A Response to: “Right Livelihood – How Can We All $upport One Another?”

In “Right Livelihood – How Can We All $upport One Another?”, author Carolyn Payne-Gemmell brought up some limitations of a traditional “veggie swap” that excluded the ability to purchase products with currency.  And while I understand that one of the main ideas behind swaps is to build community, like Carolyn, I actually believe that swaps can severely limit community-building and right livelihood, even if unintentionally so.  So the question becomes, is there a better way?

Surplus citrus bounty gleaned by volunteers.
Surplus citrus bounty gleaned by volunteers.

Several years ago, backyard vegetable gardening experienced a renaissance where I live in Phoenix, Arizona.  Part of this was brought on by the housing market crash of 2008 where many people lost not only their jobs but their homes as well.  As people began growing food, some ended up with an overabundance of certain items.

Many of these folks could also benefit from a little cash, so they went to the local farmer’s market to find out if they could sell their surplus there.  The problem was, for the small backyard grower, the surplus only lasted for a small window of time and then they were back to having only enough to meet their own needs.  The stream of surplus was not guaranteed over time and didn’t warrant investing in a weekly market booth and setting up a business entity with the required insurance.

Edible flowers.  Photo courtesy of the Hadley Farmship
Edible flowers. Photo courtesy of the Hadley Farmship

After watching many small growers become frustrated with the system, market manager, Cindy, approached a small local permaculture group to see if they could help out.  From that contact, the Community Exchange market booth was born.

Marketing for small growers to help start the Community Exchange booth.
Marketing for small growers to help start the Community Exchange booth.

The idea behind the Community Exchange booth was simple; anyone with small surpluses of products could join the Community Exchange booth instead of paying for a booth of their own.  Prior to the start of the market, these small scale growers could barter with each other if they so desired.  Prices were clearly marked on the produce so equitable exchanges could be made.  After the start of the market, the remaining produce would be sold to the public.

A bounty of Thompson seedless grapes.
A bounty of Thompson seedless grapes.

From the sales, 80% of the profits go back to the individual sellers.  These sellers can elect to help out at the booth, or not.  At the end of the day, vendors can pick up any unsold produce.  Or, if they choose not to return to pick up any unsold items, they are donated to local charities.

Cherry plums and white donut peaches.
Cherry plums and white donut peaches.

The other 20% of the proceeds go toward: paying for yearly booth rental and insurance; a reserve account for expenses, and to provide a modest “appreciation gift” for the table manager and the business director.

The table manager is responsible for checking the vendors in at the beginning of the day, and checking them out at the end of the day and noting the produce that was sold and returned to each vendor.  He is also responsible for setting up the booth, making attractive displays and keeping the produce iced in extremely hot weather.  The business director handles scheduling, back-end management of the booth, setting up the business entity and making sure all paperwork is filed correctly.  He also fills in at the booth as necessary and trains new people to be table managers.

The Community Exchange model seeks to provide both a swapping opportunity to the participants at the beginning of the day, and a way for people to earn a small income from anything that was not swapped.  No one becomes unintentionally excluded – it is microbusiness at its best!  And because there is a diversity of people participating, the booth always has ample and varied products to offer.

Crafts made by women from a local battered women’s shelter.
Crafts made by women from a local battered women’s shelter.

One of the best things about the Community Exchange booth is that it is inclusive.  Several participating vendors are on fixed incomes or have limiting impairments.  Others come from underrepresented community segments such as shelters or immigrant populations.  The Community Exchange booth provides a wonderful way for products from these individuals to be included and valued.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQBb6JCw6Uo

As word of the Community Exchange booth spread, many market-goers became intrigued with the idea that this food was produced in the surrounding neighborhoods by these micro growers and as a consequence the booth has become a fan favorite; building community and understanding between buyers and sellers.  This popularity and support has enabled some growers to expand their endeavors to the point where they earn a modest living and can provide for themselves in financial difficult times.

The Community Exchange concept was designed to be a repeatable, standalone model that could be replicated around the city or around the globe.  To that end, we’ve provided our “working documents” here so that interested groups can start their own Community Exchange booth.  Conventions vary by location but many of the items contained in these documents can be modified for local use.

 

The Downtown Phoenix Market.  Tucked in the surrounding neighborhoods, industrious growers and crafters are hard at work!
The Downtown Phoenix Market. Tucked in the surrounding neighborhoods, industrious growers and crafters are hard at work!
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One thought on “A Response to: “Right Livelihood – How Can We All $upport One Another?”

  1. Jeff Chelf

    Great post! I've been to markets with community booths and it's a great way to get people involved as well as a way to increase diversity. It seems to me backyard gardeners often have a more varied array of produce, as they are growing to suit their own needs rather than for income alone.

    Reply

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