Although beetroot and parsnips may be the only current gluts, my attention has been caught recently by Food Swaps. I’ve been finding out about the current popularity of produce swapping in the UK for a magazine article and love the idea of exchanging honey for ham, bread for jam or apples for eggs.
The Food Swapping movement first grew in the US, with some great food swapping in LA and Brooklyn. With so many people now passionate about food and where it’s come from in the UK, food swapping is growing in popularity here too. The idea is that no money changes hands, just good home-grown, home-made or foraged produce. Often recipes and food tips too – food swaps can be lovely, sociable events.
Turning up at a local farm on a Sunday morning with jars of home-made chutney and walking away with horseradish, parsnips and jam may not be a typical way of doing the weekend shopping but Claire Jeffery has encouraged many locals around the Cotswold village of South Cerney to do just that. Claire set up ‘The Great Cotswold Food Swap’ at her family farm with her friend Lettie Elwin who shares her passion for local food and champions great local producers through ‘The best of Cirencester.’
Claire felt passionately that although there hadn’t been any community Food Swaps in the South-West, the Cotswolds had some great food to offer. Anyone who reads my posts will know that I totally agree.
Following the success of the September Cotswold Food Swap, where lots of locals brought along a vast array of produce from their gardens and allotments, Claire and Lettie organised another Food Swap in December. They feared that there may be a dearth of produce in the winter, but needn’t have worried: an amazing array of produce included a brace of pheasants, home-made blackcurrant cordial, Christmas biscuits, parsnips, home-made mincemeat and fudge.
Food Swaps normally last about two hours; the first hour is about sampling and chatting to the other participants, with lots of recipes and ideas exchanged. After that it’s time to place bids. Swappers weigh up their offers and then exchange their goods. It normally takes around another hour for all swaps to be completed. As long as produce is home-grown, home-made or foraged, it can be brought along and no money changes hands, the only currency is produce.
During the time when swappers weigh up their offers, further bartering can take place. You can decide that you’d like to swap cakes for carrots but suggest that you’d like more carrots or perhaps reject an offer altogether if you’re not happy with it. Thanks to the lovely vibe of a food swap and the fact that you only turn up for a sociable couple of hours and walk away with lots of produce, you generally end up going with the flow though.
You also often end up feeling you’ve walked away with a complete abundance of produce compared to the few jars you turned up with.
Vicky Swift who set up the thriving community Food Swap Applesforeggs.com puts it down to a simple division of labour:
“It’s an almost magical formula, and it comes down to an understanding of the time and effort that goes into the produce. It might take me a couple of hours to make six jars of jam – but if I swap those six jars for say some cherry tomatoes, a bottle of elderflower cordial, some flapjacks, a sourdough loaf, a batch of muffins and a bag of runner beans I can’t help but feel I’m absolutely the winner. You can’t produce all that in two hours – whereas you can make the six jars of jam. I suppose it’s like division of labour, across a food swapping community.”
Vicky, a bread-making, allotment keeping Mum, set up Apples for eggs in 2011 after finding that she had surplus allotment produce. She encouraged people to swap their surplus produce via a Facebook page initially but soon concluded that face-to-face events where people could bring their produce, socialise a little and share taster samples of food would be far more effective – and more fun.
Vicky’s friend Sue Jewitt then took up the idea in York, and Apples for Eggs now has swaps taking place in six, soon to be seven locations across the country. Produce is wonderfully varied depending on the seasons, ranging from runner beans to home-baked bread to rhubarb. Edible goodies from the hedgerows and woods can be included too.
As someone who has had to give away sections of my monster Mother Hubbard squash out of necessity (I don’t want to put my family off this delicious veggie by force-feeding it to them at EVERY meal) and been grateful for any takers of the Quince cheese so that we don’t scoff it all with copious amounts of salty Spanish cheese, I’m a big fan of swapping food. I’ve very much enjoyed tubs of sweet cherry tomatoes, stalks of Brussels sprouts, pheasants and apples from family, friends and neighbours too.
So going to an organised Food Swap sounds like great fun to me, a much more interesting, cheaper and sociable way of spending a weekend morning than dashing around the supermarket. As I plant seeds in the months to come I’ll be thinking about what’s going to be plentiful and hoping I have something tasty to take along to the Spring and Summer Great Cotswold Food Swaps.
If there are any other Cotswold gardeners, preservers, allotmenteers or bakers reading this, details of the next Cotswold Food Swaps will be posted on the Berry Farm website and Apples for Eggs are organising a new swap starting in March in Iron Acton, South Gloucestershire.