The Successful Swaps column shares success stories in bartering, including stories on bartering auto repairs for masonry work, exchanging different magazines and a trade of beef for lumber.
In MOTHER EARTH NEWS issue 37, Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of humankind'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 who sends us a short account of an actual barter that gets printed in this column (write THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS®, Hendersonville, North Carolina) will receive a 12-month subscription (new or extended) to MOTHER.
You don't have to be settled on a parcel of land in order to enjoy the benefits of barter . . . as my mate and I discovered on a recent trip across the country. We'd purchased a somewhat dilapidated pickup truck—complete with a camper on the back—to use as our home for the duration of our limited-budget journey, you see . . . and about the time the Pacific coastline came into view, the clutch on the old clunker gave out. Well, we soon realized that the only plight worse than finding oneself in a strange town with a disabled vehicle is finding oneself in a strange town with a disabled vehicle and no cash to spare! It looked as if we might have to head back home—cutting our intended trip short—as soon as we'd paid for the truck repairs.
However, since our predicament did leave us with an abundance of free time, we decided to try to make those spare hours—instead of our meager cash—help us get that clutch repaired. My spouse and I made the rounds of all the car garages in the small town, and we finally found a mechanic who was agreeable to the suggestion of bartering auto repairs for masonry work. It seems that this fellow had been hankering for years to have a low rock enclosure around his front yard, but could never find time to build it. So he fixed our vehicle, and then—using our rejuvenated pickup to haul rocks from nearby fields—we put up a stone fence in short order. When we drove away from the village in our repaired runabout afterward, we left behind a darn good masonry barrier . . . and a solid wall of friendship to boot!
Although my profession requires that I work in a city, I recently bought a country cabin where I spend every free weekend. And as an avid forager of wild edibles, I was delighted to find a wealth of delicious vegetation shooting up in the fields around my new hideaway. Once the growing season was in full swing, however, it didn't take me long to realize that my dual existence had its disadvantages. My full-time farming neighbors were able to pick the season's free-for-the-gathering victuals at their tastiest stages (which invariably occurred during the middle of the week) . . . so by the time I arrived on Saturday, the better part of the wild crops would usually be gone. As I pondered how to remedy the situation, it struck me that my neighbors might be interested in swapping some harvesting time for services that I could provide. I put up a notice at our community center that began, "Need Something Delivered Weekly From The City?" . . . and went on to explain my bartering idea.
Well, a week or so later an elderly woman who lives about half a mile down the road called and suggested a swap. The "item" she had in mind for delivery was her ten-year-old grandson! Now, about once a month, I fetch the youngster from his house (which, it happens, is conveniently near my work location), and then return the boy home when our two-day holiday is over. In exchange, I get a choice supply of wild foods—picked at their peak and either saved fresh or dried for me—and have found two new friends in the bargain!
After we'd used all of our available savings to buy a few acres of back-country land in the mountains of Crete, my wife and I were faced with the problem of how to transport supplies—especially those needed for building our dreamhouse—down the narrow two-mile donkey trail that served as our only access to the property. We were in no position to buy an animal to do the work, and we knew that our purebred German shepherds would never be able to haul the heavy loads.
Still, we did have three pedigreed puppies—and shepherds are rare in this part of the world—so we decided to try swapping one of our tiny tail-waggers for a donkey or mule. We soon got an offer: a six-month-old donkey in exchange for one of the pups. We explained, though, that we needed a grown animal, and to our surprise the same fellow offered to lend us his adult pack beast for two days each week for two years (allowing us ample time to complete our house) and give us the smaller critter as well.
These days, my wife and I are busy donkey—hauling our belongings and building supplies down the narrow track, with the little "hee-hawer" following contentedly at the rear of our caravan . . . while our Greek friend is happy with his special canine pal.
As a relatively new subscriber to THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS®, I'm always on the lookout for inexpensive ways to acquire the issues published before I discovered your magazine. So when a good supply turned up at the used book shop in town, I knew it was a chance I couldn't afford to pass up. I brought some of my old books up from the basement, packed them off to the store, and exchanged the well-worn reading material for a stack of "new" back issues.
I soon ran out of books to trade, however . . . and that predicament gave me the idea f or my latest swap. I've let it be known to acquaintances that I'll haul away any old books (and thus help my friends clear out their attics and storage rooms) in return for keeping the discards. This setup provides me with plenty of material to trade, and any volumes that the bookstore doesn't want, I donate to the Salvation Army.
My friends get cleaner houses, the shop gets more stock to sell, and I'm able to add to my collection of MOTHER at no cost. That's a pretty good swap!
MOTHER, you did it for me! I'd always wanted to use barter to obtain those extras that my pocketbook couldn't afford, but I never thought I'd find other people willing to swap. However, when I finally got up enough nerve to try trading (encouraged by the successful deals reported in your magazine), I found that it was a simple matter to locate barter-bent folks.
My first swap was with the local cypress mill. In exchange for some of my surplus homegrown beef, I got enough rough-cut lumber to build a root cellar in a small hill on my homestead. I'm convinced that I really benefited from this deal, too, since cypress lasts a very long time and is naturally resistant to bugs and water.
I've repeated that swap on other occasions, and now I also haul away all the oddly cut, split, or bark-covered pieces of cypress for free. (Some of these discards are as much as 14 feet long!)
Having taken the initial plunge into bartering, I can hardly wait to try it again. You can bet that trading will have a permanent place in my life from now on.
For the past four years, the local lay midwives association (of which I'm a member) has been combining the age-old tradition of bartering with the ancient profession of midwifery. As urban dwellers, of course, my partners and I must maintain a certain amount of cash flow . . . but we do welcome an opportunity to trade whenever we can.
We've swapped our talents for such services as sewing, hair styling, painting, and babysitting for our children (when we attend births or simply need to rest after helping with a particularly difficult delivery). We even have a barter arrangement that provides us with computer memory storage of our records!
Our services are often traded for food, too. In addition to the usual gifts of farm-fresh produce, homebaked bread, and whole milk, we've been provided with exotic fare . . . including delicious pasta dishes prepared and frozen in meal-sized packages.
Bartering is a personally rewarding alternative to dealing in hard-to-come-by cash . . . and it's a lot of fun, as well!