Barter and Trade

House painting for auto mechanic work, art for medical services, and homemade cheddar cheese for nearly everything are a few of the barter and trade arrangements MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers reported working out with neighbors and acquaintances.

064 barter and trade - Fotolia - ONEO2

Barter and trade agreements can make you feel whole.


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Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of mankind's better ideas — barter and trade — and offered up an interesting suggestion: "I'd like to see a continuing feature on barter agreements and skill-and-labor exchanges," said Bill. "You're on!" MOTHER EARTH NEWS replied.  

Paint for Pistons

This past summer while on vacation in upper Michigan I made a lifesaving swap. My 1988 Volkswagen bus had chugged its way up one last hill and sputtered to a halt ... and—upon close inspection—I saw that nothing short of a rebuilt engine would get the old clunker rolling again.

I had no choice but to leave the broken-down vehicle where it had collapsed and hitch a ride to the nearest village. Inquiring at the first open gas station, I was directed three blocks down the street to the only VW mechanic in town.

Few folks would smile in such dire circumstances ... but as I traipsed toward the shop, my grin became wider than the wing span of an Andean Condor. I'm a professional house painter, you see, and I observed that the man's dwelling was badly in need of a fresh overcoat. (In fact, someone was beginning to scrape off the last fragments of chipped paint before my very eyes!)

Needless to say, it was too good a trade for either the auto doc or me to pass up. We swapped our skills. My disabled bus received a well-deserved rebuilding, while the mechanic's abode was dressed up in a new overcoat.

Since then, I've bartered any number of times, but no other exchange has been quite as opportune as that trade for a reinvigorated VW!


Shared Garden

Now that autumn is only a month or so away, and the freezer and canning jars are once again getting stocked with a summer harvest of homegrown vegetables, I'm reminded of the swap that started my family's gardening venture.

Four years ago, we moved to a tiny village in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and began renovating an 80-year-old house. Although we treasured our new-found home, we were sorry that the Victorian dwelling—which is located near the center of town—had only a postage stamp of a back yard, just barely large enough to contain a sandbox, clothesline, workshop, and woodpile ... much less the expansive garden our green thumbs ached for!

This past spring I was grumbling to my neighbor—she's a widow who's nearing her eightieth birthday—that I had space for only the smallest suggestion of a garden. My friend, in turn, bemoaned the fact that she could no longer do the digging, hoeing, and weeding required to grow the fresh produce which had always adorned her dinner table in the past.

We looked at each other ... and the idea took root, so to speak. Within a week she and I had tilled the soil and planted our mutual garden! Then, throughout the hot summer months, my many-seasoned friend provided the water, compost, and land while I furnished the muscle and seeds. Now we're both munching on the harvest and making plans for an even bigger garden next spring.

And, of course, there's an added benefit to be had from bartering: We both reap that best of all harvests ... friendship!


Cheese Trades

I've worked out a swap that not only agrees with my pocketbook ... but appeals to my palate as well!

A bachelor friend who's pursuing a self-sufficient existence in the hills of southeastern Oregon has a specialty: cheesemaking. However, his homemade Cheddar is no ordinary deli product ... it's apple-wood-smoked ambrosia that is irresistible to most folks. (And that fact makes it good tradin' material!)

My tastebuds being somewhat partial to the mouthwatering cheese, I order—twice each year—about 50 of the lemon-colored half-pound packages from my backwoods buddy. Then, whenever I embark on a coastal trip, I pack an ample supply of the homemade delicacy along, too. While on the road, I'll often slice a thin tidbit off one of the creamy blocks and offer it to the gas station attendant or motel owner with whom I'm dealing. Invariably, I find myself with free fuel or lodging ... in exchange for a generous portion of my "stash."

In fact, I'm able to purchase just about everything I need while traveling with this "yellow gold." Once, for instance, when I was fishing off a Pacific rock, I watched an old codger nearby bag one bonito after another ... while my line didn't get so much as a nibble. Baiting my fisherfriend—instead of the hook—with a sample of cheese ... I offered a package for a lesson. Soon I had a pile of the swift, finned swimmers myself!

And what do I trade with my bachelor friend to get the cheese in the first place? Well, occasionally the woodsman hankers for a little civilization, along with some needed big city (Portland) supplies. To his side of the bargain is free food and lodging at my urban dwelling—anytime—for as long as he needs to stay.

Usually after five days or so, my pal, having regaled me with tales of a far different lifestyle, happily heads back home. By bartering, we both get the best of country life and city slackin'!


Professional Barter

Barter has always been a part of our lives—trading a CB radio for auto repairs, painting and papering skills for lowered rents, and so forth—but, for the longest time, I hesitated to approach "professionals" with a swap proposition. Then, when I found out that I was pregnant with our first child (and knew that our limited funds wouldn't meet the expense), I plunged in and took a chance.

Being a sculptor by trade, I hesitantly approached our physician with the offer of a commissioned piece of artwork in return for medical services. It was well-known that the doc's ancestors hailed from the green isle of the leprechaun, so I suggested a cast of an Irish farmer leaning against a stone fence. Well, to my surprise (and delight!) the doctor enthusiastically agreed to the idea. As a result of the bargain, we "paid off"—for a mere $75 worth of materials and foundry work—over $400 in medical bills ... which not only took care of our daughter's delivery, but all her immunizations as well!

Since that time I've traded my art for other health services and legal fees, too. In fact, at the moment, I'm shopping around for a dentist with a yen for sculpture and a bent for barter. (After all, professionals are "just folks," too!)


Stitcher for Trailer for Stitcher

Four years ago, while preparing to make our move to the country, my husband and I held a giant garage sale to dispose of all the city trappings we'd accumulated. Although I was more than happy to place most of the old belongings in new hands, I hated to see my sewing machine go. However, electrical appliances would have no place in our simpler lifestyle ... so I made no objection when my spouse swapped the stitcher for a trailer (which we desperately needed to transport the tools and equipment we'd gathered for our homestead start).

When we reached our land, the versatile hauler served us as a storage shed while we built our house. Then, in the autumn, it became a first-rate firewood carrier. The next summer I again transformed the mobile shelter (with the help of a few 2 X 4's and some plastic covering) ... this time into a temporary greenhouse. But by year's end my ideas for using the trailer were exhausted.

Eventually, after watching the paper for notices of moving sales, I located a family in need of just such a vehicle. Rather than asking for cash, I suggested that I go to their sale ... and possibly we could work out a swap. One look around and the deal was clinched: I drove away with a beaming smile, a treadle sewing machine ... and a firm belief in barter!

Ontario, Canada