Hawkesbury Veggie Barter community gets new permaculture garden

AN expanding community of locals are growing their own fruit and veggies, with over 900 signed-up to the booming Hawkesbury Veggie Barter (HVB) Facebook group.

The group is an initiative of Veggie Barter Australia, headed by McGraths Hill resident and mum-of-four, Kirsty Berte, and members grow their own crops and trade or barter their surplus via the Facebook page.

Ms Berte said no money changes hands with the group; members simply grow what they can at home, and if they have any excess they post a notice up on the page and trade it.

There are also monthly meets where people bring their harvest and trade with others, market stall-style.

“You can trade a bunch of celery for a dozen eggs, or a jar of honey for a dispatched chicken [for example]. We have some pretty crazy trades - even wild-caught venison when people go deer-hunting,” said Ms Berte.

Operating for a little over three years, the group has just signed the lease for a fenced-in acre at the Australiana Pioneer Village, which will be a new community permaculture garden space for the members. 

Ms Berte said it would provide “a means to show just how easy and cheaper it can be to grow your own and trade/barter your surplus.”

Host of Gardening Australia Costa Georgiadis will be officially opening the plot later this month.

Backyard grocer

Ms Berte started the group because she didn’t have enough room on her 550-square-metre property to grow everything she and her family wanted to eat.

“It took a couple of years to get going, but over the past year-and-a-half it has grown from 50 to 950 members. There’s a big boom in people wanting to eat organic, local produce,” she said.

Ms Berte cites three reasons for this, including growing concern about the toxicity of certain weed-killers.

“People are also wanting to get back to ‘clean eating’,” she said. “And when you’re down to the bottom dollar spending all your wages on groceries that you can grow in your backyard, why pay $5 for a bunch of herbs?”

These days at home, Ms Berte grows “everything you can imagine”, including corn, pumpkin, cucumber, about 100 tomato plants, grapes, kiwifruits, elderflowers (she recently harvested these to make sparkling elderflower mead), oranges, apples, and heritage-breed chooks for both the table and their eggs.

“I like to grow from heirloom variety, heritage seed,” she said. “I also try to grow enough of certain things to provide a year’s supply until next season.”

In a few weeks she will be harvesting a year’s supply of garlic, which she will cure and store.​

“A year’s supply of corn, pumpkins, potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots are also started. Things that don’t store fresh to last the year I will preserve by pressure canning/bottling or pickling. By autumn our pantry is usually filled with homegrown, organic, preservative-free produce to feast on over winter,” Ms Berte said.

Her useable backyard space is only around 150 square metres, but making use of vertical space allows Ms Berte to fit more in.

Kirsty Berte with her canned goods and sourdough bread she made from scratch. Picture: Geoff Jones

Kirsty Berte with her canned goods and sourdough bread she made from scratch. Picture: Geoff Jones

“I trellis my climbers, like pumpkins, rockmelons and cucumbers around my garden. If I don’t have enough space to grow something I want I can usually find someone in our Hawkesbury Veggie Barter group who does grow that item and trade something I have a surplus of to get it,” she said.

“Making the most of time and space for the season - these simple techniques can be used in any backyard, balcony or rooftop garden. Eating clean, fresh organic veggies from your own backyard and cutting the cost of your grocery bill is totally achievable.”

Ms Berte estimates her family of six save $60 a week on fresh produce and other consumables by growing and trading, or double that if you were to buy all organic produce from the supermarket or organic grocer, totalling savings of up to $6,240 a year.

Swap and learn

Ms Berte said families meet up with each other to socialise and swap produce outside of the group.

“It doesn’t all happen on the Facebook page now, which is excellent. We’ve built a big community.”

Ms Berte still goes to the supermarket to buy staples like nappies that you can’t look to the group for.

“We also have particular people who are good at baking bread and so on, and we don’t just do food, we have a lot of crafty people who do lip balms and organic cleaning liquids.”

The next trade meet will take place on Sunday, November 18 at 10.30am at McGraths Hill Community Hall (1 Philip Place, McGraths Hill). All are welcome, including new members.

From next year, HVB will be running permaculture design courses at the new community garden, for $995. A payment plan will be available for members to pay $295 up front and then $100 for the next seven weeks.

Some of Kirsty Berte's canned goods. Picture: Geoff Jones

Some of Kirsty Berte's canned goods. Picture: Geoff Jones

“Permaculture design courses like this are usually around $2,000,” said Ms Berte. “This way we’re not excluding different demographics from being involved.”

They also run other courses during the year including sourdough making, and canning and bottling.

To find out more about the Veggie Barter Australia community and get involved in their Facebook group, trade meets and courses, visit www.veggiebarteraustralia.org or www.facebook.com/veggiebarteraustralia (search for Hawkesbury Veggie Barter on Facebook and send a ‘join request’ to become part of the group).