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How to Host a Homespun Swap

How to Host a Homespun Swap #foodswap #sustainableliving #realfood #handcraft

Have you ever heard of an urban food swap? No? Neither had I until I unexpectedly stumbled upon an entire podcast episode about it on a podcast that I had also unexpectedly stumbled upon. (It's a long story with many mildly boring twists and turns--one which is certainly not even worth mentioning. So let's dig ourselves out of the weeds and get back on point, shall we?)

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How to Host a Homespun Swap #foodswap #sustainableliving #realfood #handcraft

What is a Swap?

An urban food swap is similar to a farmer's market in that folks meet at an agreed upon location, bring homemade or homegrown food items for others, and buy and sell using old-fashioned bartering techniques. At a swap, there's no actual cash money involved. One person's foodstuff is evenly traded and/or swapped for another person's item or grouping of items.

Here's a quick video peek at a swap in action. 

Apparently, they're all the rage in some parts of the country. Having spent my first twenty-two years of life in a huge metro area, I can see how a food swap would be such a great addition to any small, urban community within a larger city. Swaps not only allow neighbors to meet and get to know one another, but they also foster better sustainable food habits by encouraging folks to make, and grow, and share real food with one another. 

Since I live in a teeny-tiny town right smack dab in the middle of farm country, I'm surrounded by homegrown edibles all the live long day. However, I believe that even the most farm and food savvy gals can benefit from gathering with other crunchy ladies to share jars of this and bags of that. No matter how much one knows, one can always learn more.

As an added bonus, food swaps are time, energy, and wallet-friendly. Participants can bring their leftovers--any extra garden produce they don't anticipate eating, jars of preserves they happen to have an overabundance of, or bread starters that have gotten a bit out of control. Or they can make new food specifically for the swap. It's, obviously, a lot more efficient to make six batches of the same recipe than one batch each of six different recipes.

All that to say, for my 39th birthday, I threw myself a swap! I veered from the natural order just a teensy bit, though, and decided to extend the swapping boundaries beyond food. I encouraged participants to also bring non-food goods. Any homemade or homespun item was welcome.

Here's the low-down on my swap--what worked and what didn't.

How to Host a Homespun Swap #foodswap #sustainableliving #realfood #handcraft

Preparing for a Swap

When preparing for my swap, I found it helpful to know who would be attending and what they planned to bring. I created an "event" on Facebook and invited a handful of my closest friends. Ladies were able to RSVP in the event and use the comments section to list their potential swap items.

The list not only provided inspiration for other swappers as they planned for what they'd like to bring, but it also helped to limit the number of duplicate items we had the day of the swap. (One table of salsa would be a great addition to any swap. Twelve tables worth would be overkill.)

Prior to the swap, I prepared my home by setting up a few extra folding tables, a small table of snacks and drinks (optional), and a stack of Homespun Swap Sign-up forms. These 1/4 sheet slips of paper were divided into two parts. The top half had blanks for the following pieces of information:

  • the name of the item
  • the name of the person who made/brought the item
  • any special instructions or notes that others should be aware of before asking to swap for that item like "contains nuts" or "should be hand-washed" or "pairs well with chicken." 

The bottom half of the sign-up forms had blank lines. (More on that below.)

How to Host a Homespun Swap #foodswap #sustainableliving #realfood #handcraft

At the Start of the Swap

On the day of the swap, each woman brought a number of items that she had personally made, grown, baked, canned, and/or concocted. They each brought as many or as few items as they wished. Some brought multiple jars of the same type of item and others brought one or two jars of several different things.

When participants arrived, I directed them to take as many Homespun Swap Sign-up forms as they had groups of items. (For example, the person who brought 15 crocheted wash rags only needed one form because all 15 of her items were exactly the same. But the person who brought 3 jars of salsa, 2 jars of jam, and 5 sourdough starters needed three forms because she had three different kinds of items to swap.)

The ladies, then, found empty space at one of the many available tables, set out their swap items by grouping like-items together, filled out the top portions of their sign-up forms, and set these forms by the relevant items.

Because our gathering was small (under 15 attendees), I asked everyone to introduce herself and to announce each of the items that she brought to swap. (Please note: This was NOT a "get-to-know-ya" game. I was, recently, informed by a general public outcry that most introverts do not like those sorts of things. As a raging extrovert, I've always felt like it's my moral imperative to ask mixer questions and get people to get to know each other. But I tied my flamboyance on a tight leash that evening and kept the getting-to-knows to a minimum. Ho. Hum.)

