Beneath a sheltered patio off Heritage Drive in West Asheville, a small group of people assemble their goods. Cans of colorful jam are stacked on top of each other, homemade pickles float in herb-infused brine, bouquets of magenta lamb’s quarters are piled beside red bell peppers, tomatoes, freshly cut basil and tiny, wild mountain apples.
This colorful bounty, however, is not for sale. Money will buy you nothing at the Asheville Food Swap. The goal and mission of the food swap is to “create an outlet for sharing surplus homemade or homegrown food while offering an alternative to store-bought items, helping swappers eat locally, sustainable and affordably,” notes group’s website.
After canning 20 pounds of peaches with her mother last summer, Nellie Getz, the founder of this monthly event, realized she had more than enough to share. “I thought, ‘I’ll find a food swap and I’ll go.’ But there wasn’t one so, I figured I’d just start one.” Though the initiative began last summer, the group has only recently secured a location and set a consistent time for gathering.
“People take a lot of pride in the things that they grow and the things that they make,” says Getz. “I think it’s just a better way to eat, to get things from people that come together with a mutual respect and love for food. Instead of buying pickles from the store, you can trade with someone who grew them and made them.”
Jody Friedman, offering applesauce from an early-fruiting tree on her street, homemade tomato sauce and herbs, is a regular at these swaps. “I always came back with so much more than what I brought,” says Friedman. “But other people don’t feel that way because they value my dried herbs and shou shen, a Chinese herb that grows wild in my garden. I love meeting neighbors here, and I love the fact that we’re circumventing the money system.”
Jennifer Wear, co-founder of the event, smiles from behind her display of canned goods. “I brought a few types of jam, canned fruit, pickles, some peppers and apple moonshine,” she says.
Michael Gentry, a wild-foods forager and owner of Sustainable Gourmet, offers an amazing array of fresh produce from his garden. Gentry says that this event is “an extension of our ever-growing food web here in Western North Carolina.” Grinning beneath a wide-brimmed straw hat, he continues, “People have the opportunity to opt out of the normal paradigm and come out and create our own culture built around trade and community rather than dollars and cents. This is the kind of economy that makes great sense.”
The Asheville Food Swap meets at 5:30 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month at 23 Heritage Drive, Building B. For more information, see avlfoodswap.com.