I had heard about the vibrant, thriving community of local food swaps. To satisfy my curiosity, I went to the November event hosted by Countryside Conservancy, a tight-knit and highly organized swap coordinated by Heather Roszczyk, the Conservancy’s education and marketing manager. On a particularly frigid evening, more than 30 people gathered at a cozy shelter in the Summit Metroparks to share an impressive variety of wares. Among them were edible goodies like Baconlicious Hot Sauce, chai tea concentrate and butternut squash gnocchi, as well as some non-food items like limoncello lip balm and homemade “laundry sauce.”
I was a little nervous at first, despite being only an observer. I quickly realized it is a very friendly and supportive environment. Participants take a great deal of care in their preparation for each swap and are eager to help others get familiar with the process.
“It’s real…with real people and it’s not all gourmet or pretentious. I’m all about bartering,” said attendee Lysa DeVinney, who came from Coventry Township to swap with people from near and far (the farthest attendees drove about an hour). Many are regulars. The bartering community is based on trust and familiarity. At the Countryside swap, everyone introduced themselves at the start, describing their offering in detail, including all ingredients. As someone with a food allergy, I understand the importance of this type of disclosure.
Byron Fay of North Canton is almost legendary in his dedication to the monthly swap. He’s attended almost all of them, and even made a stop on his way to check into the hospital. (Don’t worry, he’s doing great). Byron and his girlfriend say they get culinary inspiration and enjoy the time they spend together getting ready for each event. “We’ll spend the weekend making custom labels and getting ready. We’ll start planning for the next event when we go home tonight.”
Daniell Powell coordinates the Harvest Cleveland Food Swap, another flourishing group that moves around the Cleveland area. This swap started this past June after Powell realized there was no organized effort in her community. “There are people who attend from all ages and stages of life. It is a beautiful way to mix cultures, both food and people.”
The Harvest Cleveland Food Swap is gaining in popularity. Attendees bring items including homemade coconut milk, pickled cherries, pierogies, lavender and lemongrass hand scrub, and of course all kinds of sweets and treats.
If you plan to attend a swap there are a few rules of the road. First, familiarize yourself with how each swap operates by checking out their website or Facebook page. You’ll need to think about what to bring and how to “market” to your fellow swappers. Almost anything can work, but not every item will be appealing to all guests and you can’t take it personally. Packaging, presentation and samples are an important part of the equation. Being diligent and careful with your preparation and be sure you are disclosing all ingredients. Earning trust is most definitely part of long-term success.
My lasting impression of food swaps is positive. It can be a great way to commune with fellow foodies, try new things and get fresh ideas. The first time you go, it could be a little intimidating until you get a handle on how things work. The more you attend the more familiar and comfortable you will be, and you’ll reap the delicious benefits of a talented community sharing some of the freshest food around. Powell is particularly passionate about the effort. “One by one we are reclaiming our kitchens and teaching the next generation that food doesn’t have to come from a box,” she says.
I enjoyed seeing families come together to share things they had made by hand in their own kitchens. My favorite moment of the night illustrates the point. One woman, who brought her young son along, presented her homemade chicken stock and proudly proclaimed that it was made “from chickens that were in my yard yesterday.”
Now that’s really fresh and local.
Want to attend a future swap? The next Countryside Food Swap is December 18th at the Akron Museum of Art. They have posted useful information for the first-time swapper on their website www.countryside.org. Visit Harvest Cleveland Food Swap’s Facebook page for upcoming events and information.
Do you attend a swap? Share the information with us in the comments!