On March 12th, 2020, the day that Covid halted most international flights, my travel related business of fifteen years was also abruptly and unceremoniously grounded. Finding myself suddenly unemployed and potentially unemployable (being an entrepreneur for more than a decade can leave a big gap on your resume), things were looking pretty grim. I certainly had cause to worry, as Covid’s obliteration of millions of jobs has been correlated to a spike in mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. (1) None of us can be immune to such a tectonic shift in our lifeplan and this may have been my fate also, had it not been for the one thing “growing for me”, an unusually abundant lemon tree in my backyard in Los Angeles. So what did I make with those lemons? No, not lemonade, it was more than that. Much much, more. It occurred to me that the hundreds of lemons on my tree were more than fruit, they could become a new type of currency, a way to engage with others, and a tool to safeguard my mental health. (And you thought lemons were just a good source of Vitamin C)!
Two months later, I launched Galora HomeGrown Sharing, a free website that provides users with an interactive map to see what their neighbors are growing in their gardens or cooking in their kitchens, and makes it easy to arrange trades and connect. To date, the idea squeezed from my backyard lemons has become: figs, tomatoes, plant seedlings, quail eggs, homemade bread, wine, sushi, ice cream, soap and candles, soul-food, dimsum, 4:20 edibles, urban garden mentoring, photography, language lessons, swim coaching, yoga instruction, massage therapy, acrobatic silk rope demonstrations, Koi-fish for a backyard pond, and even a solution to backyard iguana infestations (apparently this is a thing in Miami). But most importantly, I turned my lemons into a way to remain healthy, and not just for myself but for thousands of others trying to cope with a changed world.
Scientists have long known that social isolation and financial insecurity have a negative impact on our overall well being, and if Covid has given us anything, it is plenty of both. The CDC reports that loneliness can increase the chances of premature death from all causes, and a 2013 study published in Science magazine showed that when people are under financial stress, they do not perform optimally. (2)(3) The implication is that quarantines and money troubles can inflict double the trouble on our minds and bodies and a website that connects people, while helping them to improve the quality and availability of food, could be a powerful tool for good in these challenging times.
Galora may be making its debut at a time when the world needs it the most and the sudden flourishing of bartering groups on facebook is a testament to how natural sharing is to humans and to the many advantages that it brings. Bartering empowers communities to turn their skills into food and social connections, which is nothing new, it is just a return to a system that was the norm much longer than money. The “barter system” as it is often referred to, is the name given to the system of trade that predates money. We were taught to believe that the system died because it was no longer useful, but Covid has really proven that the opposite is true. When people barter, the net result is a more self-sufficient society, and one that has strong roots in identity, pride, and mutual empowerment. Spending less money can enhance our sense of security, meeting new people can make us feel less lonely, and knowing where our food comes from can make the world and our bodies healthier.
Those are the obvious benefits, but one of the less apparent psychological advantages of bartering is the one gained from having more control over assigning value to the things we want. When we go to the store to buy eggs and they cost more than we would like, there is very little that we can do except to grumble and swipe the plastic as the clerk mindlessly scans and bags. This is not a healthy exchange and our minds are not at peace while leaving the store nor while consuming the eggs, their taste now embittered by an unnatural process of production and distribution. Instead, if we were to trade something we grew or made ourselves for a neighbor’s eggs, it would be up to us to decide what was a fair valuation. For example, the decision that a dozen eggs is equal to a bag of avocados is one that only works when it is mutually agreeable, and thus carries important psychological weight. Shera Dalin, co-author of The Art of Barter, recently told the BBC, “While it’s better to have swaps that are relatively equal in value, the most important thing is that all parties are satisfied with the result.” (4) In bartering, the power to assign value is returned to us, and everyone is healthier, both mentally and physically, because we did something that is more in line with the social skills coded into our DNA. Scientific blather aside, the result of all this is an omelette that tastes like you met the farmer and pet the chickens, which is happening daily at Galora.
This is probably the most epic of down-on-your-luck-lemon-transformation stories that you have ever heard, but this is 2020, so anything is possible. You might be wondering how I could squeeze all of that out of a lemon, so I will tell you that it is easier than you might think, and that you can do it too! Just go to GoGalora.com and share something. It can be something you grow in your garden, make with your hands, or do for fun or work. Your skills in the kitchen, and your talents are all currency at Galora, and if it can make someone’s day a little brighter, we want to see it shared. Once you are on the site, reach out to the people listing things near you, you might get more than you expect. We are turning figs into friendships, pies into pals, meals into meditation, yogurt into yoga, and loquats into love stories. (OK, not yet, but if it happens to you, I want to know about it!)
1 “ The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use” https://www.kff.org, Kaiser Family Foundation, August 21, 2020,
2 “Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions” www.cdc.gov, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, May 26, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html.
3 “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function” https://science.sciencemag.org/, American Association for the Advancement of Science, August 30, 2013, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/341/6149/976
4 “Could bartering become the new buying in a changed world?” www.bbc.com, Jones, Jessica, August 26, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200821-the-rise-of-bartering-in-a-changed-world.