Have too many potatoes or jars of homemade jam? Need a skilled graphic designer you can’t afford? Locally based sharing networks provide increasingly easier methods for swapping homemade goods, professional services, possessions, and even property. Social innovator Rachel Botsman, coauthor of What’s Mine Is Yours, says such “collaborative consumption” works because it fosters creative sharing among community members. These collaborations, says Botswan, promote greater awareness and “have the potential to inspire a chain reaction of much deeper social, environmental, and lifestyle changes.”
Seattle-based sustainability advocate Peter Rothbart would agree. He used to be a green thumb in search of a garden. Then, in 2008, he launched wepatch.org, a social network that connects urban gardener wannabes like himself with people who have extra land to till. “I didn’t want We Patch to be just a gardening site,” Rothbart says. “I also wanted it to bring people together.” People don’t know their neighbors anymore, he says, and that’s really a problem.
Swapping homemade goods—like breads, preserved foods, or even soda—can promote appreciation for the broader culture and community around you.
Four years later, the project continues to receive praise—including from longtime New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman. “It’s a great idea, a super project, and one that I hope goes viral,” says Bittman. We Patch is notably limited to US residents only, but Rothbart hopes to cut through some international red tape and promote the project worldwide.
Joining a swap network not only helps you meet your neighbors or support a local artist, it also encourages everyday moments of gratitude—just ask Emily Ho, the Los Angeles-based owner of Sustainable Foodworks. As a child in Thich Nhat Hahn’s community, Ho learned to lead tangerine meditations that taught her “how to fully taste my food, seeing in every bite the interconnection between eater, farmer, plant, animal, soil, and sun,” she says. Nowadays, she sees activities like the LA–area homemade goods exchange she spearheaded in 2011 (LA Food Swap) as a natural extension of the practice. Just as the act of savoring an individual fruit or vegetable can promote gratitude, Ho believes swapping homemade goods—like breads, preserved foods, or even soda—can promote appreciation for the broader culture and community around you.
Of course, joining or starting a network is only half the fun. Meeting up and sharing your gifts is what truly inspires and connects us. Ho herself was encouraged to start LA Food Swap after watching a video on Cooking Up A Story about the Portland-based food swap group, PDX Swappers. “One by one we inspire each other,” she says, a sentiment clearly shared by scores of others who continue to use Facebook, Twitter, and other websites to promote their own meetups.
Swapping Tip #1
You don’t need to become a foodie, start a garden, or even have a considerable level of expertise to organize or join a community-sharing project. “It can seem intimidating at first,” admits Emily Ho. Her advice? “Don’t be deterred by not knowing what you’re doing.” And don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a lot of people out there willing to share.
Swapping Tip #2
Need another leg up? Take inspiration from our own list of ways to share: