You don't have to be root-cellar hardcore to benefit from food swaps. If you show up at a food swapping party with homemade pies, you might score some homemade beer. Depending on the crowd you run with, food swapping parties can resemble a cocktail party, a potluck, a rager, a garage sale, or some unique combination of them all.
In the wild, ungulate-laden hills of Montana, where hippies hunt and vegetarians have been known to eat venison if they know who killed it, I've been fortunate to attend the annual Swap Meat, which takes place around this time of year.
Swap Meaters are not limited to trading meat. Pickles, jam, honey, frozen veggies, and aging root crops are all fair game.
Just be prepared to explain the pedigree of your goods. I remember one guy describing the meat he'd brought as "found in the freezer after my roommate moved out." He also mentioned something about it possibly being roadkill. He had brought nothing else to trade, and got zero action.
Another time, someone brought girlfriend-made pickles.
"These green tomato pickles are actually [girlfriend's]," he said, "but they..."
"Oh no! Those are bad," objected someone with intimate knowledge of [girlfriend's] pickles, from across the room.
Murmurs swept the Swap Meat circle.
"No, these aren't the bad ones," the pickle purveyor protested.
"[Girlfriend] put ginger in her pickles so they'd be good in martinis," the protester continued. "But we tried them and my God, they were eff-ed."
"This is a different batch," the pickle man softly protested.
A cloud of suspicion had fallen upon that jar, and rightly so. The first rule of Swap Meat is that you trade only your own goods. That way you know exactly what it is and where it's been.
You can be sure that more than just goods will change hands at a food swap. Tips on gardening, preservation, and cooking will be traded as well, plus phone numbers, gossip, and hunting stories. When swappers run into each other months later at the farmers' market, you can expect updates on swapped goods. Thus, community bonds are strengthened.
I just attended a swap of a different sort: a seed exchange in Espanola, New Mexico. Spring is the obvious season for seed trading, because it's the time to plant them.
The event started out ceremonially, with Native American song and blessings. Dirt from around the Southwest was mixed with water from distant parts, along with seeds brought from all corners. Everyone took home a handful of the mix to plant. Then, guitar and accordion players played upbeat riffs while participants wandered among the seed tables. There were envelopes for putting seeds in, and pens for jotting pertinent details on the envelopes. Behind the tables, seed growers watched their seeds disappear, talking shop with their seeds' new and prospective parents.
Most of these seeds were homegrown and home-saved, but many farmers also brought seed they'd purchased years ago from seed catalogs. Rather than letting this old seed go bad in the barn, these exchangers hoped to send their seeds to new gardens while they still had life to germinate.