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Old Fashioned Food Swapping Gets Modern Upgrade With New Community-Building Website

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From the LA Food Swap in Silver Lake, September 2011 (Photo by Emily Ho/used with permission)
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If you are a keen canner, baker, or condiment-maker with a pantry full of tasty homemade surplus, while you may have earmarked some jams and relishes for holiday gifting, you may also want to swap your concoctions for something made by a like-minded fellow Angeleno. To facilitate sharing of homemade goodies, people are setting up Food Swaps, where a community gathers to trade their wares.

The LA Food Swap was launched in March 2011, and met with great success. Its founder, food writer Emily Ho, banded together with other swap organizers around the country and worked to put together an online portal for food swappers. The Food Swap Network launched Monday, and we got in touch with Ho to talk about how the site came to be, and why good old fashioned food making and sharing is clicking with this new generation of tech-savvy consumers.

LAist: What was the genesis of the Food Swap Network?
Emily Ho: Food swap organizers have been trading tips and supporting each other since (at least) this spring, using Facebook, email, and phone calls to ask questions and share experiences with things like how to promote a food swap and what to do on the day of the event. Organizers such as Kate Payne and Megan Paska, who co-founded the modern food swap movement in Brooklyn (Kate now co-leads the Austin swap), Bethany Rydmark (Portland), Kim Christensen (Minneapolis), and myself (LA) were also sharing tips and links to other swaps on our blogs. After I started the LA swap, I found myself helping people start swaps everywhere from Santa Monica to Boston to Honolulu.

In May of this year, Kate and I met in person and we started talking about how great it would be to have one place where people could learn about the food swap movement, find a swap in their area, and get resources to start their own. As a labor of love, Kate, Meg, Bethany, Kim, and I created the Food Swap Network, which launched yesterday. We've incorporated many ideas from other food swap organizers we surveyed and are excited to see the site evolve and grow into a worldwide resource.

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Why do you think we are embracing a concept like food swaps these days?
I think people are eager for the sense of community that a food swap provides. A food swap not only gives members a chance to share delicious handmade foods but also is a wonderful opportunity to meet others who are interested in gardening, food preservation, beekeeping, and other sustainable, DIY activities. As more and more people want to know where their food comes from and start activities like making their own condiments, baking bread, etc., it's fun to share this experience with others. (Plus, who needs 20 jars of homemade ketchup? Better to swap and diversify your pantry!) Swappers end up making friends who are just as into going to the farmers' market, standing over a hot canner, raising chickens, etc.

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All in a day's swapping (Photo by Emily Ho/used with permission)
How has the LA Food Swap been going since it got underway in March?
The response has been fantastic! We've held five swaps since March and have another one coming up in December [already full]. Each swap has been a great mix of old friends and new faces, and it's so much fun to see what people bring; we've had nasturtium capers, fig chutney, ice cream, kombucha, the list goes on. Local swaps have also sprung up in Pasadena, San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, and Ventura County.

It's so fascinating that something as homespun as a food swap is taking root and finding sustainability through a contemporary means like online communities. How do you see the food swap movement benefiting from these newer ways of using technology to connect with each other?
People have been sharing food with each other forever, but online media and communication have brought a new element to the modern food swap. I myself learned about food swapping through a video posted on a blog (Cooking Up A Story), then got tips from other swap hosts online and gauged interest in LA by setting up a Facebook page. Social media and online tools like Eventbrite have made it easy for swappers to reach out, publicize their events, and meet like-minded folks in their own cities and around the world. Our hope is that with the Food Swap Network, it will become even easier for swap attendees and organizers to find each other, access information, and join the global movement.

To find out more about the food swaps happening in Los Angeles and other local communities, check out the listings on The Food Swap Network. You can find Ho on Twitter at @MissChiffonade; you may also want to follow @lafoodswap and @foodswaps.

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