how to start a food swap
The food swap community is growing, and it’s growing fast. A couple weeks ago, I started chatting with Brooke of Little Canoe and founder of the Portland Preservation Society in Portland, Oregon about our respective swaps, and we’ve both noticed the same trend – we can’t have swaps often enough or large enough to meet the demand.
In its own way, it’s a great problem to have. Like-minded folks connect, collaborations happen, and friendships are forged. And the more we can get curious people back into their kitchens experimenting and learning from real foods, the more empowered and in control we will be in making our own food choices instead of big corporations making it for us.
But then the question becomes, how can we meet the demand? How can we keep the swap inclusive, not exclusive, just because we can only fit 40 people in a room? The answer came on its own. In the past two weeks alone, I’ve been approached by two separate people who want to start up their own food swaps in DC too. And just like that, Washingtonians will now have several opportunities, not just one, to gather with others who are just as passionate about food and cooking as they are.
For those who’ve reached out to me on Instagram or the blog and said, “Man, I wish we had this in my city!” my response to you is, I thought the same thing. I thought the same thing for two years before I decided to get my friends together and do something about it.
So if you want to start your own food swap in your town or city, I say go for it! The Food Swap Network is an incredible online resource with guidelines and materials on starting up a swap, and the gals who run it are incredibly helpful and approachable if you send them an email or tweet asking for insight. It goes without saying, but the swapping community is a pretty friendly bunch. We get really excited with helping more people start successful food swaps, so please never shy away from reaching out to someone directly with your questions.
After organizing and running three DC Food Swap events so far, I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes for a successful food swap. So here are a few tips from me on starting your own:
10 TIPS FOR STARTING A FOOD SWAP
- Find a good friend to organize the swap with you. Running a swap should be fun, not stressful (at least, not that stressful), and sharing the burden with a buddy lightens the load and also brings another perspective to the table.
- Start small, and expand gradually. Your gathering space will determine how many people can fit into the room, but don’t let that dictate how many people should necessarily come. Set a limit, or it can get overwhelming. We’ve found that with three organizers, we can comfortably manage a group of about 30-40 people. When the group gets larger than that, the space gets too loud and becomes more like a marketplace, and it becomes harder to have warm and intimate conversations with new acquaintances.
- Network. Who do you want to come to your swap? Farmers? Beekeepers? Food bloggers? Reach out to each of them individually to tell them about your swap and invite them to attend. Food swaps are a perfect opportunity for disparate food communities that don’t often interact to meet for the first time.
- Make it pretty. If you have an artist in your swapping ranks, ask them to make flyers for each food swap. It helps people get excited and spread the word.
- Communicate with your swappers. Set up a Facebook page and Twitter account to build relationships with your swappers and draw in interest. Post recipes, resources, and other food-related events going on in your city so your swappers see you as a point person for food inspiration and information. Set up a website that includes dates of upcoming swaps, FAQ, and contact information.
- Find a good venue. Finding a venue that’s inexpensive (or free) and that you can return to again and again can be a challenge, so ask around and reach out to churches, community organizations, and friends to see if they would donate their space for a good cause. If the space comes with its own tables, even better. Lots of natural light is a huge plus, especially if you’re hosting swaps during the daytime.
- Charge a few bucks. If you’re accruing costs to make photocopies, buy tablecloths, pick up a gallon of coffee, and pay for the space, ask for your swappers to contribute. We’ve found that just about everyone is willing to pay $5 to attend, and they’re all thankful and understanding to the organizers for doing all the grunt work.
- Ask your swappers to sign a waiver of liability form. If someone who is deathly allergic to peanuts swaps for homemade peanut butter and dies, you don’t want their tortured ghost coming after you. Cover your bases.
- Hire a photographer. Or pay your photographer with food. Either way, swappers love seeing photos of the swap afterward, and it’s a great way to spread the word about your swap to newcomers.
- Listen to your swappers. Send out a survey monkey after your first swap and ask for your swappers’ feedback. They’ll have great ideas and you might be surprised by their observations.
And a food swap post wouldn’t be complete without some food in it, so here’s my recipe for spicy onion pickle, one of the foods I brought to the last swap. It’s crunchy, sweet and hot, and delicious on salads, in a taco or falafel, with eggs, and every which way you can imagine. You can also easily double, triple, quadruple the recipe and make a big batch to share or swap.
spicy onion pickle
adapted from Kitchen Konfidence
1 red onion, sliced (4 cups)
2 jalapenos, chopped (reserve the seeds if you like it *spicy*, or chuck ‘em if you prefer a more mild pickle)
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice (or other mixed citrus)
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 T pickling spice blend or whole allspice
pinch of kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Mix everything together in a large mason jar. Shake vigorously to dredge the onions and peppers in the liquid. Let the pickle sit at room temperature for 6+ hours, shaking every couple hours or so to re-distribute the liquid. Refrigerate for up to six weeks.