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

When San Francisco’s Underground Market got started, the city’s health department recognized it as a private event where people exchanged (albeit, with money) homemade foods. Interested participants simply had to sign up on the Web site of the event’s host organization, Forage SF, and they became “members.”

Soon the market became one of San Francisco’s most popular phenomena–a place where hip, mostly young food entrepreneurs could get their brands out there and foodies could gather, socialize, and discover bafflingly delicious items such as “bacon brack.” The whole point, said founder Iso Rabins, was to create opportunities for food entrepreneurs who could otherwise not afford to operate out of certified commercial kitchens.

When the event swelled to accommodate the hundreds and soon thousands of people who would line up to attend, the market became an undeniably public. Then, earlier this summer, the San Francisco Health Department put a halt to the whole delicious operation. At present, the market is in limbo and Rabbins, the Health Department, and many others are chewing on the question: What makes an event or club private? Read more