Tacoma's Kevin Freitas doesn't have a green thumb, but he has a web developer's brain, which is why he believes his new produce-swapping site will be the first such online endeavor to succeed on a national stage.
"We're doing it well," Freitas says when asked what distinguishes CropSwap from other online exchanges. "I think there's a disconnect where a lot of groups that want to do good don't have that technical skill."
The website, which launched on June 1, is organized so participants can buy, sell or barter for other home gardeners' unwanted bounty. Freitas proudly describes CropSwap's layout as "clutter-free" and the adjective is accurate: A mostly white home page prompts users to select a "want" or "have" tab: A keyword search for lettuce reveals a Seattle gardener is trying to unload eight large heads of red and green lettuce. "Will consider any and all offerings in exchange," melanyrae62 writes.
Yet the newness of the site means the selection is slim. CropSwap couldn't find any available rhubarb, kale or radishes around Seattle, although many local gardeners are likely confronting surpluses. Still, Freitas maintains the tipping point at which his site becomes reliably useful isn't far in the future.
"I don't think it takes many people," he says. "It's amazing how poundage adds up."
That's the revelation which sparked Freitas' interest in creating an online trading program: He's been mulling over the idea ever since his garden yielded too many carrots.
"I could take them to work, but I thought it would be great to get fresh food back," he recalls. In true tech fashion, rather than ask his office mates for tomatoes or onions, he built a website.
Freitas recently rented out his house, so he doesn't have a garden this year. But if he was still at it, he thinks CropSwap could have provided an outlet for his long latent carrot-growing talents. He envisions the site invigorating a grassroots (or kohlrabi-roots, or onion-roots, depending on the participant's leanings) economy, in which gardeners can convert their backyard hobbies into profitable businesses.
"They might start specializing," he says. "They might say, 'I'm awesome at carrots, I'm going to go crazy with carrots.' That's what I'm hoping."
Freitas says he and co-developer Connie Parsons may eventually introduce a $20 annual membership charge, but the service is currently free.
Of the 39 million Americans who keep gardens, Freitas estimates 86 percent of them grow tomatoes. That doesn't mean 33 million Americans end up with fresh maters for canning and cooking, he adds.
"Maybe they didn't get any tomatoes one year," he says. "We'd like to get them together and swapping."