By Sarah Henry, "Host a DIY Food Swap,"July/August 2011
When Kate Payne posted on twitter that she had made too much marmalade, Megan Paska offered to trade her honey and eggs—and an idea was born. Soon after, 20 home-canners, gardeners and foragers showed up at Payne's 600-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn, New York, for the first "BK Swappers" food swap to exchange homemade kombucha, basil-infused liqueur and the like.
That first swap spawned a growing movement. Payne's website (hipgirlshome.com/foodswaps) now lists more than 20 swaps that have popped up around the U.S., Canada and the U.K., with more sprouting as word spreads. The swaps are the latest offshoot of the DIY trend, bringing together canners and picklers and giving them a chance to barter everything from cherry preserves and basil starts to sauerkraut and homemade Sriracha. Each swap has its own feel. At one in Minneapolis, allergy-free foods rule (labels identify items as gluten- or nut-free), while one in Portland, Oregon, includes handcrafted body products.
Most of these exchanges take place in private homes and operate like a silent auction, where swappers jot down their "offers." This gives participants an idea of who wants their goods and what they'd get in exchange. Everyone can then decide whom to trade with.
Have food to trade? Payne's #1 piece of advice: Don't try to micromanage the event. The fact that you don't know what people will bring is part of what makes it fun.
1. Make (or gather) stuff that's edible and swappable, i.e., a loaf of bread, a jar of preserves, a half-dozen eggs from your backyard chickens, portions of soup, packages of homemade candy, etc.
2. Find a friend or two who can share the planning and hosting duties. It's about the same amount of work as hosting a potluck every month or two (and in other-location cases you won't even need to clean your house).
My friend Meg and I formed a team; we called ourselves BK Swappers. Create a Facebook page, and if you're a Tweet'er, use a unique Twitter hashtag (#yourfoodswap'suniquename) so attendees can connect before and after your events.
Set up your rules as you wish. We decided to keep things simple and only stick with food items that YOU made (not the farmers' market jam mistresses, not the local artisan baker, etc.).
3. Invite your pals over (ones you know and maybe haven't had the pleasure of meeting in real life, yet) and have a big, long table ready for their swap goods. Having attendees RSVP with their projected swap items will also help you plan your host space accordingly.
4. Arrange for attendees to bring a homemade potluck item so there will be non-swap snacks, and you're not put out to feed and entertain 20 people. Food people like to bring food to events, trust me. Everyone wants to show off something they took the time to prepare. Adding a potluck feature also opens the event to people who maybe don't have a swap item, but would like to join in the food fun with a group of like-minded friends.
5. Have tags pre-made so you don't spend the whole party explaining to people what to write and how the swap works. We initially cut 3x6" index cards in threes and allowed partiers to fill-in our categories accordingly. Then we created this document, which you're welcome to download and use at your swap.
Our categories include: What (is the item to be swapped), Who (is the swapper), and Offers listed by Name/Item (Who to talk to and what will be offered in exchange). We leave room for 10 offers, hot items can continue receiving offers on the back of the card.
Let your swappers know that writing your name on something does not mean you will get it. Actual swapping takes place via discussing exchanges. The names on your item's card are good places to start when you begin chatting and swapping since the people listed already want your item. (My swap strategy involves scouting out what I'm most interested in taking home, regardless of whether the items' owners wrote their names on my sheet!)
6. Designate a time when the swap will take place within the context of the party. Our parties last for about 2 hours, and the swap usually happens at the start of the 2nd hour. This gives guests time to assess the table and make their top picks before being thrown into the pit of chatty swappers vying for delicious goods.