Minneapolis Food Swappers: Creating a new food economy

I'll trade you a kombucha for a tin of sponge candy
I'll trade you a kombucha for a tin of sponge candy

What began as a few crafty souls gathered in an apartment has quickly grown to a room full of buzzing enthusiasts, swarming tables inside of Open Arms' building in South Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Food Swappers group meets once a month to share cans of pickles, jams, duck eggs, homemade breads, and more.  We caught up with one of the group's founders to discuss how they formed and where they see themselves headed. Then, we attended one of the swaps.

The group was inspired by a similar swap that began last year in Brooklyn (Mecca of the hipsters) by Kate Payne of the "Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking."  The Minneapolis chapter hosted its first swap in March. Each gathering has become better attended. The last swap filled up with entrants in only 3 1/2 hours.

"We'd kind of like to push the idea of a different economy," founder Kim Chistensen says. "We'd prefer it was more local and more off the grid."  Christensen, Mandy Ellerton, and A-K Thordin run the group. All are passionate cooks and passionate about community and teaching.

Their goal is also to keep the swaps in the city, where attendees can utilize alternate means of transportation by biking, walking, or taking metro transit to the swaps.

The way the swap works is that attendees register through the group's Facebook page. The day of the swap, everyone brings their wares to Open Arms in Minneapolis's Phillips neighborhood. Tables are set up. Participants are encouraged to bring items of comparable value--a jar of jam or pickles to be swapped for a big jar of homemade granola or brandied grapes. The items range from kombucha to homegrown, dried sage.

Samples are encouraged (unless, like the grapes, there's alcohol involved). Swappers then circle the tables, nibbling, sipping, and sizing one another up. They write down their bids for each item on small sheets.

Christensen offers encouragement, "It's okay to say no to a bid. You can turn down an offer--and don't feel bad about it! It's hard, because it's something that you made. At the last swap I made the chutney that I thought was pretty great, but not a lot of people were interested. You can't take it personally. It's not a judgment thing."

She also discusses the importance of food safety.  "It's kind of a bummer to bring up, but you don't want anyone getting sick." Because all items are made in home kitchens, a certain level of faith is required.  Canning lids should be checked and rechecked.

Of the swappers we met, some had backyard chickens and ducks and displayed tidy eggs in carefully constructed packages. Another swapper was a fully licensed caterer, displaying items she planned to use for upcoming holiday events and a martini glass full of candied cranberries. 

When the swapping begins it's a flurry of activity.  People dash around the room, arms laden with jars and baskets.  The swap generally runs in two rounds. First bids are accepted and exchanged, then people roam the room and size up what is left and begin to bargain, with a little more nuanced negotiation.

The next food swap will be held in December, just in time for some holiday hostess gifts.  With the runaway success of the group, Christensen laughs and says, "We don't really need more people to know about us."  That's why they are putting out feelers for creating a St. Paul Food Swappers group.

You can find Minneapolis Swappers on Facebook here.

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