Front Range Food Swap

Published on: October 17th, 2011

It seems so “now” and yet completely old fashioned at the same time. A group of people meets at a pre-determined time, usually on a farm or in a garden, and sets out its wares. There are jars of salsa, choke cherry ice cream, farm-fresh eggs, homemade wine, fresh bread and cookies and oh so much jam. The spread looks like what you might find at the finest gourmet shops and farmer’s markets, with one main difference: No one at this event accepts cash, credit cards or personal checks.

This is what one of Mile High Swappers (milehighswappers.com ) food swap events looks like. Anyone can sign up for a spot at the event (limited, for now, to about 30 swappers per event) and bring food products that they’ve made or grown to swap with others. No money allowed.

Eve Orenstein, the founder and organizer of the swaps, got the idea when she saw a news piece about similar events taking place in big cities such as New York and San Francisco. But when she went looking for swaps in our area, she found out there weren’t any. Luckily, Orenstein is a foodie by hobby, but an event planner by trade, and she had the skills and the chutzpah to put together the kind of event she wanted to attend.

Word started to spread, and the swaps have multiplied. From the original event, a Northern Colorado branch (encompassing Fort Collins) and a Denver branch have been spawned.

I’ve participated in several swaps now and discovered that the thrill is in the chase. Bartering is a lost art, I feel, one our grandparents and great-grandparents would probably have been as intimately acquainted with as they were canning and preserving. And much the way those older culinary arts have found a renaissance, so too is the art of swapping and sharing with a food community coming back in vogue. It’s a fascinating exercise, asking yourself whether your homemade jam is worth a dozen fresh eggs, or a tomato still warm from the sun, or a pint of limoncello. Luckily, nearly everyone who arrives at these events is in the mood to share, willing to trade and eager to taste what you have to offer.

Maybe the best part of the bargain, however, is the bargaining. Unlike walking into your local Whole Foods to buy a jar of artisan jam, with bartering you are required to talk—more than just, “Did you find everything OK?” Chit chat is part of the process, during which you learn this jam was made from a grandmother’s recipe, those plums were foraged in someone’s local park, or the hens that laid your eggs are a feisty bunch of ladies. The transaction is even more intimate than chatting up your farmer at the Saturday market because you must ask and answer over and over again, do you want what I have to offer? May I have some of what you’ve brought? Will you trade with me? It’s humbling and empowering at the same time.

5 Tips for Successful Swapping

From Founder Eve Orenstein

1. Don’t go to extremes—items that are too weird or too normal tend to be less swappable.

2. Bring an appetite and a good attitude—people are generous with samples and we like to make new friends.

3. Be ready to part with your swap items. It’s OK to say no if you don’t want to trade something, but don’t expect trades to count equally in any real financial sense—love counts as an ingredient!

4. It’s totally cool to experiment on swappers. We’re adventurous and will try whatever you cook up.

5. Feel free to geek out in your explanations. Swappers are OK with discussing the finer points of shrub fermentation. We are foodies after all—you are among friends.

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