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Wanna trade some eggplant for elk meat?

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Web-based service lets gardeners swap surplus food


With more and more consumers making efforts to minimize the distance between farm and plate, a Portland website has shrunk this gap about as much as possible.

Portland Food Exchange, online at portlandfoodexchange.com, enables users to make posts seeking to swap their produce for other farm and garden products.

The site’s format is “very similar to Craigslist, but focused entirely on food,” says founder and site owner/administrator Brian Connelly, who started Portland Food Exchange in 2010 with three friends.

Three of the founders are gardeners, and they enjoyed trading produce. They realized the internet could help more people enjoy food swapping.

“One person might be especially good at growing heirloom tomatoes, and somebody else might produce the most amazing eggplant you’ve ever seen,” says Connelly, whose day job is at an outdoors company.

The site, which Connelly says operates for fun rather than profit, helps these gardeners find one another, and in doing so promotes an “urban farmer connection.” If gardeners appreciate the product and friendliness of a fellow trader, says Connelly, “that is a relationship that will hopefully go beyond that contact.

The site sees a good variety of advertised products. “Right now, there’s someone on there with rabbit meat,” Connelly says. Other items seen on the site include bulls, half a cow, pig meat, elk meat, wild game, salmon, raw milk, home brew, rhubarb wine and strawberry wine, says Connelly. “You name it, it’s probably been on there.”

Posts, which can have up to four photos, are sorted into one of six categories: Vegetables and Fruit, Eggs/Cheese/Milk, Seeds and Starts, Herbs, and Other. Posts stay active until the poster makes a connection, or 30 days. Users usually receive contact within a day or two, then meet in person to make the swap.

One person who has benefited from the site is Stan Babbit, who uses it to keep food from going to waste. “We have a pie cherry tree that just explodes every summer and it’s more than we can ever use,” Babbit says.

Pie cherries are hard to find in stores, he says, and farmers rarely grow them to sell at farmer’s markets because they are so easily crushed.

Stacey Sawatzky of Tigard first heard of Portland Food Exchange on Craigslist. “I love it,” Sawatzky says. “Mostly I enjoy the fact that it’s connecting people who are neighbors in the community and keeping local food local.”

She has two garden boxes in her backyard, where she grows kale, broccoli, beets, cilantro, basil and squash.

The site does not keep membership or keep track of how many individual posters the boards see, but the site’s Facebook page has more than 400 followers. Use is highly seasonal, peaking in the summer when the most people are gardening.

“I’m surprised the website doesn’t get more traffic than it does,” Babbit says. With its emphasis on home gardening and community togetherness, he says, “it seems like a perfect fit for Portland.”

Portland Food Exchange has expanded to serve apartment-dwellers, many of whom contacted the operators enthusiastic about the idea but without anything to trade. The exchange established a “yard-share” program, whereby people with untended gardens agree to share their land and a portion of its produce with people who have no plot of their own to tend.

The site also has hosted a few in-person food trading events, which Connelly describes as “like a farmer’s market, but without money.” Participants come with food (not to mention guitars and hacky sacks) and spend the day sharing produce with fellow Portland gardeners.

Though it may never replace the traditional food-shopping experience, food-swapping is “more fun,” Connelly says. And the idea is spreading.

After Portland Food Exchange was profiled in Sunset Magazine in 2011, its founders were contacted by people interested in mimicking them from as far away as California and Delaware. It’s easy to see the appeal. As Connelly asks: “Why go to the grocery store when you can literally just trade with your neighbor?”