Chicago Food Swap: It’s About More Than Just Food

chicago food swap

Our display of swap items

Last night, my husband, son and I attended our very first Chicago Food Swap. With great intentions of at least attending one of them last year, swapping sadly never happened. But, oh, the excitement now. Honestly, we really had no idea what to expect. I knew several of the people attending, so that was comforting. I joined the Facebook page. I took advice from “veteran” swappers. I asked questions. Even after all of that, we still felt a little unsure about what we were bringing, how to package, etc. That’s three OCD only children, for ya.

Food swaps are becoming quite popular as they are found all across the country and maybe even internationally. According to food swap network, “A food swap is a recurring event where members of a community share homemade, homegrown, or foraged foods with each other. These events are a delicious way to diversify the homemade foods in your own pantry while getting to know members of your local food community.” Last year, the Chicago Food Swap began with 10 participants and has already grown into 40 swappers with a waiting list.

Since all three of us had RSVP space, we each needed to decide what we would bring to swap. Our son made 1/4 lb. bags of salted caramels (with & without toasted pecans) while my husband made hummus (original and spicy) along with naan (packaged in three’s.) I decided to bring half dozens of local fresh farm eggs, jars of lemon curd and a few packages of blueberry lemon poppyseed scones. I believe I failed in my scone packaging as I grouped them into fives. It seems that was probably too “big” because most baked goods, like large cupcakes, were grouped separately or in pairs (the smaller ones.)

Even more than the endless food possibilities we have with all of these items, we had a TON of fun with old friends and met many new friends; amazing people who share our passion for food. I highly suggesting attending a food swap in your area. If there is not one close to you, maybe you could consider starting one yourself! I’m already thinking that as we speak…how about it northwest/north central Indiana?

Chicago food swap collage

Top left: Meyer Lemon Marmalade – Bottom left and around: Focaccia, Salsa Verde, Chicken Empanada, Valentine’s Sugar Cookies & Challah, Raspberry Ganache French Macaroons

With our whole one-time attendance of a food swap, here are a few things that we quickly learned…maybe they will help you, as well!

  • Be organized – The venue for the swap may have limited space. Have your items organized and ready to display rather quickly.
  • Samples are encouraged – Part of the fun is going around and tasting different samples. There may be an item offered that you didn’t think you would like, but ended up loving after tasting the sample.
  • Bring pens – You don’t want to be stuck without pens. Bring one to lay by each of your swap cards and also, one to carry around with you. Don’t miss out on a wanted item simply because there was no pen available to sign-in your offer.
  • Fill out your swap cards ahead of the event – You need one of these for each type of item you have. Why waste precious browsing time filling out paperwork when you can do it at home and bring it along? You’ll be happy you did.
  • Think about venue space – Depending on the location, you may have very limited venue & display space. Keep that in mind when deciding what to bring. Larger items work fine if you are outside at a park, but small, stack-able products fare well in a few square feet of table space. \
  • Prepare to feel overwhelmed – It seems, all at once, people are setting up, tasting samples, filling out papers…and you feel like you are standing in the way at every moment. It’s okay. Everyone feels that way. Don’t panic. You’ll realize it’s part of the fun and it all works out in the end.
  • Support the venue – This is not required of the food swap, but is just generally nice. Most likely, the place hosting your food swap is doing it for free. Drop them a few tweets, give them a shout out on Facebook or simply purchase something (if the location is store.) It’s a way of showing appreciation for their service. Without the generosity of the venues, food swaps can’t really happen (especially in the winter when you can’t swap in a park.)
  • Take home boxes – Be sure to have a basket, boxes or bags in which to take home your haul. We used our boxes that we carried in with, but some items are larger or smaller. Just make sure you have enough.
  • Like what you are swapping – Be comfortable and confident with the food you are bringing. There will be things you like and things you don’t like…that pertains to how others feel about your products as well. Everyone has different tastes. We’ve already tasted a few items that we don’t like. It will happen. Expect it. Send it to work with your husband and let him put it on the break table. Maybe someone else will enjoy it.
  • Encourage others – Even though it probably happens,  no one should leave a swap feeling bad. If you have a few extra items to barter with, maybe trade for something less desired. Just realize that it’s only food and maybe what you made will be one of their favorites! Everyone wins in the end and it helps to build relationships and the food swapping community.
  • You don’t need a ton of food – One person brought three jars. Another brought twelve. I brought…well…probably too much, but I had no idea what to expect. Think about how many people that are RSVP’d, and how much you want to bring home. If the swap has 15 people and you bring 20 items, you’re probably able to go home with one of everything. If you’re okay with bringing home five different jars of preserves, then bring only five items. There’s no too little or too much. It’s whatever YOU want and how much you want barter.
  • Small and several – To bring home the biggest variety of items, bring several types of food items packaged in “smaller” packages. Here’s why: If you bring a box of items, all the same…and someone else brings the same amount of items, but a variety of three types of foods, you (most likely) won’t be able to get one of each of their products. They probably won’t want three of the same of what you have. Makes sense? In regards to “smaller” packages, most things are packaged pretty small. A jar for a jar. Four cookies to a bag. One or two large cupcakes together. You can bring a whole cake if you want, but what would you want to trade it for? Probably not for a package of cookies or a jar of jelly. It seems harder to get rid of a “larger” item.
  • Be among the first to trade – As the co-founders say, find the items you can’t see yourself leaving without. When swapping begins, take one of each of your items directly to those items you want BAD and trade them first. THEN, you can stand by your table and make trades or casually make your way around the room, looking for willing swappers.
Chicago food swap

