The Successful Swaps column shares success stories in bartering, including stories on bartering a stay in a rustic cabin, thinning trees and hand-carved furniture.
In Issue No. 37, Bill Wodrasks shared some of his
thoughts regarding one of mankind's better
ideas — barter — and offered up an interesting
suggestion: "I'd like to see a continuing feature on barter
and skill-and-labor exchanges," said Bill. "Maybe MOTHER
could even swap subscriptions for contributions to the
department." "You're on!" we replied . . . and announced our
still-standing offer. Anyone (and that means you!) who sends
us a short (200 words or less) account of an actual barter
that's good enough to print will receive — as the folks
on the following pages have — a twelve-month subscription (or
extension of same) to THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS®.
THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS®, Inc., P.O. Box 70,
Hendersonville, N.C. 28739.
When I was growing up in the city, barter was an unknown
term, but now I couldn't get along without it! For
instance, I've traded houseplants for jelly, old clothing
for mending, and surplus corn for fresh salmon. And in the
winter — since we don't own the kind of
heavy vehicle suitable for travel on snow packed roads
— our neighbor rims errands for us in
exchange for baby-sitting.
Last (and best) of all are the barters that occur between
my husband and me . . . like a backrub, for help with
caulking, or a thorough shampoo for doing the dishes. These
husband-wife swaps are fun, and they usually make for a
— Lynn Moen
My first barter arrangement couldn't have worked out any
better. It was the year after I'd bought my property, and
there were three main factors involved:  I was still
desperately broke from the 10-acre purchase,  the sugar
maples on the place had been logged many years before,
which left an "overstory" of beech and red maple, and  I
needed the old logging road on the property graded and
Hence, I struck a deal with a local logging contractor who
wanted to harvest the beech and red maple (which I wanted
thinned anyway), and who in return gave my old logging road
the work it needed.
At that point, I'd already benefited twice . . . but the
story wasn't over yet, because the tree tops that were left
behind made excellent stove wood, with little or no
splitting required. Since there were more tops than I had
time to cut and store, I swapped some to a neighbor for his
occasional welding services.
So — with a four-way win on my very first
barter — you can be sure I'll continue to
rely on this medium of exchange in the future!
— Peter Benison
Montgomery Center, VT
I live and work in Massachusetts, so I'm only able to enjoy
my cabin in New Hampshire on sporadic weekends and
vacations. I'd been contemplating the possibility of a
barter situation — work for housing
— but I didn't want to give up my use of the
One day I casually mentioned my situation to a friend, and
his face immediately lit up. He told me he was starting
college soon in a nearby New Hampshire town and needed an
inexpensive place to live. We soon decided it could be
mutually beneficial to make that work-for-housing trade I'd
thought of, and he whole-heartedly agreed to bartering a stay in a rustic cabin. Our deal would allow me to still visit my cabin on weekends and holidays and feel comfortable about it. (He goes home to see his friends and family most weekends, anyhow.)
I pay the mortgage, he pays the utilities, and after only
one month I have a new back porch and deck complete with
shingled roof . . . plus the security of knowing that
someone's watching over the property in my absence. And my
friend has a rustic cabin to live in, rent free.
— Patti Illsley
Four years ago I bought 25 acres of unimproved land just
outside our Colorado town. I was happy to see the value of
the property increase as time went by, but the cost of
house construction in our area ($30,000 and up )
grow even more quickly.
When my wife and I moved onto the land with a 20-year-old
trailer and temporary utilities, we dreamed of building a
"real home", but after five months I hadn't even passed the
planning department, septic system, and building permit
stage. Our dream seemed unreachable.
Then a friend introduced us to a building contractor who
was looking for acreage on which to put up a house of his
own . . . and we worked out a perfect deal! We gave him five
acres on the western end of our property, and he built us a
beautiful little custom house on our favorite part of the
remaining acreage. We were even able to design, decorate,
and decide details for our dream home throughout its
Both parties ended up very pleased with this swap (and with
Its excellent financial advantages). I've made a lot of
trades in my life but this is my biggest and best of all.
— L.K. Meens
Grand Junction, CO
With a new baby to care for — a baby who
hardly ever sleeps in the daytime — I was
unable to put in much of a vegetable garden last year. But
I did find time (mostly at night) to work in my darkroom
and pursue my hobby of photography.
