Swapping, not shopping: Barter movement catching on in Valley

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, December 2, 2013. By Rebecca Everett

Bartering isn’t a new idea. An article in the Gazette 102 years ago reported that a South Hadley Canal mill was seeking 10,000 bushels of flax seed and was offering “a constant supply of linseed oil, salt and other groceries” in exchange.

The trading of food and other goods seems to be making a modern-day comeback, not just in the Pioneer Valley, but around the country. That just makes sense, said Corrin Meise-Munns, an Easthampton woman who has been organizing local “food swaps.”

“It really just fits in with the interest in local food and local economies,” she said. “The sharing economy is becoming so big now.”

At food swaps like the one Meise-Munns is planning for Sunday, people trade homemade goods such as jams, jellies, fresh bread and eggs. There have also been barter markets at the annual Winter Fares held in the Valley for about six years.

Besides food, people trade goods, services, rides to work and more. Companies that help businesses barter their excess hotel rooms or restaurant tables have cropped up in major cities, and websites like Craigslist feature forums where people offer to trade items from video games to vehicles.

Meise-Munns said she knew the food swap idea would go over well here in the Valley, where people care about local food and supporting their neighbors. Plus, it helps saves on the items one has to shell out for at the grocery store.

“It’s taking money out of the equation,” she said. “Anyone, regardless of how much money they have, can swap. And you can get really awesome stuff that you might not be able to afford otherwise.”

Sharing your excess with others also means less waste, notes Susan Waite, Northampton’s recycling coordinator. Along with the city’s Reuse Committee, she is organizing the third annual Toy Exchange, where hundreds of families will take a toy and leave a toy Saturday.

“I think it’s catching on,” she said of the interest in trading used items. “In some parts of the country it’s been happening more than here. It’s all about the mind-set.”

She said people have to get over the notion that everyone should buy new things in the store. “Some communities are getting away from that,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s out of economic necessity, sometimes not.”

Swapping, not shopping

Meise-Munns, 26, arranged the first Valley Food Swap in April when her cupboards couldn’t hold any more jars of pickled, preserved food.

“I do a lot of vegetable gardening, home cooking and food preserving,” she said. “I found I was making a lot because it was a hobby, but I was making more than I could eat. I thought there had to be more people out there doing similar things.”

About 25 people attended the April swap, bringing barter fare from preserved items to baked goods and even home-mixed chocolate milk.

“It’s really for any homegrown, homemade or foraged food,” she said. “The more unusual the thing, the more leverage you’ll have.”

Meise-Munns said she organized the event based on the national Food Swap Network model. Each item has a list next to it and during the first half of the event, participants roam around, writing down their offers for any item they want. Then the real trading begins, as each person decides which offer they will take and makes the trade.

She plans to hold the events quarterly in the future, but said she would be open to scheduling them more often if participation increased enough to warrant it.

Her event is tiny compared to big food swaps that have been going on in cities like New York City, Washington and Portland, Ore., for years, she said.

“I think coast to coast, people are looking to connect with their community, their cultural heritage, and to the area, through food,” she said.

The third Valley Food Swap takes place Sunday, Dec. 8, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the North Hadley Village Hall, 239 River Drive. Meise-Munns requests participants RSVP by emailing

Heading home with a bunch of locally made goodies is great, she said, but meeting others who share her food-related interests and hobbies was a big part of the fun.

“People hang out, they chat, they swap recipes. It’s pretty social,” she said.

That social connection is also evident at the Winter Fare barter markets, said Devon Whitney-Deal, a member of the Greenfield Winter Fare steering committee. She is also Local Hero member service coordinator for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in Deerfield, which helps coordinate the off-season events.

“People have a lot of fun meeting people and sharing their bounty,” she said. “We definitely see more people come year after year.”

Since the first Winter Fare was held in Greenfield in 2008, the annual events in Greenfield, Northampton, Amherst and Springfield have all hosted barter markets, she said. Most of the time, between 20 and 50 people show up to barter, she said, although there is usually much less interest in the market at the Springfield event.

Of the four Winter Fares planned for the coming season, the only date set so far is one in Greenfield on Feb. 1.

Will trade for toys

While people at the third annual Northampton Toy Exchange do not actually barter their playthings, the event hinges on the idea that people bring what they don’t want and go home with something they need.

People with clean, working toys and sports equipment are invited to drop them off at the Northampton Senior Center, 67 Conz St., Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. or Saturday from 8 to 9 a.m. Those who bring things to donate, or people refered by community agencies, get first crack at claiming new toys Saturday at 9 a.m. The general public can choose from the remaining free toys from 10 a.m. to noon, said Waite, the Northampton recycling coordinator.

Items the Reuse Committee is hoping for include games, arts and crafts kits, baby toys, books and DVDs, bicycles and other outdoor equipment.

“We’re a nation of incredible material wealth and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t share more of it with each other, if for nothing else, just to prevent it being thrown away and wasted, but for many other reasons, too,” Waite said.

The reuse committee of the Board of Public Works has held similar events, she said, including art supply swaps and community tag sales. The timing of the Toy Exchange means that many families can find holiday gifts for their children, Waite said.

This will be her first Toy Exchange since taking the job, but she said she’s heard from volunteers about the “phenomenal amount of material that goes in and out of the doors” every year. “There’s a lot of stuff out there that still has a lot of life left,” she said.

Waite said that while the Valley is climbing aboard the reuse bandwagon, other parts of the country are way ahead. “I’m from the Southwest, and people are just more into sharing there,” she said. She said there are successful used clothing and book stores on every corner there.

The tendency of New Englanders toward frugality encourages the trading and reuse movement, she speculated, but the value they place on self-reliance may mean some are too proud to take part.

“I think that’s changing now,” she said. “It’s all about getting over the stigma.”

This year, the Toy Exchange will also accept clean and gently used infant, toddler and children’s outerwear, which will be used by local students and donated to the Salvation Army.

For more information on the Toy Exchange, visit