Did you ever think you could make a living off garlic while living in Brooklyn? That’s what Rae Rotindo is doing. Rotindo, 25, recently quit her job in the environmental movement, which frustrated and exhausted her, and began using recipes she learned from her grandfather, who was a garlic farmer, to make garlic powder. She’s now selling it in The Brooklyn Kitchen and on etsy, and she feels much happier than when she was working.
On Thursday night at the Brooklyn Swappers meet-up, Rotindo’s garlic powder is dusted atop a salad of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, which sat on a table alongside black bean burgers with a tofu cilantro mayo, various kinds of kimchi, soba noodles, quinoa salad, sausage with “straw-BQ” sauce, yogurt-dill-pea salad, and much, much more. We might be in a dire recession, but at this food swap in Greenpoint, there is only abundance.
The Swappers have paired up with Krrb, an online platform that helps people sell stuff to each other, locally, to host their food swap event, which take place in a different public location every few months. Here’s how the swap works: it’s five bucks to get in. You bring an item, ideally a homemade food of some sort (granola, jam, kimchi, pasta sauce, baked goods, fried pickles, whatever!) or a kitchen appliance (those placemats your boyfriend’s mom gave you that you hate) and place it on a table with a bidding card. Then you look around at the offerings and bid on what you want to trade for. Everyone wears nametags, so while you’re sampling from the aforementioned buffet, you can ask people about what they brought and negotiate with them (“So, my juicer for three jugs of your cider, what do you say?”). There’s free beer, courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery, and other beverages, too. After a little while, the deals are made, and hopefully everybody goes home with something delicious that matches the effort they put into whatever they brought.
Brooklyn Swappers was founded a few years ago by two women who wanted to trade homemade jam and homeraised chicken eggs. Jane Lerner, who now runs the Swappers, attended one of the very first events. Lerner, a freelance food writer, loves how the swaps bring people together and make food exciting and fun. “There’s people I see every time. It’s genuine community. I’m made so many great friends,” she tells me. As we’re talking, a man comes up and hands her a chunk of honeycomb that he picked up from a rooftop in Cobble Hill. “Wow!” says Lerner. “I guess I’ll eat it on bread or something?” Her offerings at the swap that night include Indonesian chili relish and a peanut-chili oil.
But aside from the delightful nature of the event, there is still the amazing fact that that so many young people are increasingly choosing to make money off food. Every day you hear 20-something whining about how difficult it is to find a job, but Rae Rotindo couldn’t wait to quit hers and make garlic. Wen-Jay Ying, also under 30, founded Local Roots NYC, a Community Supported Agriculture organization that hosts supper clubs and runs cooking classes, and who also partnered with Brooklyn Swappers for the event. Local Roots has members all over the city and offers a “workplace” option that allows a company to order a CSA share for its employees. Ying had been employed by a farm before starting up Local Roots, but she’s enjoying running her own project. “It just seems like you have to do your own thing if you want a career,” Ying tells me as we help ourselves to more noodles.
We’re interrupted by a woman who is inviting us to her supper club, where she charges $25 for a multi-course meal including chicken satay skewers, tofu wraps, a fruit juice palate cleanser, and shrimp over quinoa. Then it’s time to bid, and everybody moves toward the table that holds all the goodies. For 20 minutes, there is a buzz of bartering and negotiating. People walk away with bags of granola, jugs of cider, pot pies, and cookbooks. This is how participating in the sharing economy can create abundance in a time when everything — jobs, community, well-being — can seem frighteningly scarce.