20 Cheeky Questions: Laurie Green

Laurie Green is one busy woman. She’s a designer, film coordinator, advertising account manager and most recently, the creator of Crop Swap Sydney, an initiative facilitating the trade of locally grown produce between urban gardeners. In just over a year, Crop Swap has gained a local Sydney audience of thousands who regularly meet to exchange homegrown goods, recipes and stories. With sister events now running in Melbourne and Launceston, Laurie’s dream venture is a serious winner. We expect no less from the sustainability luminary who’s grown mushrooms in her hall cupboard and worm farmed in her living room.

Laurie Green, founder of Crop Swap Sydney

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, and your life with plants? My earliest memory of plants is of being at a nursery with my mum, clutching a few coins, and trying to pick out the one plant that would be mine to grow and nurture. The winner was a tiny capsicum seedling. Since then I’ve been involved in community gardens and food charities; I’ve grown mushrooms in the hall cupboard of a Kings Cross apartment, kept a worm farm in the living room and now I eat from my neighbours backyards. I originally trained as a graphic designer, and although I don’t work in that field now, the creative thinking process gets put to work in the garden. I’ve travelled, met some amazing people and eaten good food, and hope to continue that way of life for a long time yet.

Can you also please tell us about Crop Swap? When did you start, what’s your role, what do you love about it? Crop Swap Sydney launched just 18 months ago and now has two sister groups in Melbourne and Launceston. The idea developed out of a love for homegrown food, a desire to eat organically without the price tag, and because of an interest in heirloom varieties. It’s a passion project that gives us access to fantastic food, allows us to learn through a local network, and saves us approximately $2,500 a year on food bills.

The groups are based on simple bartering principles, but have been modernized by the existing social infrastructure of Facebook. Through the Crop Swap community people can swap their excess produce, plants or seeds anytime, and often instantly. This platform is supported by swap events that allow growers to connect face to face with one another in their local area, whilst often being able to attend a workshop, tasting or talk at the same time.

It’s a great way to connect with your neighbours, chat to the grower, see where your food comes from, and to develop an ongoing local food loop.

What’s the strangest thing someone has ever swapped at a Crop Swap event? You just never know what’s going to turn up on the table, that’s part of the fun! The range is always eclectic but the most interesting items would probably be fresh elderflowers for making tea or cordial, cotton seedlings, homegrown loofahs and the seeds of a pepper that were smuggled in from San Sebastian generations ago.

The one thing that has been particularly elusive is a type of yam with purple flesh throughout. There are a lot of people hanging out for that one!

Laurie's backyard bee hotel

We know you’re a very busy working Sydney mum! What’s the best thing about raising your kids around the Crop Swap community? An understanding of sharing and community, learnt because of the group’s principles, have been invaluable. Even though we don’t live far from the city the group has allowed us to connect with sustainably minded individuals living on an urban scale; it’s the best of both worlds. We meet other families, explore their gardens, and share recipes, tips and food. It’s such a simple exchange but so important for so many reasons.

What was your first ever Crop Swap event like? Were you fearful nobody would show up? Yes, of course! But my mind was put at ease the night before when people started posting photos of the amazing things that they planned to bring along.

It was like throwing a party where everyone brought produce instead of a plate.

Most people had spoken at length online, but not met face to face. Gardeners are a proud bunch and with their harvests to talk about, the proverbial ice was broken in an instant. We had 60 people turn up at that first event, there was a real buzz and a huge variety.

It could be frightening for somebody if they want to attend a Crop Swap but don’t have any produce of their own to share. What could you suggest for them to bring instead? For people starting out, baked goods, plant cuttings, plastic pots or seeds can all be easy options. Lots of people come along on their own, connect with likeminded locals and leave planning what they’ll bring along next time. Another source of inspiration can be the record of items offered at past events which is available via the Crop Swap Sydney blog.

Can you tell us about your garden at home? Is it a kitchen garden paradise? Our garden is a hard worker, it will never be finished and it has a lot of people to please. I like it to be productive, my husband likes colour, and the family like room to run and explore. We have edible beds and a pollinators garden around the three perimeters. There are pots squeezed in wherever possible, the pumpkin is slowly taking over the lawn and the cubby house roof is begging to be covered in another passionfruit vine this spring.

The plants with purpose are slowly filling in the gaps. We grow a large variety of edibles, most of which have been sourced through the group, such as chamomile, asparagus, water chestnuts and galangal. We also have six small fruit trees, a large insect hotel, a native bee hive and a homemade outdoor kitchen that we use to prepare ingredients from the garden. It’s a good compromise between productive space and play area for a young family.

A hefty Crop Swap haul!

What’s the best recipe you’ve ever received from someone else? It would have to be a well-thumbed newspaper cutting from an old friend. I sometimes feel like I’m the only person I know with an old fashioned recipe book of scribbles and clippings. The salad is made using lentils, onion, capsicum, eggplant, spinach, haloumi, tomato and basil. So much of it can be made from the garden and it’s a summer winner warm or cold.

What is your favourite season? Spring because it’s so full of promise and planning! Around October each year my brain begins to buzz with garden plans. I can’t stop thinking about seeds, crop rotation and recollections of the past year’s successes and failings. The months ahead are a chance to do better!

If you were a plant, what would you be? Probably pineapple sage – It’s a little bit old fashioned, versatile and comes alive in summer.

What is your greatest fear? Isolation.

What’s the first thing you notice when you meet a person? Probably their hands as I’m always looking to see what homegrown treats they are carrying!

Hands reveal so much about a person, from dirt under fingernails, to weathered skin and jewellery.

What do you miss most about being a kid? The infinite possibilities of imagination.

What is your favourite word? Because. As a young kid my claim to fame was that I could spell it backwards, but now it is the ultimate word of reason and purpose, yet still implies possibility.

What cheers you up? Bubbles, long summer evenings and being in the garden with my family.

What qualities in people do you admire the most? Determination and humility. Through the community I have met many determined people who have made the decision to change their lives by growing their own food; whether that be because of financial hardship, chronic illness or to benefit their family. I’ve also met some well renowned gardeners who are truly humble about their achievements, and so willing to share what they have learnt along the way.

Connecting with these people has been so inspiring and not something I expected when I started Crop Swap.

Name a skill you wish you had. Growing up, my mum would ask me what my superpower of choice would be, and the answer would always be the ability to fly. If you’ve ever had a dream where you possessed this power, it is the most uplifting experience.

If you had to make a garden with three plants, what would they be? Chamomile for its useful, cheerful and long lasting flowers. Passionfruit for its taste, smell and fond childhood associations. Sorrel to be paired with poached eggs and goats cheese on toast. A weekend favourite in our house.

What would you be doing in an alternate life or career? I could be a ceramicist? I think I’ll always have dirt under my fingernails, seek a connection to the earth and choose to produce tangible items of functionality.

What is the best kept secret in Sydney? New Leaf Nursery – it’s a permaculture haven complete with farm animals, plenty to explore for kids, coffee and fresh eggs.

Check out Crop Swap Sydney’s WEBSITE / FACEBOOK / INSTAGRAM