The following 101, on how to host a food swap, comes from Kate Payne, a HOMEGROWN member and, along with Emily Ho, a cofounder of foodswapnetwork.com. Author of the blog and book The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking and The Hip Girl’s Guide to the Kitchen (HarperCollins, April 2014), Kate helped launch the modern food swap movement with Megan Paska in Brooklyn in 2010. She now lives in Austin, where she hosts ATXswappers and teaches classes on food preservation. For small-batch canning recipes, gluten-free baking projects, DIY cleaning ideas, and other creative home improvisations, check out her blog. Thanks so much, Kate, for swapping your own great ideas!
What do people in Los Angeles, Dallas, Bozeman, Amsterdam, and Altrincham have in common? They’re all gathering around tables lined with homemade or homegrown goods—and swapping! A food swap is a recurring event (sometimes monthly, sometimes every few months) in which members of a community get together and share homemade, homegrown, or foraged foods with one another. Swaps allow attendees to make direct trades—for example, a small loaf of bread for a jar of pickles or a half-dozen backyard eggs.
Swap events often include a potluck as an immediate food-sharing—and sometimes item-sampling—component. These get-togethers are a delicious way for participants to diversify the homemade foods in their pantries while getting to know fellow local food enthusiasts, backyard farmers, preservers, and foragers.
WHAT’S FOOD SWAP NETWORK?
So that’s a food swap. What’s Food Swap Network? Founded in a 600-square-foot Brooklyn apartment in 2010, the Food Swap Network created a grassroots food-swap model that quickly caught on across the United States. As of May 2013, Food Swap Network had helped facilitate more than 125 member swaps around the world. Its website, foodswapnetwork.com, is a place for existing and potential food swap hosts to gather materials and to set up new swaps in cities across the United States, Canada, and abroad. The Network also helps people who want to participate in food swaps locate and contact existing swap groups. Food Swap Network is entirely funded by its founders, Kate Payne and Emily Ho, and swappers who choose to donate. Donations cover monthly hosting fees, site maintenance, and upgrades and updates.
So that’s the fine print. How do you start a new food swap in your own neck of the woods? Good question!
1. Share the work: Find a friend or two who can help with planning and hosting duties. Spread the word via Facebook (make a page), Twitter (use a unique hashtag; e.g. #yourcityfoodswap), and blogs so attendees can connect before and after events. You can also post flyers in food-lovers’ hangouts and alert local bloggers and organizations.
2. Establish guidelines: Keep things simple by requiring swap items to be homemade, homegrown, or foraged. Ask attendees to RSVP via email, Facebook, or a registration service like Eventbrite so that you can keep track of how many people are coming.
3. Pick a venue: You might hold a swap at your house, a local business, a park, or anywhere that will offer a private space and big tables or ample counter space. Potluck-style snacks and BYOB drinks are easiest to set up and help keep the swaps wallet friendly for everyone.
4. Create swap sheets: A swap sheet is a little like a silent auction bid sheet—in other words, a place to keep track of who wants what. Fields to include on your swap sheets: What (the item to be swapped), Who (the swapper), Notes (anything the swapper wants to say about his/her items), and Offers by Name/Item (to be filled in by the people who want to trade with the swapper and what they’ll offer in exchange). Visit Food Swap Network’s Resources page to download a sample swap sheet.
One other thing you might want to have on hand: nametags, a useful way for swappers to find the swappees who want to make a trade.
5. Get cooking: Make or gather stuff that’s edible and swappable: small loaves of bread, jars of preserves, eggs from your backyard chickens, homegrown peppers, liqueurs and cordials, handmade sausages, et cetera. (Find more ideas on FSN’s FAQ page.) There’s no limit to how many items swappers can bring. Most swappers will trade their items one-for-one, which means that for every item a swapper brings, she’ll take home one item from someone else. In other words, if you arrive with ten items of your own, you go home with ten items from other folks.
6. Plan the event: As part of your planning, make sure you set a designated time during the event when the actual swapping will take place. Our parties generally last for two hours, with the swap starting during the second hour. This gives guests time to arrive, assess the offerings, and write their names on others’ swap sheets before being thrown into the pit of chatty swappers all vying for delicious goods.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN ATTENDING A SWAP
1. What to bring: Bring as few or as many items as you want. You can bring ten of the same item or shake it up and bring all sorts of different items.
2. Presentation: Keep in mind that swappers will be picking up and examining your goods, so be sure to package them in a way that both protects the food and makes it clear how much of a given item you’re swapping. We encourage reusable, earth-friendly packaging whenever possible. And since the food is really the prize, don’t feel like you need to spend a lot of time decorating or composing fancy packaging—unless you want to!
3. It’s not personal: Don’t get your feelings hurt if someone says, “No, thanks,” to your swap item. Food is a very individual matter and a number of factors—allergies, preferences, utility of the item for a specific person—will influence someone’s decision as to whether or not to swap. Likewise, don’t be afraid to say no. You wouldn’t buy something at the grocery store that you’re not going to eat, so swapping because you don’t want to hurt a fellow swapper’s feelings isn’t expected. Sure, you can always swap and then give away an item—but only if you have extra items to work with, which isn’t the case for most folks.
Got a question for Kate? Or a suggestion for a swappable item? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. You might also be interested in 101s on how to start a CSA (even if you don’t have a farm), how to start a food recovery program, and community building. You can find techniques for making lots of swappable goodies (apple molasses, homemade extracts, chai tea concentrate), as well as all kinds of things to cook, preserve, plant, grow, make, craft, and barter, in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
PHOTOS: (SWAP CLOSE-UP/D.C.) OMARI MAYERS-WALKER; (SWAP SHEET/AUSTIN) JO ANN SANTANGELO; (JAR CLOSE-UP/LOS ANGELES) GREGORY HAN; (FSN LOGO) ELEVEN DESIGN INITIATIVE