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Visual Art
Arts and Entertainment Monday, Jun. 4, 2012 8 years ago

"Summer Nights" swapping: a shift toward abundance?

by: April Doner

Sarasota seems to have been hit by the first of what I have a feeling may be a steady stream of "Swap-waves."

The first swap-sprinkle hit me through Facebook when someone added me to a "Gift Economy" group. Then, somebody else added me to a "Buy/Sell/Trade" group ... and a day or so later, I'm part of "Sarasota Swappers." I joined with gusto, eager to see how these networks flowed. Around the same time, my friend Jerah Coviello invited me to a clothing swap she was organizing through ecovogue365, an eco-minded team of local fashion entrepreneurs. I went as a volunteer, but had to leave before it really got underway and only got a frenzied taste of the experience. (Luckily, fellow TWISlers Sara Moone and Stephen McFadden stayed and documented it beautifully.)

A bit bummed I missed the full clothing swap experience, I got excited when I came across an event called "Swapper Sarasota - 'Summer Nights' June Handmade Food and Craft Swap" on a night I was free.

I read over the "guidelines" with great curiosity.  "Home-made/Home-grown/Hand-made" items could include food, art, crafts, fashion/clothing and body products. When signing up, participants agreed to a set of  rules, including:

1) I will adhere to the highest food safety and cleanliness standards in food preparation.

2) I will label all food items with an expiration date and storage instructions, if applicable.

3) I will bring nothing that has been canned prior to June 2011.

Just reading these instructions got me pumped. I pictured all kinds of people preparing delicious home-made things, perhaps with recipes and techniques handed down through their families.I also resonated on a philosophical and personal level. For me, the word "canning" calls to mind images of a bygone era populated by women like my Ohio grandmother, who undertook many such domestic projects as a result of practical necessity and a culture of pragmatism, frugality and self-reliance. This is a culture with which I identify, but often struggle to put into practice in this faster-paced world driven by a culture of high-volume, high-visibility, "let-us-do-it-for-you"  consumption. The idea of gathering and exchanging with others who seem to share and actively resurrect this culture got me just about as excited as did the images of goodies dancing through my head.

What would my "swap item" be?  Artwork.  Although I love to cook, I felt a little intimidated by the food safety precautions and figured I should stick to something I know very well.  I scheduled an hour before the event to prepare some indisputably legitimate hand-made art cards. On my way out that evening, I also grabbed a box of my pre-printed greeting cards (just in case those would be allowed) and dashed late into the pouring rain.I arrived at a home in a nice suburban neighborhood in East Sarasota and pushed timidly through the unlocked front door. Inside I found the cozy home abuzz with a combination of friendly warmth and focused, strategic action and organization. A woman introduced herself as Liz, owner of the home and one of the swap organizers. She explained the process: find a place to display your items, fill out the info card, then go and browse what everyone else has brought and sign up for what you want.

I moved through the house.  Each surface seemed already claimed by mouthwatering and visually exciting arrays of handmade items. First lesson duly noted: Arrive on time.As I hunted for my own spot, my eyes skipped happily across the wares: jars of homemade jam, salsa, kombucha, pickles and vinegar; craftily packaged homemade bread, breadsticks and blueberry tarts; tables laden with gorgeous jewelry, clever crafts and hand-sewn and well-designed purses, dishcloths, hats and shirts; a sprinkling of body products including aromatherapy mist and chocolate lip balm.

I finally located a lone chair with nothing on it and spread out my cards and info sheet.  My next move was to plunge into the potluck meal and into conversation with my friend Caitlin McMullen, a friend I hadn't seen in ages who was, unbeknownst to me, proceeding with her own passion for homesteading with a purchase of 20 acres out by the Myakka River. I also met Terry, who prepared the "Monkey Butter" I heard people raving about, and Mary, who was attending her first swap and just scoping it out before she took the plunge of bringing something of her own.By the time I got to browsing and signing up for goodies, I was pretty much out of time. Before I knew it, Liz called out to everyone that the swapping was to commence. The participants  jumped into conversations of exchange. They were pleasant, friendly and appreciative in tone, but equally straightforward and business-like: "I love your ___ --- I was wondering if you'd like any of my ___?"  Because I was so new and unfamiliar with the pace  and procedures of this game, I only got in a fraction of swap conversations than the other, more  seasoned participants seemed to accomplish by the time most swapping ended --- all the interesting stuff had all been swapped away.How did I make out?  Great!  For about 10 greeting cards, I swapped

  • • one bag of dried cherry tomatoes from the Everglades (from Caitlin)
  • • another artist's original handmade watercolor-collage greeting card
  • • strawberry jam
  • • cultured veggies (similar to sauerkraut)
  • • a bag of amazing toffee-saltine creations
  • • wine cork photo-holders
  • and, the pièce de résistance:
  • • an absolutely beautiful necklace (made by Brandy, a local jeweler)
In addition to these things I could hold in my hands, I walked away with a strong sense of abundance in skill and creativity; and a spirit to not just produce, exchange and receive --- but to discover, appreciate and enjoy the fruits of others' creativity and productivity. If there's one thing I felt lacking, it was time --- time to talk with the participants and discover what brought them here, what kept them coming back and what they see as the purpose and value of these kinds of gatherings in their lives and in the community.

But the good news is, I can go back and hopefully find more time to "master" the art of swapping and to deepen some relationships with these down-to-earth, creative and inspiring local folks.  I hear that the next swap is scheduled for August.

So what do YOU think?

  • • What's your experience with swapping or other forms of this "do-it-yourself" trend of exchange creeping into Sarasota and across the country?
  • • Do you see any kind of shift happening in our local or national culture? Is it good, bad, indifferent --- and why?
  • • What would you make for a swap? Want to come with me to the next one?

* * *


Check out these articles by Swap organizer Liz Sniegocki:

Food Swaps: Building Cupboards and Community with Home-Produced Edibles (Bamboo Magazine)

How to Host Your Own Food Swap

You can also find out more and connect with the swap movement on the Sarasota Swappers blog, Liz's "Natural Nester" blog and the Portland, Oregon-based Food Swap Network website.

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