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Eat Near: Sarasota Swappers

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Goods from a past Sarasota Swappers event / COURTESY SARASOTA SWAPPERS

Goods from a past Sarasota Swappers event / COURTESY SARASOTA SWAPPERS

Neighbors getting together to trade homemade food isn't exactly a novel concept, acknowledges Food Swap Network co-founder Emily Ho. But in today's atomized society, how do you go about finding those simpatico neighbors? Ho launched her L.A. food swap two and a half years ago after seeing online chatter about similar events in Portland, Ore., Austin, Tex., and Brooklyn. Rather than going door-to-door to find participants, Ho relied on the Internet and social media to spread the word. That eventually led her to a meetup with Kate Payne, the founder of the Brooklyn and Austin swaps and the recognized figurehead of the new international food-swapping trend.

Shortly thereafter, Ho and Payne launched the Food Swap Network, a go-to website for everything you need to jump into the swap trend. Looking for a local group? The site's interactive map lets you find one. No group nearby? The site offers everything you need to start one all on your own. When Ho and Payne launched the site two years ago, they had about 10 swaps around America listed. Today that number has spiked to around 120, with branches as far afield as the U.K. and Brazil.

"A lot of people think it's the next step in eating locally," Ho says. But the attraction is also social. Participants generally love cooking or gardening or preserving food; the swaps are an opportunity to connect with like-minded folks. "They can really meet their neighbors and have a meaningful exchange with each other."

Ho says the next step for the Network is to refine its website and materials, and that the creators are looking for ways to raise money to expand. For now, "it's really a labor of love," says Ho.

Goods from a past Sarasota Swappers event / COURTESY SARASOTA SWAPPERS

Goods from a past Sarasota Swappers event / COURTESY SARASOTA SWAPPERS

Sarasota Swappers formed in August 2011, when organizer Liz Sniegocki started reaching out through social media to organize a get-together. The group — which now varies in size from 15 to 35 — meets every other month, sometimes in a park or other public space, sometimes in a participant's home, and everyone shows up with something homemade or homegrown. Food is the most common element, with everything from freshly caught fish to backyard eggs and treats like jams and jellies, but participants also bring crafts like hand-knitted cloth napkins and tote bags.

The first 30 minutes are spent setting out your items, the next 45-60 browsing others' goods and eating some potluck grub, to "munch and socialize and swap," Sniegocki says. With about 30 minutes to go, someone announces, "Swaps are open." And then starts the trading.

Sniegocki says the local group is almost exclusively female and draws from a wide variety of age groups, from 20-somethings to grandmothers. It's not just the products that matter, according to Sniegocki: "The packaging is a lot of the fun of it. People decorate their Mason jars and make little tags and labels. It's fun."

The appeal of the group is simple to understand. "It really just brings community together around food, and people are really hungry for that," Sniegocki says. "It unites this whole movement of grown-your-own, make-your-own, do-it-yourself." Conscientious eaters work hard to know exactly what they're putting in their bodies, a task made much simpler when you can just ask the person who made the jelly you want whose yard the fruit grew in. And the crafts provide a constant reminder that you're a member of a community.

"It brings me a sense of connection I wouldn't get if I purchased it at Target," Sniegocki says. "It adds warmth and character to my home and to my kitchen — and that's very satisfying."

To find out more about Sarasota Swappers, visit sarasotaswappers.blogspot.com or "like" the group's Facebook page: facebook.com/SarasotaSwappers. The group's next swap is scheduled for Sat., Nov. 23. For more information on the Food Swap Network, visit foodswapnetwork.com. Hat tip to 83 Degrees.

Goods from a past Sarasota Swappers event / COURTESY SARASOTA SWAPPERS

Goods from a past Sarasota Swappers event / COURTESY SARASOTA SWAPPERS

This is the 33rd entry in Eat Near, a regular column dedicated to all the lovely food that folks on the Suncoast grow, raise, kill or craft. If you have an idea for someone/thing to feature, email me at eatnearsrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.

Last modified: October 14, 2013
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