Trading Post @ The Foragers
Food swapping has arrived in St Albans. It’s an interesting and simple idea – if you have an abundance of produce, or have made a lot of something, simply get together with others in your community and swap it for something else.
Photo by Charlotte Turner
I had heard of Food Swapping schemes around the country but thought it really only applied to those with an allotment or a 1/2 acre garden and was curious how it was working out in St Albans. The website told me “you could arrive with half a dozen jars of jam and leave with a punnet of tomatoes, a lemon drizzle cake, chutney, a home-brewed beer, some seedlings and some back-garden eggs” which sounds like a very appealing way to source delicious food, far away from a neon-lit supermarket. The Independent newspaper wrote recently “food swapping is a response to recession and to the horrors of untraceable products in the food chain, and is a practical way to redistribute surplus and reduce waste. It reflects too, the renewed interest in growing your own, home-making, preserving and pickling. No money changes hands – food is the only currency”.
The St Albans Trading Post group meets on the first Saturday of the month at 10am in the back garden at The Foragers at The Verulam Arms. Picnic tables were set up in the sheltered walled garden and when I arrived people were chatting and setting out their goodies. Naomi Distill explained to me how it works:
1. For the first half an hour or so swappers sign in, set up their produce, chat and fill in their own swap sheets.
2. You wander around and see what you might like to take home. You write on the swap sheet of the item you would like.
3. When everyone has finished wandering around you then return to your produce and see who wants to swap with you.
4. You swap!
I had a lovely time wandering around talking to the friendly swappers and tasting things. I met three women from the same family – grandmother, daughter and granddaughter who have been to every Trading Post since it started and come from Dunstable. Maria had made spicy beans and tomato, little jars of caramel sauce, and her Mum Kath had made chicken liver pate, nut roast, and date slices. I went expecting everyone to bring bags of apples so was delighted at the variety of food on offer. Philip brought two baked ham hocks and a few jars of crab apple jelly. Judy brought along two stem ginger cakes, and Jodie with son in tow had made cornbread, tapioca pudding and some very pretty jewellery. I was particularly impressed by Kirsty and Alison who had made delicious apple juice and cider from foraged apples. As I was tasting it (full of flavour) they explained that they love to make their own food and forage when they can. I asked if they have a large garden and I was surprised to hear they live in a one-bedroom flat in Watford, proving that food swapping is possible whatever space you have. Naomi brought along strawberry plants and a huge bunch of rosemary and I am sure plants will be even more welcome in the Spring.
I had promised to bring something along and had decided to take home-spiced almonds and orange-marinaded olives. I was nervous; what if no-one wanted to sign up on my sheet? I had taken along some old jam jars to decant the olives and nuts in and wasn’t sure how many to put in; what was a fair portion to swap with a cornbread? Did a jar of olives equal one bottle of apple juice? I really had no idea but everyone was so lovely and had come wanting to swap and be welcoming, so we all swapped in various ways. If anyone had anything left, they wandered around and found something else to swap so we all went home with something new. Phew!
My olives and nuts were transformed into apple juice, nut roast, spicy beans, cornbread and crab apple jelly. The spicy beans and cornbread were lunch as soon as I got home and were hoovered up by the children, as was the apple juice. The nut roast and crab apple jelly were eaten during Sunday lunch. I am keen to go next time and plan to make more and take more. It is a lovely way to source delicious food and meet like-minded producers.
You need to register before you go along to your first group, but it is free to do so and very quick and easy. Just go to StATradingPost.wordpress.com. The next one is in December; I imagine there will be mincemeat, more home-brew and some Christmas baking. We shall see!
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