My pickled beets for your...?

Food swap in Burnaby part of a growing local-food movement

There was a time when "putting up" - preparing and canning summer's harvest - was not just a necessity, but a joy: a way to ensure fresh, nutritious food through the long winter, and an opportunity to re-create treasured family recipes for jams, pickles and preserves.

Though no longer a necessity, the process of "putting up" is still a joy for some - Burnaby's Roberta LaQuaglia among them.

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"It makes you so happy to open that cupboard and see what you've got in there," she said. "It's a nice feeling that you did that."

What was once considered the domain of kindly but old-fashioned grandmothers, the art of preserving everything from beans to berries has been enjoying a resurgence among a younger generation as interest in local food has grown.

"My mom, my grandma - they did canning, and I never paid attention to it," said LaQuaglia. "And I decided I should know how to do this, so I've been doing a little bit more (each year), for my family and for my kids."

This year, she put up pickled carrots, canned pears, apple sauce, pickles and plenty of jams.

"I've got a lot of different varieties," she says with a laugh.

It's no surprise that LaQuaglia, who lives in North Burnaby with her husband and two children, has become an aficionado of preserving the local bounty: she's worked for the Vancouver Farmers Market for nearly a decade.

Her work there, combined with the surplus of colourful canned goods in her cupboard, sparked the idea to host a food swap here in her own community.

"We'd done a cookie swap, a cookbook swap, and people really loved it, but I've never done an all-out food swap," she said.

"And I thought, I want to bring something like this to Burnaby, to where I live."

Food swaps are another growing phenomenon, linked to the local-food movement, that have taken off in some communities, particularly in Washington State and Oregon - a quick peek at the website www.foodswap network.com shows dozens of swaps listed throughout the U.S., but just one in Canada.

Though swaps may be set up slightly differently from place to place, the basic idea is simple: people bring homemade or homegrown food items to trade.

LaQuaglia will be bringing some of her canned goods, but others could bring anything from homegrown herbs or vegetables to homemade candy, breads or liqueurs, or fresh honey and pasta.

"Whatever their talent is, they can turn it into an item to bring. If they were a canner and they had a bumper crop and they put up a lot of tomatoes or beans or jam, they may want to bring that, . but they can also make something fresh specifically to bring," she said.

Participants must pre-register and are expected to adhere to an honour code of using safe food standards in their kitchens and gardens for swap items.

At the swap, participants will put out their items on display, like a silent auction, and people can mingle while checking out the goods and writing down "swap" offers on attached cards.

"If you brought jam, and you see some pickles you might like, you'd write down that you're willing to swap your jam for it," she explained.

At the end of the browsing stage, participants go back to their own items to see what kind of offers have been made and which one they'd like to follow through on.

The more appealing an item, the higher "value" it might garner in trade. But it all depends on what people have and what they want.

"You might think 'Oh, I've just got homemade bread' but for someone who doesn't make bread, that might be just what they want," she said.

Aside from the fun of trying new foods, LaQuaglia hopes it will be a chance to meet like-minded people in the community.

The event, which is set for Feb. 21 at Willingdon Community Centre, is the first of its kind in the area that LaQuaglia knows of, but if it's successful she'd love to see it taking place regularly, in different areas around the city.

LaQuaglia thinks the interest and enthusiasm are there to make it a reality.

"People get excited about things that are made in their community," she said.

For more information about the swap, or to register and get detailed instructions, see the event listing on EventBrite www.eventbrite.com/ event/2849696519.

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