So let’s talk about food swaps. I’ve written about the Portland Preservation Society several times before (December, January, April, June), but after missing a few PPS meetings and having a hankering for something similar but closer to home, I decided to start a little food swap group here locally. At least for the time being, the Marys River Food Swap is just an occasional thing among friends and friends of friends. We’re keeping it small and simple, so unfortunately this isn’t an invitation. I hope, however, that it might inspire you to form your own food swapping club.
Nine of my friends showed up at the Marys River Grange for our first meeting last Saturday, and after a great potluck, good conversation, and a rousing few rounds of food choosing, I came home with the following: enchilada sauce, pear-blackberry fruit leather, pickle spears, dilly beans, albacore tuna, and antipasto tomatoes. It was a pretty good haul from my food preservationist friends.
But how can you go about starting your own food swap with your friends/family/neighbors/coworkers? Well, after having done it myself, I can genuinely say that it’s not too hard. First off, you should read Jess’s blog post about starting a food swap because it covers most of the basics.
I have a pretty good network already of farmer/forager types who do a fair bit of preservation, so for me rounding up a crew of folks wasn’t too hard. I sent out Facebook invites, talked to friends, and made a few phone calls. I knew that by scheduling the swap on a Saturday in September I would be competing with people’s commitments to various weddings, parties, and other events, but I wanted to take advantage of all the good foods that are ripe now and ready to be put up. In the end, about 50 people were invited, but only nine were willing and able to attend. From my experiences at PPS, I think the ideal number of swappers is somewhere between 15 and 35, but nine was intimate and noncompetitive in a nice way, and there was a surprisingly wide variety of food choices.
We held our food swap at the Marys River Grange because I’m the “master” over there. I invited all the grange members to come, so I didn’t actually have to pay to rent the building. The Grange is perfect for this kind of event because it has a small kitchen, a big open space, and plenty of folding tables that can be arranged however we wanted.
I thought I’d include the text from the invitation that I sent out. If you are considering organizing a food swap in your own community, feel free to copy and paste and/or modify my words to fit your own circumstances as long as you’re using them for non-profit purposes.
It’s harvest time. Let’s celebrate!
Marys River Food Swap
7:00 pm Saturday, September 7, 2013
at the Marys River Grange
up to 6 jars of food + an extra for sampling if you have one
a potluck dish or beverage to share
a pen or pencil (We’ll have extras.)
a couple bucks to donate to the Grange
About food swap item:
–Possibilities include but are not limited to jams, jellies, marmalades, chutneys, relishes, salsas, pickles, pestos, spreads, sauces, extracts, beverages, infused alcohols, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, preserved fruits and vegetables, flavored salts, spice blends, granolas, ice creams, or…
–Each item should be at least 3-5 servings. That means an offering of homemade mustard would be considerably smaller than a contribution of apple cider.
–It’s slightly easier logistically if you bring 6 of the same item, but if you want to or need to bring several different foods, that’s okay.
–Food safety is very important for an event like this, so please don’t cut corners. Unless you are an experienced canner, please follow a recipe from a reputable source, and boil canned goods for the full recommended time period. If you have any concerns about food safety, OSU Extension Service has great online resources about food preservation.
–LABEL YOUR FOOD ITEMS WITH THE NAME OF THE ITEM, THE DATE IT WAS CANNED/PREPARED, AND YOUR NAME. IF IT NEEDS REFRIGERATION, PLEASE INDICATE THAT CLEARLY ON THE LABEL.
–Food items do not necessarily need to be shelf stable, so feel free to bring something that needs to be refrigerated or can sit out on the counter (especially if you’re unsure about your canning abilities).
–You probably won’t get your jars back (but you will probably bring home new ones), so plan accordingly.
How the swapping works:
This food swap will be modeled after the monthly Portland Preservation Society meetings. Each person will set out their food items on a table with a description card (provided at the event). After surveying the goods, the group will form a circle around the table, and one at a time, everyone will choose one item until the last person picks. Then the last person will start a second round of selection in reverse order and so on until each person has chosen as many items as he or she brought.
There will be no bartering or bidding on items, and everyone has equal chances to get what he or she wants, even the person who brings the least popular items. (It’s inevitable. Don’t feel bad if it’s you.)
This is not a public event, but you are welcome (encouraged!) to invite friends or family members. You do not need to bring food swap items to attend, but it will be more fun if you do.
I hope to see you there!
(If this looks surprisingly similar to the “about” page on the PPS website it’s because I wrote that, too.)
I also made a template for item description cards that you can grab here. It’s not pretty, but it’s functional, and you could spruce it up if you wanted to.
Because only a few people came to our first meeting, we didn’t actually use the cards, but with a bigger group, I think something similar would be pretty essential. As folks come in, a greeter would assign them an entry number (starting with #1), and participants would fill out their own cards and line up their offerings on a table in order. Then each person would get a piece of scratch paper before the first round to choosing to make their own priority list for what they wanted after scoping out everyone else’s stuff. This system would make the choosing pretty efficient and streamlined because the items would be easy to locate, and you could keep better track of what you’re most interested in.
This is obviously, not the only way to structure a food swap, but it is one way that seems to work fairly well. If you’ve ever hosted or attended a food swap, I’d love to hear about what worked and didn’t work well for you. If you have additional questions, leave them in the comments, and I will try to answer as best as I can.