Before the days of paper bills and metal coins, civilized people relied on a barter system to obtain goods and services. It usually started out with people who specialized in a certain trade offering their surplus items in exchange for the goods or services they needed. A shepherd, for example, might have taken his surplus wool to market in the hopes that he could trade it for something like produce, meat or raw materials.
Today, the world is a very different place. Having a common currency allows a lot more freedom for consumers to purchase the goods and services they want without having to produce something to exchange. However, a small revival of the barter system seems to be taking place – at least on the local level. Neighborhood “swaps” have become popular again, allowing locals the chance to trade their homemade goods among one another. These swaps seem to have sprung up around the “green” movement, which has made eco-friendly and organic gardening en vogue. But these swaps don’t strictly stick to fruits and veggies. In some swaps, you can find anything from homemade soaps to fresh baked cookies. These local swaps seem to be more about nurturing community spirit and discouraging reliance on the big chain stores, rather than focusing on a particular type of goods.
One noteworthy swap organization located in Wilmington, N.C., is Port City Swappers. They organize a local swap meet every month and invite people of the community to bring their homemade goods to trade with others. According to their information page on Facebook, “swaps allow direct trades to take place between attendees, e.g. a loaf of bread for a jar of pickles or a half-dozen backyard eggs.”
As with most local swaps, there are a few rules. For Port City Swappers, the goods must be homemade, home grown or foraged. Also, participants in the swaps adhere to an honor system in which the swappers are expected to bring goods that have been grown, handled and prepared in safe and hygienic manner. Naturally, there’s no way to prove that swappers have taken the necessary food safety precautions, so swappers must go with the understanding that they swap at their own risk.
With the Port City Swappers, no cash is exchanged and no goods are sold. Attendees are allowed to bring as much or as little as they want. The swaps last about 2 hours with the first half hour devoted to signing in and setting up. Swappers then fill out name tags and their “swap sheets,” which are sheets of paper for each item to be traded. On these sheets, other swappers write down what they would offer in exchange the item, much like a silent auction. The final half hour of the swap is when the trading actually takes place. The attendees go back to their original swap sheets and look at the offers. They then find the person they want to swap with and go from there.
Wilmington’s not the only place these neighborhood swaps are happening. Communities across the country are becoming more interested in local trading, and not just with food. Some swaps encourage people to bring gently used clothing, furniture, even arts and crafts supplies. These swaps can be great for finding useful items, delicious food and a whole lot more. Not to mention they can also help you save money!
Are there any local swaps in your area? Let us know in the comments!