Why is Doug Reil passing out free cups of lemonade? It’s his way of starting conversations—about growing food, meeting neighbors and creating a local gift economy.
People lined up for Reil’s thirst-quenching brew at the Albany Arts & Green Festival, as the sun beat down and the temperature spiked into the eighties. As he squeezed lemons and poured cup after cup, Reil told anyone in earshot that the lemons were all donated by residents of Albany, Berkeley or other towns in the area. Reil encourages people not only to give away extra produce, but also to make a concerted effort to grow more food. His own backyard garden in El Cerrito features about 25 different fruits and veggies.
In addition to his Local Lemonade project, Reil, the associate publisher and managing director at North Atlantic Books, has also spearheaded an unusual initiative called Garden to Table. During peak growing months, Reil collects extra fruit and vegetables from local gardeners and delivers them to several area restaurants, including Cafeina Organic Cafe, Tay Tah Cafe and Benchmark Pizzeria. He also brings donated food to Salute restaurant’s free community Thanksgiving dinner in Richmond.
“The idea is to support local businesses in ways outside of money and to bring the gift aspect into traditional economies,” says Reil. Some restaurant owners thank the growers with gift certificates, but the donations are given without any expectations. The gift economy is based on generosity rather than a “this for that” exchange. Gardeners enjoy the pleasure of giving and perhaps of seeing their zucchini put to good use in a hearty vegetable soup. Both Local Lemonade and Garden to Table fall under the umbrella of Reil’s community organization, Bay Food Shed.
The notion of donating unused food appealed to Joreen Deabueno, who has two plum trees at her home in El Cerrito. “It just makes sense,” said Deabueno, sipping lemonade. “I love the idea of playing a part in putting the fruit to use.”
Eco-entrepreneur Heather Dunbar helped make and serve the lemonade. “It’s all local, organic and free,” she told the adults and kids in line. People were friendly and eager to chat, and some signed up to donate their own produce for restaurant deliveries. Dunbar and Reil also gave away Reil’s homemade kombucha as well as plant starts for anyone who wants to do their own growing.
By day’s end, Reil had gifted 14 gallons of local lemonade using over 60 pounds of donated lemons. “Local Lemonade is a fun way to highlight local abundance,” he said, “and to get people talking about ways to use our bounty of local resources.”