Fruitful project: La Jolla Backyard Produce Exchange has an abundance of community spirit

The La Jolla Backyard Produce Exchange meets monthly to give neighbors a chance to trade their homegrown goods for others.

At the La Jolla Backyard Produce Exchange, neighbors get a chance to trade their homegrown fruits and vegetables with one another and in the process cultivate community spirit.

The produce exchange, started last year by Bird Rock resident Jeannette De Wyze, meets the third Sunday of every month at the Via del Norte minipark, just north of La Jolla United Methodist Church at 6063 La Jolla Blvd.

The concept is built on trading and sharing, with no money exchanged.

“Nothing’s ever for sale,” De Wyze said, noting that neighbors offer an abundant range of produce, including bananas, many types of citrus, tomatoes, onions, carrots, eggplants, greens and herbs. There often are items such as eggs, flowers, sourdough starters, composting worms and homemade jams, she said.

De Wyze, along with her husband, Steve, is currently offering peaches and frequently includes pomegranates and many other types of fruits and vegetables, including figs.

The figs inspired De Wyze to start the exchange in the first place. “We have this old fig tree that produces a massive amount of figs year after year,” she said.

She began researching the idea after hearing about similar projects in other areas. “I thought it was a wonderful idea, something that would be great to have in my community,” she said.

She learned there were a few San Diego-based exchanges, but nothing in her neighborhood.

“It would be great to have here in La Jolla,” she said, adding that the concept works best as “a hyper-local thing.”

The La Jolla Backyard Produce Exchange began in spring 2019 and has met monthly since, with a few exceptions for the December holidays and early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Neighbors attend a La Jolla Backyard Produce Exchange held before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, masks must be worn.
Neighbors trade and share their produce at a La Jolla Backyard Produce Exchange held before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, masks must be worn.

The exchange garnered a “pretty good response right from the beginning,” De Wyze said, with about 15 to 25 people participating from all over La Jolla. Those involved range from “really experienced to some people who just have a prolific lemon tree,” she said.

Bird Rock resident Julia Cardosa has been attending the produce exchange since its inception, bringing Valencia oranges, bananas and avocados, among other items.

“It’s bringing together those who are like-minded,” Cardosa said. “It’s a nice little micro-community of people who care about each other and care about growing your own clean food.”

The trading format is not regulated, De Wyze said. There is no standard pricing or signage, and neighbors discuss their trades and shares among themselves.

Some items are more popular than others, such as avocados and fresh eggs. At the end of each exchange, though, “there’s always extra,” De Wyze said.

Neighbors trade their backyard produce for others' at the monthly exchange in La Jolla.

“The whole idea is if you have a fruit tree, usually you have too much,” she said. “This is a way to expand and share with other backyard gardeners.”

She said goods aren’t the only things exchanged — neighbors often share growing tips and information about La Jolla’s micro-climate.

De Wyze said the exchange also has been a “great way to connect with neighbors, a good community activity. I never go home not feeling happier than when I got there.”

Cardosa said a special feature of the produce exchange is that “it’s multigenerational,” noting that participants include young children through people in their 90s. “It’s of interest to a diversity of people, age- and interest-wise. … I think more micro-communities could start doing it; it’s really easy.”

In a post on the social networking app Nextdoor, De Wyze laid out additional requirements to keep neighbors safe amid the pandemic.

“Please do not consider coming to this event if you have any symptoms of illness or if your immune system is compromised,” she wrote. “As it may be impossible to maintain perfect six-foot separation at every moment, please also wear a mask and be prepared to give others plenty of space.”

De Wyze hopes the backyard produce exchange will continue to grow. “There’s vast potential for more gardens to share from,” she said. “We’re just neighbors exchanging produce, stuff from our garden.”

The exchange next meets on Sunday, Aug. 16, with setup at 3 p.m. and trading beginning at 3:30. For more information, email ◆