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Harvest Swap – and the Third Ethic of Permaculture

I feel like a field mouse lately, the cold nights and cool days of late September inviting actions directed at keeping warmth in the house, gathering the food stuffs for the long winter ahead. Preparing the firewood, knitting a few more garments to keep the family cozy…. searching for the slippers that were put away for the summer. The autumn at our permaculture homestead is always filled with the pleasant worries of putting food up – there is harvest, canning, curing, drying, freezing, lacto-fermenting…  – and lately, herbal infusions, and drying of tea herbs. Since I grow most of our food, I place a great importance in keeping the harvest well taken care of!

chutney-peachesBut if you are like me, you might have experienced the years when too many tomatoes, peaches,  or cucumbers thrive in your garden, and after canning 50 jars of catchup, you start asking yourself, is it really feasible to give it all away at Christmas for gifts? Can you really consume or distribute all the eggs, milk or peach pies that you are blessed with? Is half of an acre of chamomile flowers too much for one family? Here is where the Harvest Swap, organized here, in Santa Fe, NM  by the Radical Homemakers of New Mexico, comes very handy!

Harvest Swaps (also known as Food Swaps)

Food Swap Network is a national movement, with independent events in many urban areas across the US – offering gardeners, homemakers, slow food and slow living practitioners an opportunity to meet the like-minded people and swap food. Home-made, home-grown or  foraged, it is all welcome. Swappers give home-made goods a place to go!

food swap sharing

More than food swapping goes on – traditional recipes are shared,  heirloom seed is passed along, friendships are forged, inspiration and encouragement from fellow gardeners, urban farmers and homesteaders are delightful to all. At a food swap you might be able to trade peach spread for freshly baked bread, eggs for medicinal herb infusions, sauerkraut for raw goat milk.

At a food swap you learn that your town is full of creative people, who are good with their hands, with their gardens and in their kitchens. You learn that you are not alone in your love for dipping your own beeswax candles, skimming lard or making sugar-free, gluten-free crabapple cookies from scratch (that is, beginning at a crabapple tree with meticulous harvest!). You might even score a hand-made item – beautiful dry flower wreath, an apron stitched from vintage fabric, or a felted baby hat.

You return home satisfied in your field mouse urge to fill up the pantry, to decorate and winterize the home – carrying home boxes with concoctions and creations that all make sense to you.

Overabundance is Pollution (or at least, it might become it!)

One of the permaculture design principles is just that: overabundance or overproduction is pollution. There is no sustainability in growing bushels of apples and letting them rot in your compost pile. There is nothing good about making 5 gallons of Echinacea tincture for your family – it will not get used! Permaculture warns us against creating such polluting situations: too much of a good thing is ultimately not good.

Food Swaps help us to deal with such overproduction in the most effective and sustainable manner – considerable effort of growing or foraging your food is reciprocated in the setting when your product is swapped for something local and made with equal care and intention, something you actually truly want and need!

santa fe food swap

Swapping in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Our town is blessed with several amazing permaculture initiatives – it is a home of the Permaculture Credit Union, of the Santa Fe Time Bank, and of the Santa Fe Harvest Swap (which is the annual event offered by the Radical Homemakers of New Mexico). Erin O’Neill, gardener and activist, shepherded the Harvest Swap into existence for our region, getting inspired by the Food Swap movement. In its 3rd year now, the event draws a circle of gardeners, farmers, urban homesteaders and radical homemakers from the larger community. A variety of food stuffs is swapped, a joyful party-like event a catalyst of inspirations and better gardens of the forthcoming year.


When you are a grower, gleaner and gatherer like me, sometimes you simply just have too much of one thing and not enough of another. This whole thing started with an early frost, resulting in a ton of not yet ripened tomatoes and a tired new mama (me). I knew green tomatoes could be chutneyed, fried, jellied, etc…but I simply didn’t have it in me to do so that year…So the Harvest Swap was born to share, trade and circulate the wealth and work among lots of households, not just mine! Erin O’Neill

Third Ethic of Permaculture

The Third Ethic of permaculture (read here more about all three of them) encourages us to Share the Surplus for the Benefit of Earth and People. That surplus comes in many shapes – fruit, time, knowledge, skills.

What  and  how we share our surplus tomatoes, knowledge and time in our community, how capable are we of valuing our own and other people’s surpluses – that is what defines our community’s ability to sustain itself. Sharing our surplus at joyful occasions of food swaps, clothing swaps, in mentorship situations, or at the skill-building workshops we all gain tremendously. And, perhaps the most important outcome of that sharing is our renewed sense of joy from walking the paths of sustainable living – through permaculture, or radical homemaking, or slow parenting or urban homesteading – walking it in a diverse community of friends and supporters, who have just what we need, when we need it!