A few days ago, I traded a half-pint jar of raspberry-mango preserves for a butter roll recipe and some cookies — all via a porch drop with no physical contact.
Next week, I’m following up on a lead to trade some jam for some tacos.
When I got my hands on some extra, untouched takeout food, I traded that for homemade nopales and chorizo with beans.
For a lot of people, goods are coming out of the ground that make for prime bartering opportunities.
It’s either something about being at home and having time to can, wanting to stay out of grocery stores or the feeling that we should use everything we have to the best of our ability. Maybe it’s all three. Whatever the reasons, we’re finding new, physically distant ways to connect with our neighbors.
It shows up a lot in East Dallas, particularly in the areas in and around Lower Greenville.
“We don’t can much here, but we do garden, and we have been the recipients of some canned items we thought to repay them,” Vickery Place resident Christie LeGrand says. “We're about to have a nice big onion crop we’ll share ... I think it's recreation; it's a bit of a socialization thing, though we just drop things off on each others’ porch.“
Canned goods or vegetables right out of the ground are good, whether or not there's a pandemic sweeping the nation. But right now, the act of trading or bartering can fill a gap.
Whitney Mahan recently made a Facebook group for it: East Dallas Covid-19 Barter. There, people can throw online what they may have, then message with people on exchanges.
“What I was thinking was everybody's doing this strange buying, but it's real hard to think through what it is that you need, like how many meals do I need for me; I'm a single mom with three kids, I have to figure out what we're going to need,” Mahan says. “When you're doing the online grocery ordering especially, because I don’t want to go to the store and put us all at risk.”
There's the risk of exposure, then there's also the fact that ordering through a grocery store for pickup can take days, and many times, they can't fulfill your complete order.
“I started to think about the different gaps or over-purchases that might add up for people if they got together,” the Lower Greenville resident says.
It turns out a lot of people in the neighborhood are exchanging items with Melissa Kingston (full disclosure: she’s a friend), who frequently makes an impressive amount of canned goods. But that, along with bartering, is something her family has done for generations.
“I really remember it with my mom; after my dad had a stroke, we had no money for a while,” Kingston says. “She was a pretty good seamstress, she would trade any kind of sewing for food, she would basically do outfits for this one small farm family around the beginning of school time and again in the spring in exchange for half a pig or eggs or whatever she worked out.”
Here in East Dallas, I haven't heard of anyone trading quadrupeds (though I suspect chickens aren't off the table; maybe if we get to be more like Oak Cliff, we'll get there). But there is infrastructure around here that easily allows for these exchanges to happen.
“I think our neighborhood has had sort of an informal trading system for years: Somebody would get a bushel of beets at the farmers market and they’d trade someone who had extra tomatoes: 'I'm dropping this off and you get me the next time,'” she says. “I think in this climate, you’re seeing a lot more intentional effort by people looking out for ways they can share the excess they have and take the burden off the people who maybe don’t have as much.”
That's true. We're also seeing victory gardens pop up in people's backyards — through the distance of social media, of course. Quick background on those: These were also called war gardens, as they were planted at residences and even parks during the world wars. People started growing their own vegetables to feed their families, others and even those at training camps. And they're seeing a comeback now. (Note: The city of Dallas does not allow gardens in public parks.)
It makes sense: A pack of squash seeds can cost you less than $2. Throw those in dirt (in a pot or ground), and in a few months, you'll have plenty of vegetables. And then, you're still not going to the store, and you have something to barter with a neighbor.
The whole thing has me considering moving to the Cedars. There, Dude, Sweet Chocolate's Katherine Clapner is trading goods with her neighbors. She traded baked goods for hand sanitizer last week, and she's trading baked goods for produce with another neighbor.
In the middle of writing this story, I got a call from someone who lives in Peak's Addition who needs canning jars. So, looks like I'll get to trade some pints of glass for breakfast tacos and fresh flour tortillas.
He called because they're crazy expensive online and the grocery stores are currently more difficult, of course, but it was also a chance to talk, even briefly, when we wouldn't have otherwise. That's not the worst silver lining in the world.
“The items we exchange connect our gardens and tables even as we social distance,” says Lower Greenville resident Harley Cozewith. “I think of the giver when I eat Marla’s bread and hope she does the same when she uses my pecans. We’re all trying to find or set more firmly the small things that we can do to remain a part of the social fabric.”
“Share with someone; it's such a great thing when someone gives you a sack of parsley,” she says. “It's just a way of connecting with people in a very old-fashioned, loving fashion.”