Just to name a few items we brought home: Crusty Honeycomb Challah, Focaccia, Limoncello, Salsa Verde, Pickled Beets, Pickled Collards, Rangpur Lime Curd, Numerous preserves, syrups & marmalades, Chicken Empanadas, Zucchini relish, Beef Veggie Soup, Cupcakes, Biscotti, Cherry Hand Pie, Cookies, Raspberry Ganache French Macaroons…

I’d like to end with a HUGE thank you to co-founders Emily and Vanessa. Thank you both for caring enough about our food culture to start this food swap. Also, a quick thank you to Katherine-Anne Confections for being the host site. You’re generosity is appreciated by all who attended…and just look at these truffles, caramels and marshmallows with which we came home! The next swap will be April 7th but does not have a location. If you would like to volunteer a venue, please contact the Chicago Food Swap and let them know!


Caramels such as Mayan Cherry & Sesame Orange…Salted Caramel & Hot Chocolate Marshmallows and Unique Truffles like Goat Cheese Walnut, Blueberry Gin and the “Elvis”



15 Responses to Chicago Food Swap: It’s About More Than Just Food
  1. Shannon
    February 4, 2013 | 3:31 PM

    I just polished off some of your naan dipped in hummus, and I’ve been eating those caramels all day. Those were really cute bags you used for the caramels, too.

    • Toni
      February 4, 2013 | 4:04 PM

      That’s great to hear, Shannon. I’m glad you’re enjoying the goodies…that makes us happy. :) The bags were a steal on the clearance rack of Marshall’s! I couldn’t resist. :) Hope to see you at another swap!

  2. Lisa @ Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy
    February 4, 2013 | 3:32 PM

    Ok so this is totally different than I thought. I thought it was like a one for one so if fifty people signed up you needed 50 items and you brought one of each item home.

    • Toni
      February 4, 2013 | 4:06 PM

      Hey Lisa…nope! You can bring as little or as much as you want. :) It all depends on how much of a variety you want to come home with. The attendee number is simply capped depending on the venue space…not for goodie count. Hope you’ll consider going!

  3. Nicky
    February 4, 2013 | 8:14 PM

    It looks like a lot of fun. Everything looks delicious! Thanks for the link earlier.

    • Toni
      February 5, 2013 | 7:01 AM

      Hey Nicky…it was SO much fun! If there is a swap in your area, I highly suggest trying it out. My favorite things to get are products sealed in jars. They allow us to try new things at our leisure instead of being forced to eat everything within the first few days. I was able to freeze some baked goods, so I was happy about that. :) You’re welcome!

  4. cathy
    February 5, 2013 | 10:52 AM

    Thanks for posting this! I’m planning on going for the first time in April but had no idea what to expect. This is great info and I’m far less intimidated now. 😉

    • Toni
      February 5, 2013 | 11:27 AM

      That’s great Cathy…glad I was able to help. I guess these were “worries” that we had before going too :) Hope to see you there!!

  5. Melisa
    February 5, 2013 | 12:58 PM

    So glad you had fun! Hopefully I’ll see you at the April swap!

    • Toni
      February 5, 2013 | 1:21 PM

      Thanks! I was (and still am) probably more excited than any one person should be about a food swap. LOL Yes…can’t wait for April (I missed you and Jules!) I’m already trying to decide what to make. :)

  6. Natasha
    February 6, 2013 | 7:33 PM

    Nice post, Toni! This was actually very useful to me, having never done this before. I’m hoping to get in some time, but I know I thought you had to bring all preserved items. Part of why I was hesitant to join up was that I DO have a ton of jams and tomatoes, but I don’t know that I have enough to supply a swap! If I can also make bread or something, that makes this more intriguing to me.

    • Toni
      February 7, 2013 | 10:02 AM

      That’s great, Tasha! I’m glad I could be of some help to you. You would absolutely be fine with what you have. The more variety, the better variety you will go home with. Most had 3 jars of this and 4 bottles of that and maybe a few bags of cookies. (or bread, simple syrup, curds, fermented vinegars, hummus, salsa, eggs…so much!) I’m already thinking about what I could bring next…I think it’s the perfect time to learn how to make fresh mozzarella, since I’ve always wanted to do that. :) Hope to see you there!!

  7. Kate, aka guavalicious
    February 8, 2013 | 1:01 PM

    Your post has me drooling. I would love to attend a food swap.

    • Toni
      February 8, 2013 | 1:11 PM

      It was so much fun, Kate! I’m not sure where you are located, but maybe there is one in your area? If you are in or around Chicago, definitely follow the Chicago Food Swap page for the latest information and invite announcements!

  8. domain
    September 22, 2014 | 2:48 AM

    Why visitors still make use of to read news papers when in this technological globe all is presented on net?

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?