West of the Loop.
Last Sunday, December 2, the Chicago Food Swap marked its first anniversary by holding — what else? — its biggest ever food swap. Our host for the event was the Peterson Garden Project,
a local community gardening organization dedicated to teaching Chicago
residents how to grow their own food. Peterson Garden Project has
multiples sites all over the north side of the city and welcomes new
gardeners, so if you are interested in learning more about gardening or
supporting the cause, definitely check it out.
and I both felt that the mission of Peterson Garden Project dovetailed
perfectly with the mission of the Chicago Food Swap. The folks at PGP
want Chicagoans to grow their own food; we want them to make their own
food and then trade it with other Chicagoans! The point is, it is all
about building community around food. So, we are very grateful to
Peterson Garden Project for opening their doors to us.
Thank heavens for global warming! By some miracle, it was in the 60′s
in Chicago in early December. That meant that we were able to use not
only Peterson Garden project’s beautiful education space, located in
Chicago’s Ravenswood Manor neighborhood, but also the space’s lovely
backyard for Sunday’s swap. And we needed every inch of space! With 45
registered swappers, the tables were packed. One day, we will learn that
however many tables we think we need, we actually need way more.
This was our biggest swap ever and such a terrific reminder of how
far we have come in the past year. From our first Swap, which had maybe
10 people and was held in the basement of a local boutique, to Sunday’s
three-room, 45-person extravaganza is quite a journey in one year. We
have some swappers who have joined us four or five swaps and then there
are always newcomers who are there for the first time. But, the
newcomers quickly become veterans because it is just that much fun.I
swear to you that everyone leaves vowing to come back next time.
also love how swappers bring their cultures and backgrounds to their
offerings. One of our swappers who is Irish brought the prettiest Irish
brown bread I have ever seen and another swapper who is Polish brought
homemade Polish farmers cheese. (I missed out on Anna’s bread but was
able to score some of the cheese.) Of course, some of the items are so
much unfamiliar as simply hard to find. One of the hottest items this
time and last were fresh eggs from a swapper who has her own backyard
And as the swaps get bigger and bigger, there is truly something for
everyone. I chatted with one first-time swapper at Sunday’s event who is
gluten-free. She was able to find plenty of delicious items to swap for
that met her restrictions, from drink syrups to jams to pickles and
mustard. Many of the items I saw on Sunday were dairy-free and even
vegan. But, don’t fret! If you are looking for decadent desserts, you
will find plenty of that too. I came home with some walnut chocolate
toffee that is the stuff dreams are made of and I sadly missed out on
the little chocolate cakes that were a hot item. Whether you want
homemade vanilla extract or hot sauce to cook with for the coming weeks,
or a decadent treat to eat that night, it is all at the Chicago Food
Swap. My swap items will keep me eating and cooking for weeks.
The growing size of our events is definitely giving us some
challenges. At Sunday’s Swap, for example, it was so big and spread out,
that it was sometimes hard to find the person who had made an offer on
your item, despite the ubiquitous name tags. One of our veteran
suggested numbering the tables to make it easier to find trading
partners. When we only had 12 or even 20 people, that was not simply not
an issue. But once you approach 50 swappers, which we did, we realize
that we have to start changing how we do things.
But the important thing is, even as the swaps have grown in size, we
have never lost the community spirit or the sense of fun. We trade so
much more than food at these events. The real magic of these events is
finding that community of like-minded people who care about delicious
food and making it themselves as much as you do. The bigger we grow, the
more inspiring it is to realize how big the community of food-lovers
Will you join us at our next swap on February 3? Or, if you are not
local to Chicago, have you looked into a food swap in your area?