Swapping Secrets

Erin Molnar, Program Assistant (and Enthusiastic Swapper)

Tuesday is the big day – the February Food Swap!

Some of the delicious swapping goods.

Some of the delicious swapping goods.

I am very excited. The January Swap was a hit and now, there are even more people psyched for the event. We were featured in the Cleveland Magazine Blog (thank you Laura Taxel) and on Quick Bites (thank you Vivian Goodman and WKSU). AND I have a slightly better idea of how to prepare for and facilitate the evening. I think February is going to outshine January by quite a bit.

After that first swap, I sent a small survey to participants to get feedback on logistics, but also to ask what advice they have for future swappers. The responses were fantastic and I want to share them with you.

We will be doing things just slightly different this time around.

  • We will be taking a few moments at the beginning of the evening to introduce ourselves – just names and what they brought. People mentioned that during the swapping portion of the evening, they had a hard time finding the person who made the item for which they wanted to swap. Also, knowing names can make it easier to approach someone in a setting where many people are strangers. We will also be requesting that people put their items on their name tags.
  • While standing on a couch and speaking loudly was relatively successful for getting people’s attention, this time I am bringing the market cow bell! I hope this will help to clarify shifts in the evening. There will also be an announced few minutes of preparation time between browsing and bidding; this will allow swappers to look over their sheets and know who is interested in their items. I am also feeling more confident about timing – how long to let each portion of the evening last.
  • The swap sheets will be larger this time, and I will be bringing pens, instead of pencils, for bidding.
  • I am also sending a reminder email to participants. This is to ensure that swappers are oriented to the flow and expectations of the evening. This includes labeling. I think labels with contact and storage information are REALLY important and I did not emphasize or enforce this adequately last time.
Many swappers. Tiny space. We will have more space this time.

Many swappers. Tiny space. More space this time, no worries.

Now. Time for the secrets of the experienced swapper.

  • Several people mentioned portion size. In various places, I had recommended to consider an 8-oz jar of jam or a pint of pickles as a good reference. But I think this is something that can’t be said too often or in too many places. Some responses referenced a dollar amount, rather than actual size – generally $5. 
  • Regarding how many items to bring – some people would have brought more, some less. People who brought several items – 8+ – liked this because they could say yes to many offered swaps. They ended up with items that were not necessarily high on their priority list, but thoroughly enjoyed.
  • Swappers also recommended bringing a quantity of one or two items, rather than several different items.
  • Sampling was also a common theme, and I think it came from two perspectives. People who did sample felt that had a lot to do with the demand for their items. And I think for items that didn’t have samples, people felt that they may have been interested if they had had the opportunity to taste.
  • A couple people also recommended choosing unique items to swap. I agree, but this does not mean that you have to delve into molecular gastronomy. For example, sea salt chocolate chip cookies might be popular than your standard Tollhouse. But I also think there is certainly a place for good old standards.
  • Packaging also came up. A professional look is not necessary, just appropriate. I got pretty crafty with my mustard last time, but that is because I am really into branding. (For example, I follow this blog.) Your packaging and labeling can be as fancy or simple as you wish.

There were also a few comments that pertain to potential swappers. Mostly, do not feel intimidated. Everyone has something to offer. I would swap for chicken stock, or stew, or a pre-made salad (you know, where you just layer the ingredients in a container). I like to experiment in the kitchen – hence, mustard and curd – but sometimes I am a slacker with my actual meals, and as my office-mates can attest, TERRIBLE at packing a reasonable (if any) lunch at all.

If you are a current swapper or a potential swapper or a vicarious swapper, and haven’t joined our Facebook group, please do! It’s an excellent forum for feedback, suggestions, advice, recipe sharing, connecting with new swapping friends. And while you’re on the Facebook, “Like” Countryside Conservancy if you don’t already. This will keep you updated about the swaps, and all of the great programming we have to offer.

There are a couple spaces left if you want to swap. Don’t worry, it’s not too late to make something. I haven’t made my clementine-vanilla bean curd yet, and I am at the OEFFA conference all weekend…

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