On the other hand, my neighbor — who
did have time to put in a garden —
was more than happy to trade her fresh, organically grown
vegetables for a few 8 inch by 10 inch portraits of her three
children. So for a couple of nights' "work" in my bathroom
darkroom I received about a ton pounds each of beets and
onions, handfuls of carrots and green beans, and several
ears of corn, as well as raspberries, grapes, and three
I've also traded an old twin-size mattress for six rabbit
hutches, and — since I own a dehydrator
— I regularly swap dried fruit for the
canned variety with friends down the road. And I trade my
excess bunnies to some other neighbors for fresh eggs.
Bartering beats buying, that's for sure!
— Ann Mongelli
Grants Pass, OR
As a widow with three youngsters, I have trouble getting my
social security check to last the month. Not until I began
reading "Successful Swaps", though, did I even consider
barter as an alternative to hard cash.
By early last winter, I'd worked up enough "barter
confidence" to go ahead and make my first deal. The
situation was that my gas dryer needed to be converted to
accept bottled gas . . . and when I asked the local dealer
who was to perform the work if he would accept some of my
young pullets in trade for his parts and labor, he agreed.
This was my beginning . . . and I felt great!
Since I "took the plunge", I've also traded a tent for a
good lawn mower, housecleaning for two beautiful winter
coats for my daughters, and 18 pints of my bread-and-butter
pickles for a like amount of green beans and applesauce.
Much of my barter would be considered "small-scale" (like
three quarts of tomatoes for five pounds of sugar), but
each swap really helps out . . . and it's a lot of fun
besides! So thank you, MOTHER . . . even though I can't thank
you enough for "turning me on" to barter!
— Christine Althaus
I have to admit that when my husband, David, and I first
moved to the English Valley here in Iowa, we used to get
strange looks from some of the local people. That was
because David didn't — and still doesn't — hold down a regular 40-hours-a-week job. But now, after trading with these folks for five years,
we've earned their respect for the lifestyle we've chosen.
Our best bartering item is the beautiful hand-carved
furniture we make out of the slab wood David brings home — free for the hauling — from his part-time sawmill job. Last winter, for instance, my
daughter and I exchanged some of the furniture for dancing
We also got a much needed harness in trade for making axe
and cant book handles . . . and our baby-sitters trade their
services for home-churned butter.
One standing swap that I have every year with a neighbor of
ours is all the apples I can put up in exchange for my help
on chicken butchering day.
Right now we're working on trading a milk goat for an
— RoJene O'Mara
North English, IA
We moved to rural Vermont four years ago with little money . . . and have since discovered the benefits of barter as a
means of meeting needs and neighbors.
When we couldn't figure out how to repay favors (such as
loans of tools), we baked bread or pies which — we learned — were always welcomed and appreciated gifts.
Then, not long ago, a man who spends summers nearby — and didn't have facilities for canning — brought us his vegetables to "put up" . . .
and we got to keep half of the final product for our
efforts. The summer resident then asked if we needed some
furniture, which we accepted in return for weekly
"payments" of bread and cookies.
Now that our chickens are laying, we trade eggs for honey
and milk from a local farmer. Another neighbor (in his
seventies) lavishes us with smelt and perch during
lee-fishing season . . . so we fix the dinner and he comes to
share it with us. When the same elderly gentleman's garden
produces a surplus, he brings us baskets of tomatoes to
make into sauce, and — again — we divide the bounty.
We also trade magazines . . . doubting our available reading
material at half the price. And, frequently, time is traded
for time . . . as with the cutting and stacking of wood in
exchange for carpentry labor.
Barter, in short, allows us to share surplus food,
eliminate waste, and discover our own resourcefulness.
— Pat Noll
I never thought that I possessed any skills or goods that
would be worth bartering, but I recently learned that you
don't need homegrown vegetables or a way with a hammer to
enjoy successful swaps. Spare time and a desire to help
have been the only requirements for my trades.
My first experience occurred when my friend and neighbor — Maria — needed some help with last-minute housecleaning before the arrival of
unexpected company. I was glad to pitch in but I really
couldn't accept her offer of cash payment. After all, what
are friends for? However, Maria wanted to reward me in some
way, so we came to an agreement that pleased us both. I had
always admired her beautiful handmade jewelry . . . so, in
return for my work, she guided me in making a few simple
pieces. I kept two of my creations and sent a choker to my
sister in Ohio. That swap went a long way!
In the months that followed, I received some much needed
curtains for a few hours of baby-sitting . . . and when I
helped clean out part of Maria's basement to make room for
a pottery studio, we found a lovely wall plaque that is now
hanging in my home (and I'll soon be getting free pottery
With bartering, everything seems to work out evenly . . .
without "driving a hard bargain"!
