Let's face it: growing and foraging for food tends to be a solitary pursuit. But enjoying a good harvest doesn't have to be.
This Friday evening, home gardeners, foragers and crafters meet at Bellview Winery in the Landisville section of Buena Boro to swap their bounty for something different. It could be an excess of homegrown tomatoes for flowers and plants. Or maybe a fisherman with a full freezer wants canned peaches or homemade macaroons, says Lauren Vitagliano, who organizes the swap meets.
"I have a very small garden," says Vitagliano, who will bring homemade hot fudge, ice-cream cones and wet walnuts in syrup to trade Friday, along with fresh blueberry sauce. "So I never am able to grow melons or larger items. I take a lot of tomatoes and cucumbers (to the swap) and get more of a variety."
Vitagliano, 29, grew up in Hammonton before living in Egg Harbor City, and since she got her own place in her early 20s, she's always kept a garden. While visiting Florida, she read about a swappers' group there and discovered many states have Web sites to help folks locate the one nearest them. But when she got back home, Vitagliano couldn't find a single swapper group in New Jersey, so she started her own.
Vitagliano says nine people came to the first meeting in May, at Sweet Life Bakery in Vineland. This month, she already has 19 confirmed swappers attending, including three winery employees. One woman is bringing body scrub made from coffee, homemade cream liquor and cardamom slice-and-bake frozen cookies.
Canners and preservers are asked to "use the highest standard of cleanliness in their house" and bring only items canned or preserved within the past year. But that's about as formal as it gets.
Mostly, it's just a bunch of people making new friends and picking up recipes and gardening tips while they snack on samples of seasonal delights such as strawberry-rhubarb jam and home-baked bread.
"My mom always made us can (peaches and the like). I hated it at the time, but now I love it. I do it every year," Vitagliano recalled. "It's popular again; I think it's making a comeback."
She credits some of that popularity to Web sites such as hers, southjerseyswappers.blogspot.com, where she posts popular recipes from swap meets and gauges interest in informal workshops. Two women who were impressed with her canned peaches asked Vitagliano to teach them, as her mother taught her. Another woman raises free-range eggs and meat and helps beginners with tips.
Contact Felicia Compian:
South Jersey Swappers meet
Held 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Bellview Winery,
150 Atlantic St., Landisville section of Buena Boro. For more information, visit