Bartering to build community

(Photo Credit: Sue Morrison)

(Photo Credit: Sue Morrison)

Within the span of a week, Sue Morrison has turned a loaf of bread and two strawberry-rhubarb pies into a half-hour massage, three books and two large houseplants.

The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, resident began offering her kitchen handiwork on Facebook last week in an initiative she calls Bread n’ Barter. The idea came not because Morrison needed more stuff, but because she had a desire to get to know her community better.

“We are all guilty of living our lives within our own four walls,” says the 47-year-old mother of three. “I tried to come up with something I could use to connect with the people around me.”

Morrison is a baking instructor at the Nova Scotia Community College so she knows her way around a loaf pan. Offering baked goods therefore seemed like a natural fit. Morrison uses Facebook and Twitter to notify followers about her latest offerings. After the swap, she blogs about the experience at

Food bartering is a growing trend within the sustainable living movement. Backyard chicken keepers are almost always willing to trade surplus eggs for other goodies, and gardeners often share excess seeds or seedlings.

Bartering also takes place in organized events, through sites like Food Swap Network and Backyard Barter. At these events, strangers trade inventive homemade treats with other amateur artisans. Food swaps are currently being planned across Atlantic Canada.

Like many trends in the local food movement, the Food Swap Network began in Brooklyn. But the history of bartering stretches back many thousands of years. Bartering was, in fact, probably the first form of human commerce.

For Morrison, bartering achieves several goals. Not only does she get a chance to share her cooking and meet people she didn’t know before, but she also sees it as a chance to help forge deeper connections with food. She hopes that by trading her baked goods she will help people feel less intimidated by cooking, and baking in particular.

“The food channels on TV have really overwhelmed people,” she says. She feels that cooking shows have raised expectations to a point where many people feel they will never be able to measure up and that’s an illusion she wants to dispel.

Morrison has now successfully completed three trades and all parties seem fully satisfied.

“The pie was fabulous,” says Kate Watson, a freelance writer who traded a set of books she no longer needed. “Strawberry-rhubarb is my husband’s favourite, and here was this baker offering to make one. How could I say no?”

Watson met Morrison at Two if By Sea, a popular Dartmouth coffee shop, and the two spent half an hour talking about their lives and shared interests — including their children and, of course, cooking. “We had a lot in common. I’m sure we will see each other again,” says Watson.

In the meantime, Morrison is busy planning future trades. After making her offering on social media, she usually agrees to trade with the first person who responds, regardless of what they have to offer in return. And if it is something she doesn’t really want? “I would accept it anyway,” she says. “It’s about meeting people.”

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Heather says:

    This is fantastic! What a great way to pass on things you no longer want/need to someone who could use them. I also love the idea of tool libraries and similar ways of community sharing.

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