How to Host a Homespun Swap #foodswap #sustainableliving #realfood #handcraft

During the Swap

Next, I invited the swappers to get some snacks and mingle around the room to get a better look at all the swap offerings. 

When a woman saw an item that she wanted to have, she filled out one line on the bottom half of that item's form. She wrote her name and the name of the item that she brought that she was willing to swap in exchange for that particular item.

Simply writing down her name did not guarantee a swap. The Giver still had to agree to the Taker's terms.

After a sufficient amount of mingling and browsing, I announced that it was time to physically swap/exchange items. Each woman (Giver) scanned the sign-up forms of her items to see who was willing to trade with her (Taker). Proper swapping etiquette demands that the first name on the sign-up form gets first dibs of the item. So, if the Giver liked the terms of the first Taker on the list (For instance: 1 washcloth for 1 jar of jam), she swapped. If she did not like the terms, she either bartered for better terms (2 washcloths for 1 jar of jam) or she just moved on to the next Taker's name on her sign-up form.

Occasionally, double swaps occurred. (For instance: Becky traded a jar of her spaghetti sauce for Sarah's jar of jam, but then traded the jam for a bag of Sheri's dried soup mix.)

Swaps continued until everyone seemed quite satisfied. The ladies left with baskets full of homespun items and smiles on their faces.

How to Host a Homespun Swap #foodswap #sustainableliving #realfood #handcraft

Tips for Managing a Swap

When I created the initial invite, I included the following tips and reminders: 

Swaps have to be mutually agreed upon. So, should someone want your item but you don't want theirs, you do not have to swap.

Each item should be individually packaged for easy carry-out. (jars, paper bags, zipper bags, small craft boxes) Some crafty-type items may not need to be packaged. Use your best judgment.

Like in days of old, a basket is helpful for transporting your goods to and from the "market."

All items must be handmade BY YOU or at least members of your immediate household.

A lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into handmade things. (Well, hopefully not real blood. Figurative blood.) So, you can't just mix together some bags of popcorn and expect that other folks will let you carry off their jars of homemade, labor-intensive salsa in exchange. The swap will only be as great as you make it!

Feel free to bring an "extra" of your item for allowing others to sample if you want, but you don't have to.

BE AWARE: None of the food items will be made in a commercial kitchen. You'll be eating at your own risk. To that end, when you're preparing your items, please do your very best to ensure cleanliness by using proper food-safe practices. (No licking your fingers to sample the dough while you're making it! I'm looking at you, Finger Licker!)

While baked goods are fine, please remember that folks will be looking for items that they either don't possess the skill or don't have the time to make. So while regular chocolate chip cookies might get passed over, homemade salted caramel chocolates might end up being the must-have item of the swap!

How to Host a Homespun Swap #foodswap #sustainableliving #realfood #handcraft

Examples of Items that Could be Swapped

canned fruits/veggies
foraged edible mushrooms
goat's milk soap
hot cocoa mix
sunburn salve
organic eggs from your chickens
potted kitchen herbs
crocheted dishrags
whipped body butter
lotion bars
aloe plant starters
sourdough starters
spice mixes
loaves of bread
produce from your garden
cloth napkin sets
burp rags/bibs
greeting cards
trail mix

How to Host a Homespun Swap #foodswap #sustainableliving #realfood #handcraft

For More Information on Food Swaps

PDX Food Swap- This is a beautifully curated Instagram account of a Portland-area food swap. Scroll through to get great ideas for what to bring to a swap, how to package your items in an appealing way, and how to set up a swapping area.

9 Steps to Start Your Own Food Swap- Consult this food swap primer for helpful links and HOW TOs.

Food Swap Love- The lively Simple Show podcast episode that I unexpectedly stumbled upon, featuring the founder of the PDX Food Swap in Portland, Oregon.

Homespun Swap Sign-up forms- Printable sign-up forms for setting out with each swap item. 


  1. I have never heard of anything k This scale before! I did a soup swap one year with 6 girlfriends though. We each whipped up six batches our our favorite soup and froze them in gallon bags. Then presto! You leave a fun girl night with six different soups for you and your family to enjoy!

    1. A soup swap would be super fun. I've done something kind of similar with a handful of ladies. It was a freezer meal club. Once a month, we got together to make 6 different recipes x 6. So everyone left with six different dinners to throw in the freezer.