7 Tips for Swapping Food and Building Community

Some delicious swap items

For the past year and a halfish I’ve had the pleasure of being one of four organizers of the Philly Food Swap.  We’ve traipsed around the city from Unitarian churches to horticultural libraries and urban farms.  We’ve met so many amazing home cooks, bakers, canners and makers.  I wanted the swap to exist because I wanted to feel more connected to a community that I knew must exist in this city.  This community certainly does exist, and I’m very proud to be a part of it!

If you want to join us for a future swap here are a few things I’ve learned over our brief and fruitful run:

1.  Do not be intimidated!  People are nice.  You are probably good at making something, or you wouldn’t be super interested in coming to a swap in the first place.  You should make something you would want to eat and not stress out a whole lot.  I’ve definitely made failed dishes for the swap before!  No big, I took them home and enjoyed them.  Which brings me to point number 2…

2.  Don’t take it personally!  Your item may be the belle of the ball, your swap sheet filled on both sides.  Or, you may make something awesome and have only one or two names on your list.  Either way, don’t take it personally!  I promise you most of us regular swappers have had the flubs and the fame and in the long run, it means nothing and it is certainly no reflection on your skills or creativity. I’ve taken home delicious things that I didn’t bid on or that I was the only one who bid on thinking only that my fellow swappers really missed out.  Don’t sweat it.  Come back and try again.  Next time, you might have the must-have item.  It’s not you!  It’s them.

Some pretty swap items


3.  Don’t kill yourself.  You are making food for your friends and neighbors, not Martha Stewart and Ruth Reichl.  If gorgeous packaging and elaborate staging are your bread and butter, go for it!  If you thrive on executing extremely complex recipes, then hey, you go.  But for the rest of us, making something that tastes awesome and looks good is a big win.  If you’re staying up until 4am the night before the swap, you might be doing it wrong (unless that’s your thing.  No judgment here).

Allyson always has brilliant packaging ideas. Sometimes simple and cute, sometimes elaborate and gorgeous. She’s an artist so I don’t hold it against her.


4.  Bring samples.  If you wonder why your items didn’t fly off the table (see #3), the first thing you should look at is samples.  They make a HUGE difference.  You can chop up tiny pieces and they don’t have to be pretty, but people are much more likely to swap you when they know what they’re getting.  Human nature, right?

5.  Be sociable!  By all means, come with a friend if you have one who’d be into it.  But don’t just hang out with them.  What’s the point of that?  We have a wonderful community of Philly food people and you, yes you, should know them.  I’m gonna say that 99.9% of the people who have been at every swap are open and friendly and there to meet like-minded people, see what’s cookin’ in Philly and share the goodness from their hearth.  There was that one douchebag that one time, but happily we never saw that person again :-).

Lee of Feed Me Lee, Organizer Alexis of Teaspoons and Petals, Organizer Georgia of Oh Kitchen, What Won’t You Do?, lovely swappers and Allyson of Manifest Vegan


6.  Sign-up early (and don’t bail)!  We would love to let the whole world come, believe me. But we do this whole deal for free, in donated venues and therefore have space limitations.  So please, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, get on our mailing list and sign-up as soon as the event is posted.  It “sells” out quickly and we want you there!  Also please don’t be the dick who bails the morning of the swap, or worse yet the no-show.  There is usually a waiting list, but asking the waitlisted to prepare swap items with little notice is a bit much.

7.  Take photos!  I will eventually remember to do this one myself, but for now, you’re stuck with what photos I remembered to take (aka the first 15 minutes).  For instance, I have no photos of Organizer Marisa of Food In Jars or Sara of Cozy Herbivore or Kelly of Kelly Bakes or any of the other amazing swappers who write and made tasty (and often gorgeous) things to share.


My other swap items (assorted starters and kombucha)


Bosc pears poached in star anise, cinnamon, clove syrup and homemade mozzarella and oven-dried tomatoes marinated in herby olive oil. Courtesy of my amazing husband! (horrible photo quality courtesy of me)


Organizer Georgia and her lovely family. It’s Stella’s first swap!

I took home a great haul this time.  Bitters from Sara, chickpea miso from Dawn, pickled beets from Lee, chocolate stout marshmallows from Kelly, cardamom biscuits from Alexis, apricot butter from Marisa, red wine vinegar from Emily and so many more things from people whose names I can’t recall.  It was my husband’s first swap, and he definitely dug the vibe.  He’ll be at the next one and I hope you will too!!

If you attended the swap, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  If you happen to know you swapped with me, let me know that too and I’ll link you into the post!


  1. says

    Amanda! Your lacto-fermented green beans and brussels sprouts have got me reinvigorated to ferment veggies besides cabbage and kimchi! Do you mind posting/sending me some tips for how to reuse your deliciously garlicky brine?

    • Amanda says

      Hey Emily,
      Didn’t know you were brotherly grub! I’ll add a link. So glad you’re digging the beans! The easiest way to reuse it is to ferment more veggies in it once those are gone. If it’s too funky at that point do toss it, though. The bad kind of funky doesn’t get better with reuse. I speak from sad experience here. When it’s the good kind of funky, though, it definitely helps kickstart a vigorous fermentation. You can also add it to other savory ferments (like kimchi or sauerkraut) or make a kind of dressing with it. Chop some herbs, stick them in there and stick it in the fridge. Mix a bit into olive oil whenever you want to dress a tasty salad. It’s also great as a broth or as bread-making liquid and it makes a great braise. Obviously with those last three you’re killing off the good little bugs, but it is still tasty. Let me know what you end up doing with it!
      I’ve already busted in to your delicious red wine vinegar. Thanks so much!

  2. says

    After reading about this through a link I stumbled upon, I would love to know if there is something like this in Lancaster County, and if not how I can start one! Do you have a date for your next swap so I could see what you do? Thanks so much for being so inspiring!

    • Amanda says

      Hi Mary,

      I will let you know as soon as we have our next date. We’re discussing that right now! You are absolutely welcome to come and check it out. I promise it’s easy (and more fun if you can find a friend to help). The only challenging thing can be to find a free space, but we’ve found the local community to be helpful and supportive!

      I have your email and if it’s okay, I’ll send you a note once we have our next date.



  3. says

    This swap was seriously the best yet, in my humble opinion. Thank you so very much for being an organizer– they are the highlight of my month and I always come home with so many wonderful things. I love your advice about not sweating your haul– I’ve traded my goods for things I didn’t sign up for but ended up loving them the most.

    Plus I can’t stress how NICE everyone is… it’s seriously a wonderful experience. Thanks again!


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