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It’s a sweltering morning in Clifton, but all is cool and shady in the exquisite gardens of Lynn Moodie and Ida Blurton as the Clifton and Surrounds Produce Swap group gathers for a few hours of swapping, inspiring, and talking a mile a minute.

The group started in 2012 when founder Kathy McDonald, a Clifton based gardener, wanted some gardening kindred spirits to talk to. “There was nobody in Clifton that I knew of that I could relate to regarding growing vegetables,” she said. “I’ve found them since!”

Kathy started a Facebook page for the gardeners she knew, then started inviting gardeners she met on Facebook; strangers who became good friends.

The page is now a bustling hub of daily chats, inspiration, and knowledge-sharing for more than 50 gardeners, and a place to plan monthly get-togethers where everyone brings their surplus produce to swap or sell. “It’s very diverse,” McDonald said. “Some are in town, some on the farm, some are growers of vegetables, fruit and animals, and some are just interested and want to learn. Some just want to come to our meets to buy fresh vegetables, and some are in other states but are in the group because they have expertise in growing,” she said.

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“There are lots of friendly people, good tips, good advice, and a good support system,” member Louise Kennedy said. “I’ve learned heaps, absolutely heaps, and it’s made me work harder. Whether you’re big, big into gardening or just select pot plants, there’s a benefit there for everyone.”

Each meet is held either in a member’s garden or at the Clifton Jam Factory where long tables are set up to hold all the produce. Everyone goes home with something, whether it’s elderflower cuttings, spelt bread, and homemade preserves, or tomato seedlings, bags of manure, and punnets of plump apricots.

Mal Bunyan, an artist from Pittsworth, attends each meet with her nine-year-old daughter, Anna. “My daughter and I have a special mummy-daughter day, so I take her to the meet,” Bunyan said. “She gets to meet new people and it’s really spurred her on to try something for herself. She’s just entered her first giant sunflower competition, and she’s always out in the garden with the watering can.”

Carolyn Crawford drives to the meets from Pilton. “I joined to meet gardeners in the local area, and the people keep me coming back,” she said. “A lot of us are out on an acreage and don’t get to town very often unless it’s something strictly necessary. It’s rare to just get to town for something purely social.”

Each meet also features an everchanging seed box that is open to all members. “People collect seeds from their garden,” McDonald said. “People put in and take out, but you don’t have to give to receive. We have an ethos which is to help each other. We always encourage each other; that’s one of the biggest things we do.”

Words by Krista Bjorn | Images via Cory Rossiter