blueberry hand pies for a Food Exchange
Food & Drink

How (and Why) to Start a Food Exchange

How food swaps up everyone’s culinary game and nurture community

Blueberry hand pies ooze fruit as they emerge from the oven before a recent Food Exchange meeting. PHOTO: AMANDA ANDRADE

A couple of weeks ago, I spent an evening quartering 13 pounds of organic Meyer lemons, dipping them into kosher salt and squishing them into a dozen half-pint Mason jars. I had never preserved lemons before, but I’d cooked with them often and fallen in love with their sunny acidity and the way they seem to boost any flavor. I was pretty sure I could do it without messing it up.

I probably wouldn’t have attempted it if it hadn’t been for my Food Exchange. Every other month for the last year, my group meets to give tasty things we’ve made to the 11 other households participating. It’s not a potluck—instead, you’re given an armload of treats to enjoy at home. I’ve walked away with lasagnas, simple syrups, soups, pickled everything, bottles of homemade wine, donuts, bagels, pasta sauce, flavored honey, family recipes and inspired first attempts.

Not all of us are great chefs, but we all use the opportunity to showcase something special, and I look forward to seeing what everyone will bring. Being a member of a food swap has inspired me to cook more and try recipes that I’ve been putting off—challah a few months ago, now the preserved lemons. Not to mention the wonderful people I’ve met and the yummy things they’ve given me to eat.

My friend Mariah Sage started the group a few years ago as a way to engender community, motivate herself to cook more and move toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle—goals that have been deliciously met through methods I fully endorse.


As much as I cherish the hidden gems of Santa Cruz, sometimes it’s fun to pretend you’re on vacation and play tourist in your own town. Happy hour at Stagnaro Bros at the end of the wharf hit that spot a few weeks ago. I sat happy as a clam, chili-lime prawn taco in one hand and a $3 Santa Cruz Aleworks kolsch in the other, rotating occasionally to enjoy as much of the 180-degree ocean views as possible. No travel arrangements necessary. 59 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz. Open 11 a.m. daily.

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Lily Stoicheff is a writer living in Santa Cruz, California, where she mostly spends her time exploring food culture and telling its stories. A fermentation and craft beer enthusiast, her house is overflowing with jars of things that look gross but she swears are delicious. She is the 2017 NEXTie Honoree for Best Writer and a 2017 CNPA Award Winner.

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