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Jungle Beat: Free Plants and Veggies in Hilo

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Imagine, if you can, a society where you don't need money to purchase the necessities of life. Where you trade goods or services that you grow or produce in exchange for items you need but cannot produce yourself. A place where capitalism is not king.

It might sound foreign to us in the 21st century, but that's how society functioned not so very long ago. If your farm produced corn and eggs, you traded them for ham or beans at another farm. If the doctor came to call, you "paid" him with the harvest from your land, or perhaps you repaired his wagon or put shoes on his horse.

This simple philosophy is being actively practiced in Hilo. If you visit the farmers market any Wednesday, you'll find Jason Riessland and Clark Robinson holding fort at the "Front Yard Food" table laden with vegetable starts, herb plants, fresh produce when available and other sustainable food and garden items. They proudly announce on their sign that "U.S. dollars are not accepted." Instead, all the items are free, and they accept donations of produce, compost, or even some seeds -- whatever folks might have in abundance that day.

For example, if you fancy a tomato plant, perhaps you might donate a head of lettuce, but it's not required. "We're pretty easy," Jason told me recently. "We're happy with the donations we receive from the abundance of people's yards -- we especially appreciate things like a crisp cucumber from a start we gave away a few months earlier. This demonstrates a true sign of success for a new gardener."

But, he added, "While we appreciate donations, everything on our table is always free and everyone is always welcome to help themselves. Donations help to defray the cost of our table and other costs."

Jason started Front Yard Food three years ago with the intent of "inspiring self-reliant food production through educational outreach, to promote natural, organic, biodynamic farming while helping to build community." He offers permaculture-inspired design solutions, site assessments and consultations, which he also offers for free. His goal is to encourage people to grow their own food. "This is what I do for fun -- it's my passion and joy, and I hope it will become contagious."

Similar no-cash systems are taking off in cities across the country and are called time banks. The mission of time banks is to "nurture and expand a movement that promotes equality and builds caring community economies through inclusive exchange of time and talent," according to the website timebanks.org. Wikipedia notes, "Time banking is a pattern of reciprocal service exchange that uses units of time as currency. It is an example of an alternative monetary system."

"The more food people grow for themselves, the happier and healthier they will be," Riessland added. "Expand your horizons, improve your diet, enjoy being outdoors and improve your home's appearance by growing edibles wherever you have a patch of dirt."