday of the month, the Crop Swap is held and has become a community staple event for those interested in gardening and organic food.
People from the community as well as the surrounding areas come together with bags and boxes filled with fruits and vegetables picked from their home gardens and trade produce.
The Crop Swap allows people to not only share their harvest with others but to share advice and expertise on gardening.
Started in August of 2016, Jeff Rowe, president of the Grant Neighborhood Association, and Ryan Smolar, co-director of Long Beach Fresh, are the two individuals who were instrumental in bringing the vision of a crop swap to reality.
“We have had a crop swap on our Grant Neighborhood Association to-do list for some time,” says Rowe. “But when I talked to Ryan about it he said, ‘Let’s start it right now.’”
The Crop Swap began as part of the Heal Zone project through a grant given out by Kaiser Permanente to promote healthy eating and living.
“We were only required to do this three times in the course of a year for our grant,” says Smolar. “We have done it every month since our first time because it has been such a complete hit.”
And its popularity is evident. Every month, attendance has grown and it has become more than just about crop swapping.
“It’s a social event. It’s a garden-tip-sharing event. It’s a nutrition-cooking-kind of forum. It works on so many levels,” says Rowe.
A master gardening class was also implemented along with the Crop Swap to teach and develop people’s gardening skills.
Long Beach resident Tiffany Carmona, 36, has already set sights on attending the gardening class. Carmona found out about the event through Facebook and already has five garden beds in her backyard.
“My son turned three this year and I started when he was born,” explains Carmona. “I figured I would start growing our own food and teach him how to garden. He goes in the back with me to play in the dirt and helps me plant seeds.”
However, not just North Long Beach residents enjoy the Crop Swap. People from Lakewood and Paramount have become regulars, and those like Luis Tobon, 35, have started a crop swap group on Facebook.
Described as a Craigslist crop swap, Tobon got the idea for the Lakewood Gardeners group after a visit to the grocery store to buy some oranges. The only organic oranges in the store were in a pack of 30, which were much more than he needed.
“I got on Facebook, standing in the store, asking ‘Hey, does anybody have oranges?’” says Tobon. “Ten minutes later, I got like two or three responses saying, ‘I got oranges. What’s your address?’”
Attendees say that more community bonds have become forged during the Crop Swap and through the online group started by Tobon.
“That’s the real kick for me — the community dynamic!” says Rowe.
The initial goal when starting the Crop Swap was to have a garden in everyone’s backyard and encourage healthy eating. Now, the gardeners’ vision is to expand with more Crop Swaps throughout the city.
“We want to hedge our bets,” laughs Smolar. “We don’t want to be the only game in town.”