Spade and trade

Bartering is an age-old technique that’s transcended into modernity with clothes, furniture and now, food.

Though an ancient trade system, bartering still manages to find relevancy in our current day. In the UK, there are clothes swaps, usually accompanied by bubbly and canapés. It’s a glam way of finding ‘new’ clothes and accessories without harming the planet, or breaking the bank. But a new movement has hit the UK, and instead of clothing, it’s food that’s up for barter.

Do you ever find that you’ve got a glut of fruit or veggies? Do you can or preserve fruit, or bake a lot? Vicki Swift, founder of Apples for Eggs, found herself saying yes to these questions. Initially she set up a Facebook page as a means of sharing and trading her abundance of homemade bread and cakes as well as supplies from her allotment. Soon after, she thought that a more face-to-face approach would be more appropriate and fun. She stumbled upon the work of Kate Payne and Emily Ho, co-founders of the Food Swap Network in the US, who’ve been hailed as modernising the food swap movement.

Swappers lay out their produce and what they're willing to swap on cards at a swap in Altrincham. Image © Apples for Eggs

Swappers lay out their produce and what they’re willing to swap on cards at a swap in Altrincham. Image © Apples for Eggs

The site is an online resource that connects people to food swaps happening all over the globe and offers advice on how to run one yourself. Taking a cue from there, Swift set up the first face-to-face food swap in Altrincham in 2011. Apples for Eggs was officially born. The swap usually last around two hours and runs on a similar format to its US counterparts. And the process is easy: sign up for a swap, bring anything you’ve grown, raised, or produced and swap your produce for other’s (money is never exchanged).

Sue Jewitt, a partner of Apples for Eggs and long-time friend of Swift’s, shares the same love of homegrown food; Jewitt raises six hens on her allotment. She talks through the steps of a swap: swappers set up their items, offer samples, share any recipes and tips, and mingle before writing their name and what they’re willing to trade on cards. The last half hour is when the bartering happens.

Traders can trade in their extra loaves of bread with other swappers. Image © Apples for Eggs.

Traders can trade in their extra loaves of bread with other swappers. Image © Apples for Eggs.

There are now four official swaps under the Apples for Eggs umbrella – Altrincham, York, Ormskirk and Henley-on-Thames – and are held three times a year to coincide with Spring, Summer and Autumn. With the growing interest in food swaps, Jewitt says many cities across the UK have been in touch hoping to organise similar events. And in times of austerity, food swaps can be a blessing in disguise. At the end of a swap, you could end up with cupboard full of delicious homemade items, saving you money and a trip to the supermarket.

Over the past several months, the issue of food waste has made headlines. This was followed by the Think.Eat.Save campaign from the Save Food Initiative (a partnership with UNEP, FAO, and Messe Düsseldorf) which made food waste this year’s theme for World Environment Day. In addition, the ongoing Love Food Hate Waste campaign continues to educate on how to get the most out of the food we buy. The less we throw away, the more money we save. Bottom line: we need to become more cognizant of the food we buy and throw out.

In essence, food swaps are addressing the food waste problem at a more local level; it offers a collaborative solution by sharing produce that you have too much of, or produce that you would otherwise throw out, or leave unused. Jewitt points out that there’s always someone who’s willing to exchange their wares for yours.

A food swap event in York. Image © Apples for Eggs

A food swap event in York. Image © Apples for Eggs

Jewitt says that part of the appeal of Apples for Eggs for her is the “possibilities of sharing not only food but recipes and tips in a sociable setting, thus connecting communities around food.”

“There’s something incredibly connecting about exchanging home-made food with the person in front of you,” she says. “There’s eye contact and chat which resonates in the weeks and months following as you enjoy that food – a sense of shared trust for the products you’ve exchanged and the efforts that went into producing them.”

More often than not, we don’t know or question where our food comes from. With the recent horsemeat scandal and the recent British Nutrition Foundation poll which found that many children in the UK don’t know where their food comes from, are indicative of how disconnected we’ve become with food’s origin. But it appears that’s slowly changing as people become more interested in the food supply chain, urban farming and foraging.

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