Backyard Bartering at the Urban Food Fair

I’ve been fascinated lately by the idea of bartering as a way to not only build a strong community but to create a network of food and services that’s local, sustainable, and an alternative to mainstream consumerism.

And why not barter? Argentina has long history of barter clubs, and started a ‘Global Barter Network‘ for marginalized populations after their economic collapse in 2001. Similarly, bartering networks have exploded recently in Greece after the economic crisis there. In fact, all over Greece, alternative and local economic models have sprung up, with people bartering everything from local seed varieties, to even whole towns using alternative currencies.

So I decided to check out some local barter networks here in Seattle, and stumbled across an event last week called The Urban Food Fair, where people meet to barter their homemade food: like jams and jellies, garden fruits and veggies, fresh baked bread, cheese, and more. Featuring a  barter hour, pie contest, live music, and workshops, the Urban Food Fair was organized by an awesome new local Seattle group called Backyard Barter.

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A little over a year old, Backyard Barter originally received a matching grant from the Department of Neighborhoods to do monthly barters and create a bartering website where people from around Seattle can barter year round. Now their 350-people (and growing!) local network centers around home grown food, building an alternative  economy, and exchanging knowledge and skills between urban farmers and cheese makers, home brewers and other local food producers.

“It starts with food”

Kellie Stickney, Project Coordinator for Backyard Barter, says the Urban Food Fair event was funded in part by a Climate Action Now Grant. It’s an obvious link to make because, she says, if you teach people how to grow and produce their own food, it helps lower the carbon footprint that results from food being transported.

“Even though some people say producing your own food also has a carbon footprint, well, bartering helps overcome that because you allow people to specialize in things and to share them at one, localized event. So that process really enhances the whole sustainability of growing your own food.”

And what food there was! The Urban Food Fair boasted a ton of yummy homemade delights, here’s just a short list: peach brown sugar bourbon  preserves, dill pickles, plum vanilla jam, amish snow peas, lemon basil peach jam. Even just reading these words will make your mouth water!  All of this homemade deliciousness makes me want to try to get into this stuff, but as a grad student strapped for time, I’m not sure if I can make the leap (I will barely manage to cook myself dinner on a good night). So I walked around the barter tables and talked to some folks about how they got into it.

Audra and Mike are two local urban farmers who got into ‘the lifestyle’ by starting an informal food making group with friends.

“We just thought it would be fun to do,” she said, so they starting canning and preserving by finding how-to blogs and comparing notes with their pals. And next thing you know, they have chickens and a full garden in their yard in northwest Seattle!

Hal Meng has also started a barter group, called Fair Tradin,’ in Tacoma. A self described “farm kid” from southeast Idaho, Hal grew up around food independence and now sees it as an economic necessity for many communities in these changing times.

“We’re now learning that one person can’t take care of themselves or their families alone. It really does take a village, and we need to exchange what we’ve got locally because there’s a lot available right here.”

It was really inspiring to see how quickly these new barter groups are forming and growing in Seattle. I’ll be adding them to my community map and following their progress! What would YOU like to barter? Take this quiz so I can hep find out what people in the area are interested in bartering.