The food swapping movement is taking hold in communities across the country, enchanting food lovers with its old-fashioned charm and modern day ideology. Food swaps are casual, communal gatherings where home cooks, canners, gardeners, etc., exchange their homemade, homegrown and hand foraged edibles for someone else’s, sans cash. The appeal of this sustainable trend goes beyond good food – although the creative, delicious fare found at most food swaps is awe-inspiring – to include a connection to community. Swappers return home with delectable edibles, plus a feeling of kinship that brings them back to the swap time and time again.
Here’s how it works… You show up at a scheduled food swap with something you love making, or growing, or both. Or something you’ve always wanted to try. Let’s say you bring four pints of home-canned, homegrown tomatoes, one dozen backyard eggs, and two loaves of homemade bread – so you have a total of seven items to swap. You set up your goods and browse what others have brought. Hopefully everyone brings samples and you nibble on those while you “shop.” After seeing all that is available, you write your name on the swap sheets (provided by the host) of the items that interest you. When swapping begins, these sheets offer a starting point for negotiations. Before you know it, you’re heading home with seven new goodies ranging from sauerkraut to homebrewed wine to chocolate truffles. It’s an edible bounty, scored without exchanging a dime. Plus, you met some folks who love making, growing and eating food as much as you do!
Over the past year, I’ve been co-hosting a food swap in my community. What started out as a small group of like-minded mothers has grown to include a variety of individuals, some traveling over an hour to be a part of our bi-monthly exchange. If you’re ready to join in the food swapping fun (and I think you should!), it’s fairly simple to coordinate and hold a food swap of your own. Here are a few basics to help you plan, promote and host a swap.
Define Your Swap
Involving a friend to help you plan your event helps divide the responsibilities and makes it more fun; together determine your basic guidelines.
Set a Standard :: what works for us (and is typical across the country) is that swappables must be handmade, homegrown or hand foraged.
Have an Attendance Cap :: swaps seem to work best with at least 15 participants, and no more than 35.
Determine Item Values :: we swap one-for-one to keep things easy (for example, one jar of granola for one bag of muffins).
Once you’ve got a general idea how you want your swap to go, plan out the details.
Pick a Venue :: food swaps can be held in your living room, a community park, a donated retail space… anywhere, really! Keep in mind you will need a few long tables to display swap items and we always designate a table for potluck offerings too (include a potluck, it really adds to the event!).
Determine a Time :: we do brunch-time on Saturday because that works for my group. Others gather in the evening, BYOB style. Do whatever works for you.
Create an Event Timeline :: on average a swap should last about two hours. They usually go like this: the first 30 minutes swappers arrive & set up; the next hour participants browse the swap items, make written offers, and enjoy the potluck; during the final 30 minutes, the actual swapping occurs.
Using online tools allows you to communicate with your swap community at all times.
First, you need swappers to attend your event, so send out invites using an online tool like Eventbrite or Facebook. Require an RSVP so you can close the event when it hits your maximum. (Tip: Social media is a great way to find like-minded folks to join your swap.)
Create a Facebook page, a blog, or a Twitter account (or all three!) as a virtual “meeting space” for your group. Use this space to announce and recap swaps, share tips and ideas, send out reminders, etc.
You’re ready to host your first swap! For a successful event:
:: Provide attendees with a nametag and swap sheets for each item they bring (a simple form that allows swappers to write their name, their item, important notes on ingredients, use or storage, and space for others to make offers).
:: Announce the schedule of the event; let people know when it’s time to start making “bids” and when it’s time to swap.
:: Have fun; keep it casual and encourage others to do the same!
Elizabeth Sniegocki is a writer and advocate of simple, mindful living. She makes her nest in Sarasota, Florida, where she writes, gardens, cooks, crafts and nurtures two sweet little chicks. Elizabeth blogs about her community, mothering, homesteading and natural living at A Natural Nester.
Images courtesy of Kollene Carlson of Blonde Cow Photography.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.