Community Food Resilience

Never before, in my lifetime, have local food systems and community resilience been so clearly highlighted as being of great value and importance.  The COVID-19 lockdown has certainly proved that.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to live in the semi-rural part of Auckland in north Rodney that has a strong culture of growing and sharing food.  Obviously the more we can shorten the distance from grower to consumer, the less waste is produced and the less fossil fuel energy is consumed.

Fruit Abundance
Photograph by Trish Allen


When I moved to Matakana Village 10 years ago from my previous home of 25 years on a permaculture farm, Rainbow Valley Farm, I was still very much in the self-sufficiency mode and I planted 50 fruit trees around my house.  A few years down the track when all the trees began producing, I wondered: “What was I thinking!  There’s no way I need all this food”.   But now, I am glad.  Under normal circumstances we have a weekly Greenswap meet-up in a central place down by the river in Matakana village on a Friday, where enthusiastic gardeners bring the surplus produce from their gardens and swap it for something they don’t have.  It’s been going for over 12 years and seems to go from strength to strength.  It works firstly because it’s quick, just half an hour from 9 till 9.30.  People can fit it into their day – after dropping the kids at school or on the way to work etc.  We start by having a round – everyone introduces what they have.  Then the swapping starts.  Secondly it’s very casual – everyone is welcome.  No-one has to become a member and there’s no obligation to show up or not show up – whoever is there on the day are the right people.  Over winter when there’s not so much abundance in people’s gardens we drop to fortnightly or sometimes monthly, but come springtime it’s back to weekly.   Once in a while we have a home visit to someone’s garden.  The word gets passed on through a fb page.  It’s not just food that gets swapped.  It’s recipes, advice, growing tips, seeds, seedlings, cuttings, plants, flowers, fertilised chicken eggs – you name it!   It’s one of the highlights of my week and I often have the feeling I’m going home with more than I brought along.  There’s a real generosity of spirit amongst Greenswappers.

Green Swapping
Photograph by Trish Allen


Over the years it has created a strong community network which has stood us in good stead over the current COVID-19 lockdown.  Of course we can’t have our weekly meet-ups but the food continues to get passed around the community, contact-less and with a high standard of hygiene.  For example I’ve had a bumper year of apples, pears, bananas, feijoas, persimmons, grapes, tomatoes, zucchinis and greens.  When I know a neighbour needs something, or a Greenswapper will be passing, I box it up and put it out by my gate.  So far during lockdown I’ve passed on 142 kg of produce this way.  And I get all kinds of unexpected things dropped off inside my gate which is always such a wonderful surprise!  I’ve had macadamias, field mushrooms, eggs, seedlings, hot cross buns, seaweed, sea grass and horse poo.  All gratefully received.  Nothing goes to waste.

Photograph by Trish Allen


Our little Greenswap ticks off quite a few of the permaculture principles:  Produce no Waste, Catch and Store Energy, Obtain a Yield, Use and Value Diversity and Creatively Use & Respond to Change.

Trish Allen

32 years ago my late husband, Joe Polaischer, and I co-founded Rainbow Valley Farm, an organic farm and permaculture education centre near the village of Matakana in the north of New Zealand. Over those years we ran farm tours and permaculture-related courses including PDCs. Joe died suddenly in 2008, and I moved on from the farm to the village. Rainbow Valley Farm is now being run by a family who are continuing the work Joe and I started. Joe and I discovered permaculture in the early 1980s and were totally inspired by the concept. It made sense to us and we were keen to put it into action. After doing PDCs, we bought 50 acres of run-down farmland and established Rainbow Valley Farm (see above) where we created an abundant permaculture paradise. Since leaving the farm in November 2010 I have made a new home for myself in the village and created a mini permaculture paradise with 50 fruit trees around my small eco-house. I am also teaching PDCs and other permaculture related courses and my new passion is waste minimisation. I co-founded Mahurangi Wastebusters in 2017 and our mission is to reduce waste to landfill and recover resources for the benefit of our community.


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