Kathleen Purvis

Food swapping in Charlotte: No money allowed

Jamie Sunnycalb came to her first food swap with a pan full of strawberry lemon cupcakes to share.
Jamie Sunnycalb came to her first food swap with a pan full of strawberry lemon cupcakes to share. Kathleen Purvis

On a sunny Saturday afternoon last weekend, I went by Snug Harbor, the bar and music club on Gordon Street in Plaza Midwood, to watch worlds collide.

The small front yard, behind a wooden fence, has all the smudge marks of the late-night club scene: chains on the windows, stapled-up posters for bands such as Modern Primitives and Wiggle Wagons. Outdoor speakers crank out classic punk.

On the wooden picnic tables out front, where partiers usually hang out after dark, two women are spreading vintage tablecloths and arranging piles of eggplants, bowls of salsa and cartons of backyard eggs.

Time for the Plaza Midwood Food Swap, where homegrown, homemade and home-brewed creations change hands on the last Saturday of the month from April through October.

“No money exchanged,” co-organizer Hillary Lacher says firmly. “It’s not allowed.”

Money? Who needs money? In the millennial world right now, still singed by the 2008 economic crash, the sharing economy is where it’s at. Shared housing on Airbnb, shared stuff on Snapgoods, shared rides on Uber.

The food swap started with Kristina Carlet. She’s hauling a bag with jars of peach-cinnamon and raspberry mead. She saw a food swap several years ago in Wilmington and brought the idea to Charlotte.

Snug Harbor co-owner Kelly Call was happy to give it a home. Call is a gardener herself. She showed up with rhubarb, figs, cookies, jars of dried stinging nettle and lemon balm and Asian pickled garlic.

Russ Goddard drove down from Mountain Island Lake with eggs, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes and acorn squash from his “mini-farm.” With gray hair and a white beard, he’s a little older than other swappers, but he loves it.

“We look for people of a like mind, and this was a chance to do that,” he says.

Swapping is as simple as it sounds: First, go to Facebook and sign up on the Plaza Midwood Food Swap page; the next swap is Aug. 29. Bring a sheet listing what you have, with spots for others to sign up. Try the samples of prepared foods, like raw granola bites and salsa, and go around to sign up.

What happens if you want something and the swapper doesn’t want what you have? It works out, says Carlet. Most people bring enough that they’re happy to give away leftovers.

The two-hour swaps usually draw 20 people or so, with a crazy quilt of things – bread, honey, wool fleece, homemade lip balm, pickles. Recycled containers are encouraged; clean kitchen prep is requested.

“We’ve gotten so many things,” Lacher says. “Somebody made coffee with egg shells once. You never know. That’s what makes it fun.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis