Food Swaps Bring Communities Together
BY KATHYA ETHINGTON
As the do-it-yourself revival continues to grow—from sewing to gardening to canning—some communities are eliminating money from the mix in favor of food swaps. Certainly, the economy plays a role in this nationwide trend, but most involved say it’s a desire to reconnect with creating things by hand.
Swaps are similar to potluck parties: Like-minded people meet at a chosen destination and trade homemade, homegrown goods with no exchange of money.
The best-known food swap is in Brooklyn, New York, started two years ago by Kate Payne and friend Meg Paska. Kate, author of The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, is known as the godmother of food swaps. She and Meg first hosted swaps in her small Brooklyn apartment. Since then, Kate has added a step-by-step guide for hosting and finding swap groups on her website, hipgirlshome.com
My husband and I move frequently, due to his work. One of the first things I do in any new locale is to find out where local people go for quality food. Last March I attended my first community swap in Colorado Springs. The event was organized by a couple of new friends who were inspired by other swaps they had read about online. I brought a homemade caramel-like sauce called dulce de leche and in return came home with an armful of homemade items such as vanilla extract, canned tomatoes, fresh bread, a homemade cookbook and a dozen farm-fresh eggs. I was instantly hooked.
Soon after, I decided to organize my own swap that would be slightly different. Not only would homegrown, homemade food be welcome, but also homemade crafts and new and used household and garden items. In short, this is how Pikes Peak Community Cupboard was created. We relied heavily on social media to get the word out, and the positive response and participation has been incredible.
My friend Wendy Carson, a stay-at-home mother and grant writer, is CEO of the small new nonprofit Colorado Springs CommunityAlliance, and is now a co-organizer of Pikes Peak Community Cup-board. After attending her second swap, Wendy decided to contribute something really different. Her search led her to an intriguing recipe: bacon jam. Now, many swaps later, her recipe has to be quadrupled in order to satisfy other swappers. “Bacon jam has officially become my staple at the swaps. I feel like I can’t show up without it now,” Wendy said.
Wendy reserves Saturday nights to cook for the Sunday-afternoon swaps. While stirring up the bacon jam, she thinks of the friends she has made at these gatherings and looks forward to seeing everyone the following day. She loves the challenge of bringing something of high quality, as she’s noticed that everyone puts a lot of attention into what they prepare.
Pikes Peak Community Cupboard’s goal is to inspire community, education and bonding through the trading of home-crafted products in a social setting. We are working towards a year-round swap schedule, with each season determining the nature of the swap-able creations. The tricky part is finding local businesses to host us, as we are a free event, lacking the income to rent space.
What kind of people attend Pikes Peak Community Cupboard swaps? DIY folks, bloggers, food-lovers and creative, hands-on people.
For instance, Jose Ortiz recently moved here from Texas and is now a regular swapper and consistent supporter of community events. He contributes homemade natural skin care products and recipe books.
For Lena Macias of Rustic Sunflower Farm, meeting people is the biggest draw. “There is a real sense of community and nostalgia at the swaps. Of course, the homemade goodies are a nice bonus!” She brings her farm-fresh eggs and sweet, chewy Colorado honey caramels.
“Since no money is exchanged, there’s no pressure to sell, so it’s a lot of fun to just get creative,” says Hethyr Pletsch, personal chef and owner of Everyday Gourmet Colorado. Items she’s made include dark chocolate–beet mini-muffins, organic unsweetened applesauce and coconut butter.
Two more fans, farmers Diana Ford and Ken Ullin of Li’l Bit Farms, bring homemade ice cream, raw goat milk and garlic-herb goat cheese. Diana says what inspires her is the desire to create and share gifts.
I wish I could write about everyone attending the swaps—they all bring incredible things—concentrated fruit drink mixes, homemade gift cards, hand lotions, spice mixes, earrings, fresh and preserved garden produce, homemade flavored vinegars, homemade soap and incense, spicy kimchi, up-cycled T-shirts made into grocery totes, quail eggs, homemade laundry detergent, natural body scrubs, and crocheted washcloths, to name a few!Our sister swap in Colorado is the Mile High Swappers organized by Eve Orenstein. “I’m not a knitter and only sew a little and no one ever has my size at clothing swaps, but I have always loved to cook and barter,” says Eve.I love Eve’s enthusiasm and dedication to make everyone feel comfortable and at home and highly recommend that anyone living near Denver or Boulder check out her events.