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Open Garden Duo Are Unsung Heroes

Garden exchange pair win Green Award.

David Fox and Sheila Mutter, founders and coordinators of San Anselmo’s garden-bounty exchange, have won a Green Award.

The Quality of Life Commission at a recent meeting voted unanimously to give them the award, aimed at honoring “unsung heroes” who have benefited the town without seeking recognition.

The award will be presented at the Town Council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 12.

The garden exchange, held Saturdays from 9 to 10 a.m. from June through October, started at in 2008. It later shifted to the Town Hall lawn.

The Quality of Life Commission had endorsed the basic concept — which is to have backyard gardeners swap excess fruit, veggies and other garden products — and the move.

Each weekly exchange has been drawing 25 to 30 people, with a total of “three to four dozen actively involved,” Fox says.

Participants, notes Mutter, “also trade advice and ideas.”

“No money changes hands, ever,” she adds. “Our main objective is to encourage local, sustainable behaviors related to food, build community, and to redirect produce rather than let it go to waste.”

One of the adjunct, free services offered by the exchange, explains Fox, is “gleaning — going to someone’s house and picking fruit from a tree they either can’t handle themselves or aren’t interested in picking. We give the owner as much as they want and take the rest to a local food bank.” 

The exchange also matches gardeners with land to share with someone looking for a place to grow.

On any given Saturday an assortment of green items appears at the exchange, which is operated in cooperation with Sustainable San Anselmo under the rubric of the Marin Open Garden Project.

Most of what’s traded is routine, but “one guy’s always bringing dried fruit,” says Fox, “and another has brought a huge box of figs taken from a tree in his yard — he just never liked figs.”

Dozens of varieties of tomatoes have been swapped, and, Fox continues, “gorgeous carrots of all different colors — purple, red and pink as well as yellow.”

The success of Mutter and Fox’s efforts can be visualized by perusing a partial list of what’s already been exchanged: apple sauce, apricots, arugula, basil, bay leaves, beans, beets, bok choy, bread (home baked), broccoli, cakes, carrots, catnip, chard, chives, daffodil bulbs, honeysuckle, hot tea, jalapenos, lavender, leeks, lemonade, lemon grass, lettuce, muffins, olive trees, onions, peaches, pears, peppers, pies, plums, pumpkins, quiches, radishes, rosemary, seeds, squash, string beans, tomatoes, wine vinegar, worm castings and zucchini.

In addition, flats of vegetable plants have been donated by — plants that although still fine for food production couldn’t be sold because they didn’t look perfect.

Similar garden exchanges exist in Fairfax, Mill Valley, Novato and San Rafael.

For Mutter, San Anselmo’s exchange was partially an organic development stemming from the gardening she’s done since her early 20s, and her reading magazine pieces by Michael Pollan well before he authored The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Her children also influenced her, when they were enrolled at in the green-oriented SEA-DISC program.

She’s lived in San Anselmo since 1998, where, she contends, people are “much more aware of environmental issues than other parts of the country.”

Fox, who’s been in the town since 1983 and was a prime mover in getting San Anselmo to offer free parking for all-electric vehicles, first became interested in the environment as a child when he read about the world’s population explosion.

His green education was aided by his having avocado, lemon and tangerine trees behind his home, “always allowing me to pull fruit from my back yard.”

Fox and Mutter agree that one of the unexpected benefits they get from the exchange is making friends with people encountered there.

Both voice pride at the garden exchange’s growth, and both cite a new tradition that’s taken hold, having a potluck by participants on the Town Hall lawn the last Saturday of each season.

The duo will become the 19th winner of the Green Award. Earlier citations were given Jeff Hvid, Dick Miner, Conn Rusche, Charles Kennard, the team of Steve Reinertsen and Scott Weeks, Sita Khufu, Rohana McLaughlin, Joyce Brown, Larry Nilsen, Matt Eakle, Ted Bakkila, Christine Dietrich Cragg, Bob Mellin, H.G. Von Dallwitz, Denali Gillaspie, Jonathan Braun, Dan Goltz and the husband-wife team of Janet Byrum and Bob Fleming.

Nominations can be hand-delivered or mailed to:

Quality of Life Commission, c/o Town of San Anselmo, 525 San Anselmo Ave., or e-mailed to voodee@sbcglobal.net or  townclerk@ci.san-anselmo.ca.us

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