Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Chicago Food Swap: It's About More Than Just Food

Cross-posted from swapper Toni's blog Food (Just Sayin')

Last night, my husband, son and I attended our very first Chicago Food Swap. With great intentions of at least attending one of them last year, swapping sadly never happened. But, oh, the excitement now. Honestly, we really had no idea what to expect. I knew several of the people attending, so that was comforting. I joined the Facebook page. I took advice from “veteran” swappers. I asked questions. Even after all of that, we still felt a little unsure about what we were bringing, how to package, etc. That’s three OCD only children, for ya.

Food swaps are becoming quite popular as they are found all across the country and maybe even internationally. According to food swap network, “A food swap is a recurring event where members of a community share homemade, homegrown, or foraged foods with each other. These events are a delicious way to diversify the homemade foods in your own pantry while getting to know members of your local food community.” Last year, the Chicago Food Swap began with 10 participants and has already grown into 40 swappers with a waiting list.

Since all three of us had RSVP space, we each needed to decide what we would bring to swap. Our son made 1/4 lb. bags of salted caramels (with & without toasted pecans) while my husband made hummus (original and spicy) along with naan (packaged in three’s.) I decided to bring half dozens of local fresh farm eggs, jars of lemon curd and a few packages of blueberry lemon poppyseed scones. I believe I failed in my scone packaging as I grouped them into fives. It seems that was probably too “big” because most baked goods, like large cupcakes, were grouped separately or in pairs (the smaller ones.)

Even more than the endless food possibilities we have with all of these items, we had a TON of fun with old friends and met many new friends; amazing people who share our passion for food. I highly suggesting attending a food swap in your area. If there is not one close to you, maybe you could consider starting one yourself! I’m already thinking that as we speak…how about it northwest/north central Indiana?

Chicago food swap collage
Top left: Meyer Lemon Marmalade – Bottom left and around: Focaccia, Salsa Verde, Chicken Empanada, Valentine’s Sugar Cookies & Challah, Raspberry Ganache French Macaroons

With our whole one-time attendance of a food swap, here are a few things that we quickly learned…maybe they will help you, as well!
  • Be organized – The venue for the swap may have limited space. Have your items organized and ready to display rather quickly.
  • Samples are encouraged – Part of the fun is going around and tasting different samples. There may be an item offered that you didn’t think you would like, but ended up loving after tasting the sample.
  • Bring pens – You don’t want to be stuck without pens. Bring one to lay by each of your swap cards and also, one to carry around with you. Don’t miss out on a wanted item simply because there was no pen available to sign-in your offer.
  • Fill out your swap cards ahead of the event - You need one of these for each type of item you have. Why waste precious browsing time filling out paperwork when you can do it at home and bring it along? You’ll be happy you did.
  • Think about venue space – Depending on the location, you may have very limited venue & display space. Keep that in mind when deciding what to bring. Larger items work fine if you are outside at a park, but small, stack-able products fare well in a few square feet of table space. \
  • Prepare to feel overwhelmed – It seems, all at once, people are setting up, tasting samples, filling out papers…and you feel like you are standing in the way at every moment. It’s okay. Everyone feels that way. Don’t panic. You’ll realize it’s part of the fun and it all works out in the end.
  • Support the venue – This is not required of the food swap, but is just generally nice. Most likely, the place hosting your food swap is doing it for free. Drop them a few tweets, give them a shout out on Facebook or simply purchase something (if the location is store.) It’s a way of showing appreciation for their service. Without the generosity of the venues, food swaps can’t really happen (especially in the winter when you can’t swap in a park.)
  • Take home boxes – Be sure to have a basket, boxes or bags in which to take home your haul. We used our boxes that we carried in with, but some items are larger or smaller. Just make sure you have enough.
  • Like what you are swapping – Be comfortable and confident with the food you are bringing. There will be things you like and things you don’t like…that pertains to how others feel about your products as well. Everyone has different tastes. We’ve already tasted a few items that we don’t like. It will happen. Expect it. Send it to work with your husband and let him put it on the break table. Maybe someone else will enjoy it.
  • Encourage others – Even though it probably happens,  no one should leave a swap feeling bad. If you have a few extra items to barter with, maybe trade for something less desired. Just realize that it’s only food and maybe what you made will be one of their favorites! Everyone wins in the end and it helps to build relationships and the food swapping community.
  • You don’t need a ton of food – One person brought three jars. Another brought twelve. I brought…well…probably too much, but I had no idea what to expect. Think about how many people that are RSVP’d, and how much you want to bring home. If the swap has 15 people and you bring 20 items, you’re probably able to go home with one of everything. If you’re okay with bringing home five different jars of preserves, then bring only five items. There’s no too little or too much. It’s whatever YOU want and how much you want barter.
  • Small and several – To bring home the biggest variety of items, bring several types of food items packaged in “smaller” packages. Here’s why: If you bring a box of items, all the same…and someone else brings the same amount of items, but a variety of three types of foods, you (most likely) won’t be able to get one of each of their products. They probably won’t want three of the same of what you have. Makes sense? In regards to “smaller” packages, most things are packaged pretty small. A jar for a jar. Four cookies to a bag. One or two large cupcakes together. You can bring a whole cake if you want, but what would you want to trade it for? Probably not for a package of cookies or a jar of jelly. It seems harder to get rid of a “larger” item.
  • Be among the first to trade – As the co-founders say, find the items you can’t see yourself leaving without. When swapping begins, take one of each of your items directly to those items you want BAD and trade them first. THEN, you can stand by your table and make trades or casually make your way around the room, looking for willing swappers.
Chicago food swap
Just to name a few items we brought home: Crusty Honeycomb Challah, Focaccia, Limoncello, Salsa Verde, Pickled Beets, Pickled Collards, Rangpur Lime Curd, Numerous preserves, syrups & marmalades, Chicken Empanadas, Zucchini relish, Beef Veggie Soup, Cupcakes, Biscotti, Cherry Hand Pie, Cookies, Raspberry Ganache French Macaroons…

I’d like to end with a HUGE thank you to co-founders Emily and Vanessa. Thank you both for caring enough about our food culture to start this food swap. Also, a quick thank you to Katherine-Anne Confections for being the host site. You’re generosity is appreciated by all who attended…and just look at these truffles, caramels and marshmallows with which we came home! The next swap will be April 7th but does not have a location. If you would like to volunteer a venue, please contact the Chicago Food Swap and let them know!

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