Crop Swap at the Ghost House

Steve Propes

Long Beach Fire Station #12, erected in about 1929 at 65th Street and Gundry Avenue is famously known as the “Ghost House,” because of reports of apparitions that appeared during its occupancy. It’s the now sometimes field office of the Ninth District City Councilman. On the first Saturday of every month at 10 a.m., rain or shine, the parking lot comes alive in a most distinctive way. It’s call crop swap. By 10:30, about 40 mostly adults gather for the swap.

Each participant brings freshly grown garden products, lemons out of a backyard tree, cherry tomatoes or a tiny herb called “toothache” plant, which give the gums a good fizzle and apparently spark the same in drinks. Chard, too few avocados, lavender stems, other citrus products and the starter for apple cider vinegar are there for those interested in farm fresh just-about-anything. Nobody really checks how much of each item goes out the gate.

The overseer of the swap, Jeff Rowe, gives a short talk as does’s Ryan Smolar, who recently moved to Portland, returning to Long Beach frequently to conduct events like this.

Each person is then asked to describe what he or mainly she contributed. A woman who brought lemons cautioned they cannot be taken out of the Long Beach quarantine zone. Not much chance of that, as almost all in attendance hail from Long Beach, except for a man named Steve, here, visiting his sister, currently living with his wife in Bangkok.

Most of the participants give a first name and zip code, whence the produce came. After these introductions, Benoist Tellier, Chef Benny, as he’s known, gives a short talk in a distinct French accent. This time about home making vinegar and what vinegar can’t be home made, namely balsamic. And an even shorter talk about salt.

Crop swap regular Emily Quest of 90810 said there are as many as 40 people who attend, “though when it’s raining, as few as ten.” Many if not most are from the local area, west of Cherry Avenue.

“Long Beach has three summers,” said Quest of our local growing seasons. The first summer starts in March to May; the second, June to August and the third begins in September. That helps keep Long Beach Fresh going.”

Quest seeks plantings, cuttings and seeds, which she shares with others who want to grow their own plants. “Everyone takes what they want. Herbs of all varieties. Avocados also go quickly. The slowest mover is cale, usually older cale, everybody likes baby cale.”

Long Beach Fresh has been around for five years. “The idea was to have a connective tissue for all the issues and opportunities in local food,” said Ryan Smolar, who founded it with Tony D’Amico. “It’s an arts council for food. We didn’t want an acronym, so we went with Long Beach Fresh.”

‘The crop swap started in August 2016. “We got a grant from the Kaiser Foundation with the Grant Neighborhood Association,” said Smolar. “We also hold the Long Beach County Fair in April in Bixby Knolls. People enter the things they’ve grown like oversized beets and flowers.” According to Smolar, it’s a “spoof on the county fair.”

“The city was going to sell the fire house,” said Rowe. “We developed a climate friendly North Long Beach Victory Gardens, which encourages people to grow fruits and veggies to deal with early diabetes and obesity. We have a mini-park in the front built by Eagle Scouts, an orchard in the back. People can walk by a pick fruit. We hope they’ll return. We’ve got bees, a composting operation.” Though the fire house building is now a council field office, “Rex Richardson is planning to relocate.”

Rowe didn’t copyright the term crop swap, which will be three-years-old in August. After getting inspiration from an Orange County crop swap, Rowe recalled, “Ryan called me. As I was telling my idea for a crop swap, he was already typing up a flier for it.”

“We try to keep it focused on backyard produce, apples, avocados. We sometimes have 15 commodities, fruits and veggies. Broccoli with the first winter crop in November. We have troughs and peaks. With any kind of event, you can’t say it’s on cruise. We’ll have all of the pepper plants everyone can take.”

“Ten to 12 regulars are there every month, another ten or 12 are frequent,” said Rowe. “We’re kind of at capacity with tables and parking.” Rowe would like to see the crop swap multiply at least three times in other areas. One closer to downtown began, but was also scheduled on the first Saturday. In that there are at a minimum three other weekends in every month, he’d like the new ones to schedule non-competitively.


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