The Pickle Economy

Photo by Tim Robison

Photo by Tim Robison

It started with a big pile of peaches: 20 pounds, to be exact. Asheville Food Swap founder Nellie Getz went overboard at the farmers’ market one summer. Her mother was visiting from Vermont, and they spent days together preserving jar after jar of peaches. After her mother left, Getz had more peaches than she could possibly consume herself.

She was on the lookout for a food swap. The national trend unites neighbors to trade homemade or foraged goods at a local gathering spot. Jars of pickles (or peaches) become currency for a loaf of bread; a handful of mint is as valuable as a basket of backyard eggs.

Much to Getz’s surprise, Asheville didn’t have its own swap. “I was reading online about food swaps and thought surely I’d find one [here], as ‘foodie’ a town as it is.” Armed with a shelf of peaches, Getz started her own.

It began as the West Asheville Food Swap in summer 2013. About a half-dozen people brought jars and baskets to familiar West Asheville locations, including the homesteading-supply shop Villagers and Biscuit Head restaurant.

Peaches were bartered; homemade jams were exchanged. Unusual items such as garlic-infused salt and pomegranate vinegar were quickly snatched up. Each item boasted its own handwritten label, sometimes just as glorious as the food within.

The exchange quickly transitioned from a place to barter to an opportunity to get to know one’s neighbors.

“People have so many things in common other than a love of food,” remarks Getz, a veterinarian. She works in Reach Animal Hospital’s emergency clinic and also travels to Greenville, SC, to treat dogs and cats. The food swap serves as a bit of a pet connection at times; Getz’s husband is also a veterinarian, and has taken animals under his wing after meeting their owners at swaps.

The event doesn’t hibernate. As thoughts turn to the warm spices of winter, the exchange is alive and well.

“It’s cold outside. You want comfort food, like pumpkin doughnuts,” says Getz. “Last winter, people would bring baked goods.”

The swap meets on the third Sunday of the month (the exact location is posted on Eventbrite a few weeks in advance). Getz embraces the challenge of making something new for a crowd of discerning foodies. She bartered for some crabapples at a recent swap and is considering crabapple jelly as a future offering.

“That’s something I’ve never made before,” she says.

She had never encountered corncob jelly, either, but found some creative ways to use a recent swapper’s unusual delicacy.

It’s doubtful that corncob jelly will turn up on grocery-store shelves anytime soon. “It was very different — not something I had considered,” says Getz.

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