VeggieTrader.com: The New Site That Let's You Save Money, Get Rid of That Extra Broccoli and Meet Some Nice Foodies
You find each other online. After a brief exchange of messages, you both agree it's a good match and arrange to meet in person to do the deed.
Before the appointment, you harvest some ripe tomatoes from your heavy vines and place them in a reusable shopping bag. Then you ride your bicycle to the appointed location, a community garden where your counterpart has a plot.
You return home with your bag full of potatoes, zucchini, and, as an unexpected bonus, an ear of sweet corn.
The broker in this deal is Veggietrader.com, which has enlisted more than 7,000 members since coming online in April. Prospective traders from all 50 states have prowled the site's bright and whimsical pages, and now some Canadians want to play, according to co-founder Rob Anderson of Portland, Ore.
Something like a combination of Facebook, Craigslist and the farmers market, Veggie Trader was created by Anderson and his wife, Tam Crawford, in response to a disturbing observation they shared.
"We looked around and saw all this food going to waste," said Anderson. "With the economy the way it's been, it's a shame."
Signing up and using Veggie Trader is free. To search for trading partners, plug in your ZIP code and the distance you're willing to travel in order to make a deal. The search results display who has what to trade, where they are, and what, if anything, they want in return.
The most popular entry in the "what you want in return" category, says Anderson, is "whatever," or "anything but [the item being offered]." And this is telling.
"It's not just about the veggies or fruit. There's a social component. People are looking to connect with like-minded folks in their neighborhood," Anderson says.
"I have cabbage, garlic, dill and, in a few weeks, heirloom tomatoes," reads one post. "All the vegetables are grown without pesticides or herbicides. I also have many cooking and gardening magazines to trade."
Soon after Veggietrader.com went up, it was evident it offered to do more than disperse surplus produce. Before the growing season had even progressed to the point where anything was ready to harvest, there was a brisk trade in seedlings. Since then, pictures of baby plants growing up in their new homes have been exchanged, and plans have been made to share the fruits when the time comes.
It seems that Veggie Trader is helping catalyze the formation of relationships that were waiting to happen, and this might become its most enduring effect, long outlasting the shelf life of perishable produce. And while it would be far from Veggie Trader's intended purpose, it seems a matter of when and not if romantic hook-ups are reported.
Right now Veggietrader.com is a self-funded labor of love, but someday, Anderson hopes, he'll figure out a way to convert the site from a hobby into a day job.
Will Veggietrader.com get bought out by Google? Will users be required to pay commissions in strawberries and garlic? Will it become a registered nonprofit and go for grant money? Anderson and Crawford are still chewing on the possibilities for revenue generation, but for the moment, the site is refreshingly free of advertisements and doesn't even display a way to donate.
At this point, the 7,000 members have a lot of open space between them -- especially outside of the major metropolitan hot spots on both coasts. But like crickets singing their nocturnal songs in hopes of finding companionship, locavores are using Veggietrader.com to broadcast their neighborly intentions.
"Patty pan squash, some sunflowers, oregano, chives, thyme, potatoes soon," announces a Coloradan. "If you don't have anything now, send me a line. I'd like to know who else is out there!"
If only the New Orleans resident offering "pesticide-free Black Eyed peas" lived closer to York, Pa., where she could trade for "Epazote, an herb used by Mexicans when cooking beans. It helps to prevent gas."
Having a community behind you makes a local diet a lot more diverse, interesting and possible. There's already a page on Veggietrader.com devoted to cooperative gardens, in which neighbors plan a virtual shared garden in their community. Each member takes responsibility for a specific crop.
Anderson and Crawford are excited to watch, and help, their site evolve organically to fill new niches as they appear. A few weeks ago, they opened the site to farmers listing produce for sale. "It's an interesting way for local farmers to advertise," Anderson says.
Veggietrader.com seems to build on the same kind of spirit that's behind something my friends and I have been doing for years, a midwinter tradition we call the "Swap Meat."
It began as a way for fellow hunters to exchange sausages, jerky and various cuts of our respective animals, but quickly evolved into an all-out barter fest where many forms of home-stashed food traded hands.
Pickles, jam, sauces, dried morels, frozen fruit, root crops from cold storage, and many other forms of preserved food are swapped in the frenzied and festive atmosphere of the swap meat. I wouldn't be surprised if get-togethers of this sort are soon planned through Veggietrader.com.
Along these lines, equipment like dehydrators, steam juicers, pressure canners and vacuum sealers could be shared, by industrious Veggie Traders, or loaned to one another in exchange for a portion of the preserved product.
Anderson acknowledges that many of these possibilities have crossed their minds, and as long as they're legal, the founding traders are open to them.
With only a third of a year under its belt, Veggietrader.com promises to be full of surprises.
"We're looking forward to what happens in the fall and winter," Anderson says.