10 Jul 2023

New app promotes swapping and donating of homegrown fruit and vegetables

5:13 pm on 10 July 2023
Clare Plug standing in her garden.

Clare has been working on her garden for 40 years. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

In Hawke's Bay, food trading platform Magic Beans is doing its best to combat the rising cost of food and interpersonal disconnection in some communities.

It has been going strong on social media for the past seven years, providing a space for people to swap or donate their homegrown fruit and veggies, or even trade a wheelbarrow of compost for some gardening advice.

Magic Beans has 5000 local members and its co-founders hope a new app will take it nationwide.

Clare Plug has lived in her house in Maraenui for more than 40 years and her garden is teaming with life - from a huge fejoa tree, to salad greens, chillies, apples and mandarins, and plenty of birds.

At times she said she found herself with more fruit and vegetables than she knew what to do with, and thinks she has harvested 100 kilograms from one mandarin tree.

Meanwhile on supermarket shelves, food prices were on the rise.

"I saw a man in the supermarket the other day," Plug said. "He had a little tray of chillies and a bunch of coriander and some greens, and I felt like saying, 'Do you want to come to my place'?"

Until now, Magic Beans members have been able to connect on Facebook and on the website.

Sarah Grant co-founder of Magic Beans standing in a garden.

Sarah Grant is the co-founder of Magic Beans. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

Business co-founder Sarah Grant said the new app would open up the platform to communities all around the country, and eventually, the globe.

It was free to join and use but a subscription version would also give access to a resource library with location-based planting guides and tips, Grant said.

She stressed people did not need have a huge garden or be an expert gardener to join - in fact, many beginners found the community to be a huge help getting their gardens thriving.

It helped people to build a community, share and find information about what grew best in their area, while reducing the distance food travelled from garden to plate, she said.

"One of the things that quite often happens when you do a swap with Magic Beans is that you'll get a spontaneous garden tour, which is fantastic - us gardeners love to look at each others' gardens and get some tips and tricks, and it's quite common that you'll get a cutting or some seeds, as well as what you intended to swap for."

Chili plants sitting on a windowsill.

Inside, Clare Plug and her husband are propagating chili plants. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

During Cyclone Gabrielle, Grant said her community in Dartmoor received food drops from civil defence but most of it was non-perishable.

"We were all very quickly starting to miss our fresh fruits and veggies, so we started raiding each other's gardens to get that - so there's a big element of food security."

Grant said she and co-founder Anneliese Hough were motivated by the idea that around the world people were starving, and the global population was set to increase by another 2 billion by 2050.

The goal eventually, with the help of the app, was to make Magic Beans available worldwide, she said.

"There's a big challenge ahead of us in terms of making sure there's enough food globally to feed everyone good, healthy, nutritious food that they can access and afford."

Plants in the garden outside a wooden house.

The chilli plants are in neat rows unlike the rest of her thriving garden, Clare Plug says. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green