Here’s Some Food For Thought

Published: Oct 16, 2016
PEGGY Spier has never met Sherry Notlind but they have been brought together by a fruit. Almost every other day, Sherry takes a picture of the grapes in the backyard of her Valleycliffe home and sends it to Peggy, who is waiting for them to ripen. When Sherry moved into her home in Valleycliffe, she noticed an abundance of grapes in her backyard but her family were not interested in eating them. So, she would pack them in bags and keep them out on the road, free for the
Now a new group on Facebook has made it easier for her to give away her grapes and connect with community members rather than merely leaving the fruit on the curb. The Squamish Food Swap and Share group connects community members and enables them to share, swap, or simply give away food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Since the group was started over two months ago by Squamish CAN director Krystle tenBrink, over 200 people have used it to exchange, share, or simply give away food for free. 
It has also made life easier for Peggy and helped her business. Known endearingly as the ‘snow cone lady’ at the Squamish Farmers Market, Peggy will use the grapes to make cordials and soda syrups and, of course, snow cones. Peggy uses locally sourced fruit in her syrups and for that she has traditionally knocked on friends’ and neighbours’ doors to find fruit that is abundant and may eventually be wasted or, worse, attract bears in the neighbourhood. The new Facebook group has enabled her to connect with people like Sherry, who will get a bottle of syrup in exchange for the fruits. “We are lucky to be in a place like this where there is an abundance of fruit and it keeps growing. In the last two months, I’ve gotten plums, apples, and grapes from the group and it works for everyone. There is very little food wastage, it helps with the bear situation, and it helps me connect with many new residents,” she says.
To give away the grapes to Peggy is satisfying for Sherry because the exchange is not as fleeting or anonymous as it had been before when she would simply leave the grapes outside her home. “It’s great that people can access food they may not be able to, and for me, it’s nice to play a part in the community. It’s nice to see the fruit go to someone who can use it rather than just me cutting them or throwing them away,” she says. While there are plenty of people giving away food, there are as many who are interested in simply exchanging food they haven’t been able to grow this season. 
“Does anyone have an abundance of dill growing (or know where I’d find some)? I can trade with some fresh cucumbers or zucchini, or pickles when I’m done,” asks Kristen Card from the group.
Sandra Peake answered the question with an offer of a trade: “I have lots of dill to share. My little man is huge into cucumbers and would love to trade for that if you have some extra.” Michi Hunter posted a picture of “greens going nuts” in her garden: “Swiss chard, spinach, lambsquarters, choi, nasturtium greens/flowers, rapini (like kale), beet greens, cilantro… Would love to swap for other veggies/fruits, but would also love to see it eaten before it all bolts, so if you don’t have anything to swap come by anyway!”
Suzanne Clark offered to trade cherry tomatoes for cukes recently to make some pickle but she says the family was ‘awesome’ enough to give her the cukes for free. Suzanne says a friend of her suggested she join the group, and she sees it as an asset to the community. “The increased cost of food affects everyone. Groups like these help reduce waste, keep bears out of the gardens and help save money. I wanted to make pickles which I have now canned and I like that I could ask for something and offer a swap,” she says, adding that it adds a sense of community and cooperation as people help others in need.
The Squamish Food Swap and Share Facebook page was started in the late spring of this year to provide a platform for Squamish residents to swap and share their garden abundance, supplies, and get help with harvesting fruit trees, informs Krystle tenBrink. The food group currently has 239 members and it continues to grow, with dozens of new food exchanges and swaps happening each day. The group takes the mantle of the Squamish Fruit Tree project, which Squamish CAN ran for five years in Squamish with support from WildSafe BC and the district. Its purpose was to mitigate human and bear conflicts, especially in case of those homeowners who have fruit-bearing trees. The project connected homeowners who needed assistance with volunteers who wanted fruit and were willing to donate a few hours of their time to pick. In the fall of 2015, the CAN board decided to focus on other food-related projects such as CAN Grow Community Gardens, Mamquam Edible School Yard, Food Education Workshop Series, and establishing a Food Policy Council. Later, they connected with the new Squamish WildSafe BC program coordinator Vanessa Isnardy and decided to create the food swap group to provide a platform for Squamish residents to connect and support each other, she says.
Krystle says the Facebook page was intended to fill a gap in the community for residents to connect with one another to swap and share information, food, and resources. “Through initiatives like this, people get a change to connect with other foodies and ensure that additional harvest gets eaten or processed instead of composted. After seven years of Squamish CAN leading various food initiatives with our many wonderful partners and supporters, we have seen how food can bring community members together,” she says. 
Isnardy says fruit trees are an extremely attractive natural food source for bears and since they are often located near homes, the bears begin to associate food sources and humans. They can become very persistent and difficult to move from an area and have been known to break the branches of the trees or even enter peoples’ homes, attracted by fruit bowls and other food smells. Once bears reach this level of behaviour they pose a risk to the public and will likely be destroyed, she adds.
