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Garden Angels Co-op Wings Its Way to Success

By starting a free monthly swap of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers and great ideas, its founder seeks to nourish body and spirit.

Shannon Nakamura had a great idea.  If she has too many avocados and her neighbor is swimming in oranges, they should swap. That way nothing goes to waste and they both get some variety in their diet – all without spending a penny at the market.  It sounds simple enough, but she is hoping to do it on a very grand scale. Think hundreds of swappers!

Nakamura officially launched the Garden Angels Produce Cooperative in February.  Her idea is that sharing what we grow makes sense – nothing is wasted and everyone benefits. She began by sending out a few emails and it snowballed from there. (Nakamura’s email was forwarded to me from a friend of a friend of a friend).  She had 25 official members in the first few weeks alone and receives two or three new inquiries a day.  Sixteen members participated in her first swap on Saturday, March 4.  Some brought produce, some flowers, some herbs, and some yummy baked treats.  I showed up to see what it was like.

When I arrived at Nakamura’s house near the Traffic Circle, there were eight or nine people counting and sorting all sorts of garden treasures.  Since this was her first-ever swap, I assumed these folks were Nakamura’s friends who were helping her launch her cooperative.  It turns out that Nakamura was meeting most of these people for the first time.  They, like me, had come across her email and were excited about the concept.  The kitchen and dining room were full of excited energy.

Everyone I met was there for a different reason.  Patty, who brought loofah seed with planting instructions, is new to gardening.  She is hoping that by volunteering her time to the co-op she can learn how to cultivate her own garden.  Anna, who brought key limes (and her adorable daughter) heard about the co-op through a posting on a home-schooling website and got involved because she has a strong interest in local, grassroots type of trades. Natalie brought fresh-baked lemon rosemary muffins that she made from the bounty of Nakamura’s backyard.  Natalie lives in a condo without any garden space, so her planned contribution is monthly seasonal baked goods.  Catherine, who brought mint and lavender, and Sheila, who brought navel oranges, rosemary and calla lilies had sometimes traveled to the well-established Hillside Produce Cooperative in Los Angeles.  When Hillside posted Nakamura’s announcement, they were thrilled to be part of a swap in their own community.

From the members I met, it is clear this group has a lot of passion for local and organic foods, cooking, and community.  These previous strangers were already volunteering to share garden tools, help Nakamura create a newsletter, refer new members, swap recipes and share garden cuttings.  This energy may be Nakamura’s favorite part of what she has created.  She is hoping that by volunteering at the swap or in the garden, people will connect and maybe “help someone else to that place where they can contribute or do what they love.”

What exactly is a garden angel?  According to Nakamura it is “anyone growing something in their backyard and willing to contribute.”  She calls them angels in part because she feels it “lifts our spirits” when we work together in community.  Nakamura truly believes “the more, the merrier.”  She is planning to flyer her neighborhood – the same where she grew up. 

According to Nakamura, who broke into a joyful song, this first swap was “only the beginning.”  She has high hopes for expanding the co-operative to include hundreds of local members who bring the fruits of their garden to exchange with others.  She would love to also form a group of volunteer harvesters who would be willing to glean the fruit trees of the elderly, the vacationing, or the disinterested, and deliver a bag of swapped items in return, so nothing goes to waste.  Nakamura clearly believes that “working together is good for the soul.”

She is even willing to share her own garden.  She has 10 beds already in her sizable backyard and hopes to create another 10 or so which will grow more food than her family of three needs. She plans to invite others to help tend the garden in exchange for sharing the rewards. She describes her converted backyard garden as “purposeful and positive … with a bigger purpose than just looking good.”  I would say the same about Nakamura.

If you are interested in joining the Garden Angels or learning more about the produce swap, please email Shannon Nakamura at gardenangelscooperative@yahoo.com.

Elizabeth Borsting March 30, 2011 at 04:28 PM
What a great idea. Sort of a modern-day take on the Victory Garden. I have avocados, but can't pick them fast enough before the squirrels get at 'em.
Nancy Woo March 30, 2011 at 04:49 PM
This is GREAT! I'm inspired to know that so many people are starting gardens of their own - from urban garden co-ops to just planting in the backyard to farmer's markets to garden angels, sustainability and the pure joy of fresh foods is on the rise! For someone like me, a just-graduated not-quite-established young working adult, the volunteer portion of this interests me, and I know others like me who would love to participate in something like this, even though we don't have gardens of our own. I've always wanted to learn how to grow my own food, and this would be a good way for people who are interested to start learning and seeing how it's done. Need any volunteers to pick fruit or clean vegetables? Let me know :)
Jacqui Viale March 30, 2011 at 07:32 PM
I love this idea! Now I just have to get my vegetables to look good enough to share.
kat April 10, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Wow, great idea, just have to see what kind of baked goods are share worthy, as my anemic garden is not ready to share yet.

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