FORT WAYNE, Ind. — It all started when Mary Willems-Akers looked into her basement. She had shelves stocked with jars of jam — jars upon jars of jam.
That’s when the light bulb went off.
“Originally, I wanted to come up with something like a canning collective. But when I started to look at things online, I saw that there was this whole food swap movement,” she told The News-Sentinel. “People want to know where their food comes from.”
That’s when she began organizing the Northeast Indiana Food Swap. She knew there were people interested in unloading some extra produce or canned goods. But she never expected to see people be shy about their homemade goods.
“People were wondering if what they have made was good enough for a swap or if it was worthwhile enough to go through,” she said. “It can be intimidating to try anything new, but if you’re there, you love food and others have similar interest. It’s very welcoming.”
The Food Swap Network defines a swap as “a recurring event in which members of a community get together and share homemade, homegrown or foraged foods with one another. Swaps allow attendees to make direct trades, for example, a small loaf of bread for a jar of pickles or a half-dozen backyard eggs.”
The swap will last an hour. The first 20 minutes are for set up, the next 20 minutes are browsing and the last 20 minutes are for swapping. Samples are encouraged but not required.
Amy Griffin, a participant in the first NEI Food Swap and a Barr Street Market regular, said after attending Indy Food Swappers, her cooking has changed dramatically.
People are not only sharing their recipes, but also their abundance of goodies. “It’s a chance for me to have fun in the kitchen and to see if people responded to my creations,” she said. “Food swaps offer a huge variety. My refrigerator is filled with Ball jars.”
Willems-Akers said the event is for the average person. Many times when cooking, people have a lot left over; rather than letting it sit on a shelf or go bad, Willems-Akers encourages people to share it at the swap.
“You get what you take. If I only take 10 swap items with me and there are 12 swappers, than I’m only able to swap those 10 items,” she said. “There is no money exchange. You don’t have to pay to register, you don’t have to pay to attend, you don’t have to pay for a table, so really we are just a group of friends exchanging homemade goods.”