Bartering With Labor, Custom-Made Jewelry and More Successful Swaps

Read about bartering and skill-and-labor exchanges from people around the continent.

Successful Swaps

Successful swaps are not only done through means of money, but through trading skills and labors to benefit everyone.


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In the January/February 1976 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, reader Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of humankind's better ideas — barter — and made an interesting suggestion: "I'd like to see a continuing feature on barter and skill-and-labor exchanges," said Bill. "Maybe MOTHER EARTH NEWS could even swap subscriptions for contributions to the department." 

"You're on!" we replied. The following are stories of trades and barters we received from MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers. 

I really wanted to do something special for my wife Kim last Christmas. You see, for the preceding five years we'd lived first in a small trailer, and then in a 16' X 16' camp, as we worked toward building our own large stack wall home. So I had my heart set on giving her something that would — in effect — let her know that we'd soon have more space and comfort.

When I was young, my family moved to a small house, and had to give up a massive maple table of 1800 vintage that had five pillar legs and enough extra leaves to comfortably seat a dozen people. I knew who owned the table, but I couldn't afford to buy it.

First, I offered to buck, split, and pile several cords of wood in exchange for the piece of heirloom furniture, but the owner turned me down . . . since she could handle those particular chores herself. However, she did have a wide range of odd jobs that needed doing, so we agreed to swap my completion of those tasks for the table.

My brother and cousin helped me, and in one day we renailed and tarred the roof, reinforced and waterproofed a leaking back porch, cleaned the stovepipes and chimney, recaulked the chimney flashing, checked and adjusted attic insulation, and rebuilt and hung an exterior door.

Kim was surprised and delighted with the family table our bartering had provided, and she plans to keep it always open to company . . . once the stackwall has room for it!

B.P., Ontario, Canada

Although I'd been scrimping and saving for a year to buy the necessary tools and supplies to start my own custom-made jewelry business, I had yet to acquire one of the most needed and expensive items on my equipment list . . . the electroplating rectifier. I had come across a set of plans for one, but didn't have the electrical know how to complete them.

Then I happened to mention my situation to a friend who immediately reminded me that her husband is an electronics technician. He was willing to build the rectifier, and — since Christmas was right around the corner and he didn't have a present for his wife — we were able to work out a swap of our respective skills.

I bought the parts (which cost $13.65) required for construction . . . and my friend supplied the gold (from a ring he no longer wore) for the one-of-a-kind ring that I designed and cast for his wife!

T.J.M., Arkansas

My experiences with barter have led to what I hope will be the ultimate trade for me and my family . . . one that will allow us to relocate to a rural area.

My first swap occurred when a handyman neighbor admired my strawberry patch, and I agreed to prepare a similar bed on his land using my compost, worms, and transplants. The result was a beautiful 10' X 10' starting bed that was expanded to 15' X 15' the next year. In return, he used his welding skill to build me a two-wheel dolly from scrap steel (it's strong enough to move a large freezer) and two wagons for my children.

Since then I've traded tilling for produce . . . worked out a hardcover science fiction book exchange among a growing circle of people . . . instructed my dentist and his wife in a series of outdoor survival skills (rock climbing, foraging, trapping small game, improvising shelters, and such) in exchange for two years of dental work for my family . . . and swapped child-/house-sitting with neighbors for a new bow and quiver.

I've had many years of experience as a certified mid-level medical practitioner (paramedic, military medic, and I recently graduated from a physician's assistant program), so now I'm trying to arrange land and housing in exchange for my providing primary and emergency health care (combining conventional Western medicine and wholistic health-care practices). Several small communities that are medically under serviced are interested in my proposal, and I hope to complete a "deal" soon.

H.J.O.  California

When I was laid off last year, I managed to keep my head above water by making and selling storage boxes built out of old pallet lumber. One day a satisfied box customer came by and asked me to repair her porch, and — even though she told me it would be a month or so before she could pay me — I agreed to go ahead and do the work, again using my scrap pallet lumber.

After I'd finished the job, she asked me in for a cup of coffee . . . and it was then that I spied a stack of old MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazines. She agreed to trade the magazines for the repairs, and you can imagine my happiness when I got home and discovered that I now owned issues 1-66!

Since then, I've traded more time and labor for other books and tools. But that first swap was the best, because I now use my scrap pallet lumber for a number of projects found in my back issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

R.P.  Oregon

As a single, working parent of two teenagers (one a college student and one in junior high), I'm always looking for odd jobs to supplement my income. Therefore, I didn't hesitate to take on weekly bookkeeping for a friend who runs a delivery service and also sells bees and beekeeping supplies.

And, as Christmas drew near, I realized that I had a perfect opportunity to give my dad something he'd always wanted ... bees! My friend and I agreed to barter my accounting skill, plus some help with deliveries, for a complete beekeeping outfit. We boxed up the equipment: a how-to book, gloves, a smoker, a hat and net, a hive tool, and a honey cookbook for my mom . . . then I added a poem that promised delivery of the bees in spring.

Best of all, Dad was doubly delighted when he heard about the deal . . . since he's always been a bit of a horse trader himself!

P.S.  Arkansas

Since my family is planning a move from the city to a more self-sufficient environment within the next few years, I decided to learn something about canning and preserving food. However, I was appalled at the high price of supermarket produce (imagine the cost of buying a couple of bushels of peaches at your local store!) and was further intimidated when I tallied up the numbers of canning jars and supplies that I'd need just to get started.

By chance, I mentioned my predicament to a bachelor friend who has a small backyard orchard (about 15 trees) of various fruits that he'd been giving away — and even composting — for lack of knowledge on how to preserve them. He'd also been picking up canning jars at garage sales and flea markets for several years in anticipation of doing something with his harvests.

So we made this happy arrangement: I'd pick the fruit as it ripened, and can it . . . he would provide the jars, sugar, and honey . . . and I'd keep half of what I preserved, returning "my" jars to him as they were emptied.

I gained valuable canning experience . . . learned to dry fruits and make fruit purees and leathers . . . and ended up with dozens of quarts of organically grown, exceptionally tasty canned food. In return, my friend was finally able to realize the full benefit of his orcharding efforts. It was such a satisfactory swap that we plan to do it again next year.

A.E.  California