Alex Andrews and Elyse Yerman don’t sell their bread. They don’t even eat it all themselves. They barter, asking interested neighbors to trade something unique and enjoyable in exchange for a homemade loaf. They’ve received handmade pots, artwork, fresh vegetables, and even a photo backdrop in exchange for their freshly baked sourdough and pretzel bread loves. In doing so, they’ve established a cashless way to meet their neighbors and knead a little extra love into the Bayview neighborhood.
The couple has been baking bread for about six years, and lived in San Francisco for about four. The software engineer and a graphic designer have enjoyed living in several San Francisco neighborhoods in the time they’ve been here. But when they moved to Bayview in the fall of 2019, they ran into a hitch.
“Our landlord and a couple of our neighbors were gluten free, so our usual methods of making people like us were failing, because we couldn’t give them bread,” Andrews says.
When the pandemic hit, the couple’s bread baking accelerated, and their social calendar dried up. Barter Bread was their perfect solution for getting rid of the overwhelming excess loaves they accumulated. It also allowed them to meet their neighbors in a safe, socially-distanced way.
“When you enjoy something a lot, you just want to share it with other people,” says Yerman. “There was that desire to share, and then we were also realizing we were in a new place, and that we would love to find local friendly people to share with.”
Now they have over 600 followers on Instagram, and plenty of loyal fans they’ve met on Nextdoor. Barter Bread’s far from the only cottage business to spring-up in San Francisco during the pandemic — in fact, they say they got the idea after seeing Bernal Bakery, another home-baked idea, take off selling their cookies, cinnamon rolls, and breads for a humble fee. Along with the “creator economy,” the pandemic accelerated an already-existing trend: Even in 2019, Pew was attempting to track the growth of home-based businesses. “Monetize” has become the business buzzword of our era.
This couple, however, took money out of the equation, enjoying all the interpersonal interaction and warm, fuzzy feelings of exchanging a handmade good without any financial barriers. Barters aren’t judged by their financial value, but rather the thoughtfulness that goes into them. Repeat customers have brought them dinner after a long day, apples from their backyard, or, on one occasion, surprised them with a trip to Pescadero to harvest fresh mussels.
“One of the things that I love about this project is the opportunity it gives to, in a safe and comfortable way, make some connections, build some relationships, and feel like the community still exists,” says Andrews. “That’s its own form of wealth.”
To order, fill out a short form on their website and propose an offering. The couple has included a wishlist on their website for those who can’t think of anything, including donations to some of their favorite local organizations like BMAGIC, Old Skool Cafe, and the Bayview Hunters Point Foundation for Community Improvement.