Isnardy says every owner or occupier of property must ensure by law that any fruit that has fallen from a tree is removed from the ground within three days and if stored outdoors, only in a wildlife-resistant container or wildlife-resistant enclosure. 
Besides forging new friendships and bringing the community together, groups like these also play a crucial role in addressing food insecurity issue. According to a latest food security report, more than one in 10 households in the province worry about or lack the money to buy healthy, safe, personally acceptable food. One in six children live in food insecure households despite the fact that a majority of people are employed in these households. Over three per cent of households have experienced severe food shortages. Although a seemingly small initiative, Kyrstle says groups like the food swap can strengthen food system.
Female lone-parent households had the highest rate of food insecurity. The food exchanges that happen can help save families a few dollars or a maybe up to a few hundred, depending on how much they are able to grow themselves or take advantage of the free giveaways on the page, says Krystle. “You do not have to necessarily grow or trade, but simply say “YES” to donating your time to help pick fruit or pick up other access of harvest. These type of connections have no monetary exchange, nor is this the intention of the page. Far to often if we need something and we can afford it, we go out and buy it, but with social media platforms, getting to know your neighbors and community members, borrowing and trading exchanges happen more frequently, which ultimately would save money,” she says.  
Squamish Food Bank Manager Christina Rupp says the numbers at the Squamish Food Bank continue to creep slowly up. “As well as seeing new faces we are also seeing people leaving town because they cannot afford to live here. Rent increases, low wages and higher cost of food are the three main reasons why people are moving out,” she says. “Groups such as the Food Swap and Share enable members of our community to do exactly that, swap and share. Their food and knowledge can enable others to have a more sustainable lifestyle which in turn may help towards food security.”
On a recent sunny afternoon, Amanda Morrison and her family walked down to Anne Shirley’s home in Garibaldi Estates with a bag and a ladder in tow. In the last summer, the pears would all go to waste but this year her posting on the Facebook group ensured the pears are taken by those who will need them. Amanda’s family would be the fifth such group that she has welcomed into her home. In exchange, grateful families have given her pear sauce, apples and some have offered practical tips on the garden, from how to build little tresses for squash to grow up and how to space out the veggies. And then, there are the community connections she has made, getting to know people she wouldn’t have otherwise. These happy communal exchanges will help her work harder in her garden where she is growing tomatoes, swiss chard, squash, kale, strawberries and carrots. It has helped bring her grocery bill down and she enjoys her food more knowing that it’s not genetically grown and isn’t trucked out from some place far. She’s generating good karma, she says as she shares the food with her community. “It’s all about giving and receiving and it’s good karma. We have more than enough to feed ourselves so why not share our food? And to me it’s just nice to see the community exchanges. You are definitely making good connections and meeting people you may not have met otherwise,” she says. She hopes the food group will continue and evolve into something more substantial.
Nature offers a free snack to Juliette Woods every time she steps out of her home. There are two apple trees in her neighbourhood and shiny red apples are strewn all around invitingly. “I pick up an apple for lunch when I’m on my way out,” she says taking a bite on a freshly-fallen apple. Saddened to see them rotting away, she posted a note on the new food share group: “APPLES GALORE. Bring a ladder or collect each day off the grass. Delicious. Some sour, some sweet, depending on size. Some red-fleshed inside too! Great for snacking, chopping into dinner, saucing. FREE and by the bus stop at Garibaldi Way and Tantalus. Don’t let a bear find them first then get in trouble with humans! Come take as many as you wish! No one eats them (except me)… it’s weird and sad.”
Now she’s not the only one to eat them as she has seen people picking up fresh fruit.  Juliette says the sight of fresh apples rotting saddened her so much that when someone mentioned to her about this new group, she promptly took to posting the information on Facebook. For her, the food share group harkens back to the old idea of a community where people’s love and care extended to the entire community, not just their loved ones. And in an age where money is the arbiter of all relationships, it’s heartwarming to know the food share group deals in the currency of goodwill and mutual cooperation.
“It’s a reminder to me that we need to take care of each other and I like that there is no economy involved, only good will, abundance and sharing. It’s also about sharing skills such as collecting and preserving food which are getting lost,” Juliette says. As more people request for fruit on the group, she never fails to remind people of the two fruit trees in her neighbourhood.
 “There are two trees in front of the Garibaldi Garden Courts on the corner of Garibaldi Way and Tantalus that are dropping delicious apples with red flesh. Save the Bears! Don’t waste food !” she exclaims in her latest post encouraging more people to use the fruit.
Tony Howarth has three apple and pear trees in his yard and he has opened his home to many community members in the past few weeks. There is fruit in the hundreds and it mostly gets wasted. But not this time. After posting about the abundance of food, he has seen a steady stream of visitors willing to take the fruit, sometimes giving him salsa, swiss chard and plums in exchange.“It’s been a good way of sharing things with the community and there is no cash involved so people are sharing whatever they have with whatever they need—and building a community while doing so,” he says.