Heads up, green thumbs struggling to offload excess edibles: Aid is out there. A growing movement, designed to help people eat well, save money, and get to know their neighbors, is planting seeds in communities around the country. Crop swaps–meet ups where people exchange their surplus backyard bounty–are thriving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Boston in city and suburban enclaves and online, too.

Of course, there’s nothing particularly new about this phenomenon; who hasn’t been the beneficiary of the guy next door’s abundant squash plot or the woman across the street’s surplus spinach bed? Informal, low-key fruit and veggie trades have gone on since humans began cultivating crops. But these days, with the economy and the environment on many people’s minds, bartering food in a systematic manner is making a comeback. (For more on this, see Shareable’s story on food swaps.) Read more

I have a theory that the more often one cooks, the easier it is for one to cook more often. I know from experience that this is true for me. Back when I worked at night in the restaurant business, I loved to cook at home on my nights off. Being a busy student and worker, my refrigerator was always bare so I’d pore over cookbooks, decide what to make, then head to the store (or stores) for the ingredients. Every time I cooked, I’d have to start from scratch with just the right spices, herbs, grains, cheeses, etc. Then I’d spend the entire afternoon cooking…and about 20 minutes eating. I enjoyed it, but this was no way to actually feed myself on a regular basis. Read more

On a recent Friday morning, Wheatberry Bakery in Amherst, Massachusetts, was humming with activity. Behind hand-built wooden counters set with delicate French tiles, co-owner Adrie Lester dealt a brisk business in organic scones and muffins, loaves of fragrant artisanal bread, soups, and sandwiches. In the bakery’s kitchen, her husband, Ben, kneaded a batch of dough, then paused to slip a tray of sourdough baguettes into the oven.

The Lesters opened their business in 2005 and quickly established themselves as a neighborhood fixture. But in early 2008, everything changed. Commodity crop prices went haywire, sending the cost of flour soaring. “It was catastrophic,” Ben said. The Lesters decided that basing their products on an ingredient produced thousands of miles away in the Midwest no longer made good business sense, and they began to ask what it would take to source grain from local growers. Read more

We are in the midst of a revolution in urban agriculture. In a growing number of cities, suburbs, and small towns, community groups and entrepreneurs have discovered innovative ways to harvest and grow food, using networks of relatively small plots of public and private land and shared resources, and in the process, forging novel relationships among producers and consumers.

While these innovations are based on historical precedents, from the radical Diggers movement of 17th century Britain, to sharecropping arrangements, the victory garden movements during the World Wars, and recent community supported agriculture systems, they are unique in that they apply social networking tools, mapping technologies, unusual land tenure arrangements, or novel business models to forage and farm cities and suburbs. Read more