BY JULIE GRAY
The roasted red pepper spread at a recent Btown Food Swappers meeting was so tasty that it prompted a marriage proposal. The offer was facetious (both swappers are happily married to others), but it was indicative of the good cheer and enthusiasm of the 13 people who gathered at the Monroe County Public Library in October to taste and trade their homemade creations.
Started in July 2013 by Erin Clark, 33, the food swaps occur every other month and are open to all, though advance registration is required. Participants can bring anything they’ve made, grown, or foraged. “You don’t have to make something super complex,” Clark explains. Past items have ranged from banana breads and backyard eggs to lavender chai concentrate and pierogies.
Clark, an international scholar adviser at Indiana University, introduced the concept here after attending food swaps in Indianapolis. But food swapping is an international movement, she says, and the format is similar, no matter the language or country.
Most food swaps last about an hour. Participants arrange their offerings on tables, often with free samples, and then mingle, signing a bid sheet for those items they’d like to trade. After a half-hour or so, they return to their posts, consult their bid sheets, and then make hand-to-hand trades. No money is involved.
At the October swap, Ann Bunger, who has attended swaps in Philadelphia, offered a pear shrub, a drinking vinegar; its sweet-tart taste can be used to flavor drinks or salad dressings. She says the swaps “are a great way to showcase your own creativity and to see what other people are making.”
Jill Vance journeys from Lawrence County to attend swaps in both Bloomington and Indianapolis. An avid herb gardener, she offered homemade peppermint extract and herb-infused vinegars. Other October offerings included elderberry syrup, vegetarian and chicken chilis, pumpkin butter, and ginger-molasses cookies.
Clark concedes that the swaps can get chaotic if too many people participate, so although she’s eager to welcome newcomers, she caps each swap at 30 attendees. She says if interest grows, she’ll be happy to add more swaps.
The next Btown Food Swappers meeting is scheduled for January 10, 2016. To learn more and to register, visit btownfoodswappers.com.