— Linda Allison Klem
Although I've been a city boy most of my life, I've
incorporated barter into my lifestyle as much as possible.
When I was first married, I traded yard work and lawn care
for half my monthly rent . . . and through the years I've
continued to keep an eye out for potential swaps, such as
having the electrical service upgraded in my house after I
helped my neighbor lay a new concrete driveway and garage
Last summer, my family realized a longtime ambition with
the purchase of a country home . . . and I began to trade in
A neighbor who knew that electronics was one of my favorite
hobbles asked me to do some repair work on two television
sets in exchange for one bred doe rabbit and a second doe
with a two-week-old litter of eleven offspring. I was soon
in the "bunny business" deep enough to provide all the
rabbit my family could eat!
Then a nearby dairy farmer asked me what I'd charge him for
a couple of bred does. We worked out a swap for his next
born bull calf . . . and he threw in some field corn free for
Just after that, I arranged a trade with a fellow I work
with: half a dozen meat rabbits for one of his feeder pigs
(and then I surprised him with a gift subscription to
MOTHER!). Of course, the sow is now happily eating the free
corn that I gathered from the dairy farmer's fields.
Our rabbits have certainly multiplied . . . but in the most
— Gary A. Helmic
My husband and I — though still tied to the
city rat race — have a house in the
mountains that we go to for our real living one day, while
driving along a hilly road not far from our "retreat", we
saw a sign that said "Apples", so-since we grow only
grapefruits and oranges down here in Florida — we pulled right in and quickly got to know the friendly woman who owned the orchard.
After a personal tour of her cold cellar, with its hundreds
of jars of preserved foods, and a taste of her homemade
grape wine, we made an agreement to exchange our citrus
fruit for her apples.
Over the years we've brought her bags of oranges,
grapefruits, avocados, and anything else that happens to be
in season down here . . . and we've enjoyed not only her
apples but her rhubarb, her good advice, and her
Whenever we smell one of our apple pies baking, or chomp
down into one of those fresh juicy fruits, we know we've
made a good trade.
— Lida Iles
This past spring I moved to a country house that sits right
in the middle of an old vineyard which still produces
bumper crops. Since I know very little about how to harvest
and preserve grapes, I was a bit overwhelmed by the
abundance of fruit that later began to appear on the vines.
As soon, however, as a friend of mine let on that she could
make jam, I knew there was going to be a swap. And sure
enough . . . now, for every bushel of grapes that she picks
and makes Into jam for me, she gets to keep a bushel for
her own use.
Furthermore, her husband is a cement contractor who loves
to make homemade wine. So he gladly agreed to help me lay
some cement in the kiln room of my future pottery workshop
. . . in exchange for the grapes that he'll transform into
his favorite beverage.
Now I can't wait to get my pottery going, because that will
open up many more bartering opportunities for me!
— Gary Smith
Our eleven-year-old daughter has always wished for a horse
of her own, and two years ago — when we lived in a town house in upstate New York — my husband and I decided to make her dreams come true.
We all knew, however, that a horse wouldn't be welcomed by
our condominium neighbors, and keeping the animal at a
local stable would've cost us $60 or more every month . . .
so we began a search for an inexpensive solution to our
We started off by stuffing notes in the mailboxes of nearby
farmers, asking them if they had any pasture to rent. Our
answer came from a couple who owned an old farm adjacent to
our housing development.
These neighbors offered us free use of their five acres if
we would cut weeds, fix fences, and make necessary repairs
in their old barn. The landowners supplied some of the wire
for the fencing and even resurrected an old hand pump so we
could use an ancient well in the barn. We provided the rest
of the materials, the tools, the labor . . . and the horse.
What a low-cost, low-risk way of achieving I "the
— Sharon L. Naismith
I'm an elementary school teacher and I've been trying to
educate my students about recycling and saving our
resources. Since firsthand experience usually works best, I
decided to have a "Recycle Day" in my classroom.
All the children understood that — with their parents' permission — they could bring any usable items from their homes that might otherwise be destined for the garbage can. Our plan was to set out all
the "treasures" in the morning for everyone to see . . . and
do some serious trading that afternoon.
What a success! My students brought in all sorts of things
to trade: books, magazines, records, radios craft objects,
stuffed animals, toys, games, etc. The children quickly
learned the value and tun of trading rather than dumping.
We agreed to have another swap event soon . . . and
everyone's looking excitedly forward to our next "Recycle
— Greg Hanson