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Ready, Set, Swap

The national food-swap movement, blending old-school kitchen craft with new-school values, has arrived in the Twin Cities

Ready, Set, Swap
Photo by Shinano Katagiri

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“I got the diagnosis about a year and a half ago,” she says. “Now, I take a lot of pills.” Her naturopath doctor, she says, helped her gut to heal. She’s eating meat again. She’s brought back eggs. But she’s had to take full command of her nutrition. She doesn’t just cook her own food; she grows it now, too. Her backyard is a Tetris block of planting beds.

Last summer, she came across Kate Payne’s influential homesteading blog, “The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking.” Payne, an avid canner, had just launched a food swap in New York that March, inspired by a simple exchange with a friend. Payne had offered to trade jars of her triple-citrus marmalade for her pal Megan Paska’s artisanal honey. After that, the two women decided it would be fun to round up more food-centric friends and host a swap on a larger scale. One year later, the urban food swap had become a full-blown social phenomenon, spawning imitators in cities like Portland, Austin, Los Angeles, even London. Today, Christensen estimates there are at least 30 active swaps in the United States.

“Kate and I started talking online,” Christensen remembers. “She looked at my blog and said, ‘Wow, we really have doppelgänger interests.’” Christensen launched a local swap this past March, leveraging Facebook and Twitter to round up 30 participants. The next day, the MPLS Swappers Facebook page had doubled its friend count; a week before the group’s third event, in July, that count had grown to 226. Registration filled up in three days.

The bidding erupted around us. Swappers flitted around the trading tables, the mood as eager and urgent as an Easter egg hunt.

Why did these people do it? Christensen swapped for the joy and health of it. But why would these other folks—mostly young, city-dwelling women, co-op shoppers, artistically inclined, and generally bearing all the watermarks of a progressive mindset—be so enamored of old-fashioned domestic skills? Some cited the recession and its new vogue for DIY frugality. Some cited a simple desire for community. (A swapper named Becca, offering lavender shortbread cookies, imagined the events becoming her “new church.”) But many cited politics, a renunciation of consumer culture, even feminism.

“There’s this sense that we’re reclaiming being a homemaker,” said Mandy Ellerton, a grassroots organizer who now helps Christensen run the swaps. Jam-making feminists, it turns out, now enjoy an official term in the foodie lexicon: “femivores.” It’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma meets Betty Friedan.

“I don’t want to turn my back on my home life just so I can have a position in the workplace,” said Christensen, a project producer for Target’s in-house photo studio. She acknowledged the swaps’ lopsided gender ratio. “I would like there to be more men, but regardless of your gender identity, I think it’s important to know how to do this stuff.”

But what about health concerns? If all the goods are handmade, should we wonder where all those hands have been? Christianson, conflicted, says maybe. “It’s a growing discussion in the larger community,” she admitted. No one has gotten sick from a Minneapolis swap, but events elsewhere have begun requiring signed waivers. Christensen, though, is reluctant to go that route. “I want to keep this grassroots,” she says.

In the end, there wasn’t a blank bidding sheet in the room. Gooch, the actress, took home a lovely tomato-and-herb-seedling trio. And just before everyone cleared out, a woman in her 40s, whose name did not appear on my bidding sheet, approached me.

“Hey, are you the guy with the mincemeat?”


“Want some kombucha?”

Hell yes, I wanted some. I gave her a jar and took that sexy red drink straight home.

Info: The next Minneapolis Food Swap is scheduled for Sunday, August 14.
mplsswappers.wordpress.com to register.

Minneapolis Food Swap Video Meet Minneapolis food swappers and see their fare in this short video.

Gregory J. Scott is Minnesota Monthly’s staff writer.

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