What began as an excess of eggs for one woman in Brooklyn has become a national movement of trading homemade and homegrown foods. Countryside Conservancy hosts Northeast Ohio’s only food swap, and I have the pleasure of planning and attending every one. The monthly events provide participants with a unique way to stock or diversify their pantries, indulge in a delicious treat, or set themselves up for a week of easy meals. My personal favorites tend to be things that are healthy and ready to eat.
As busy as I am, and often tired from farming, I am happy to be able to open my fridge and have something I feel good about eating. It is such a wonderful relief. I also like to swap for things that have been on my kitchen to-do list, but I haven’t gotten to yet, such as sweet vermouth, tonic, or cultured butter. Other swap favorites have included goose eggs, English muffin bread, chicken pot pie, Clementine vanilla bean curd, kale salad, and really too many to list.
Food swaps function similarly to a silent auction—though with much more camaraderie. After a few months, we now have regular swappers whom I look forward to catching up with at each swap. There are also usually a few first-timers and the regulars quickly chat them up and help to show them the ropes.
The first part of a swap is displaying items—one regular couple has a digital picture frame that has a slideshow of photos that they put next to their items—and greeting new (and now old) swap friends. The next phase is sampling and bidding and, of course, more socializing. Sampling usually involves informal discussions of ingredients and methods, stories of kitchen failures and successes, and a lot of gushing about all the tasty goodness. To bid on an item, participants note their interest on the swap sheets, and what they have to offer in return. Once the room quiets down a bit, and there are fewer people nibbling down the line, swappers are given a few moments to peruse the bids placed on their items and strategize their swapping. It always makes me smile to see how intense swappers are during these few minutes.
When the announcement is made to begin swapping the room becomes organized chaos—people bee-lining for their most desired items, crossing things off their lists, and stacking their collected items into a naturally beautiful pile of deliciousness. At the end of it, swappers are talking about the plans they have for their hauls and what they plan to bring next time.
The Countryside Food Swaps are funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to encourage the development of a community of engaged eaters, cooks, and food producers. Countryside Conservancy envisions Northeast Ohio filled with thriving farming and food entrepreneurs, where farms are viable businesses, farmland is a treasured resource, and local food is commonplace. They support up-and-coming farmers, share innovative land-use and business models, facilitate networking opportunities, and advocate community-based agriculture.
Find out about future food swaps at CVCountryside.org or find them on Facebook.