The Successful Swaps column shares success stories in bartering, including stories on bartering room and board for homestead services, a demolition crew drops free lumber on a homesteader's property and a mother barters baking for amusement rides for her children.
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.
Because the village I live in (a small community in the mountains of Washington state) is quite isolated from any large city, my neighbors and I are self-reliant folks by necessity. For example, we generate all of the electrical "juice" we need with a small-scale hydropower plant, we operate our own drinking water system, and we tackle the inevitable community machinery repairs . . . all in addition to raising most of our food.
Despite these efforts to be self-sufficient, however, we still find that occasionally there's work to be done that requires specific skills which no one in the community can supply . . . such as putting in a bit of complicated electrical wiring or drawing up architectural plans for a new building. And — since our cash flow is limited — in those rare instances when we do have to seek outside help, we turn to barter as a way to "pay" our visitors.
Usually, we trade a week or so of room and board in our backwoods community, basically bartering room and board for services. The village then gets the required work completed, and the volunteer enjoys a free vacation in the mountains! It must be a pretty even exchange, too, because to date our swap offers have never been refused!
In fact, this arrangement has worked out so well for us that I'm surprised more folks don't make similar deals. If you live on a small farm — or in a coveted location in the city — and need help with a chore that's beyond your ability, try trading a week's room and board for the task. I think you'll be pleased with the response you'll get!
With seven children to keep warm, my husband and I spent a lot of time searching for an inexpensive way to heat our rambling ten-room home. We finally decided that wood was our best bet, so we built a double-barrel Sotz timber-burner and then set to the task of finding fuel for it.
Hardwood is a dear commodity in this part of the Buckeye State, so when I spied a demolition crew tearing down the old wooden grain elevator at the farmer's co-op, I couldn't resist stopping and inquiring about the possibility of swapping for some of the wood. The manager allowed that he didn't know much about bartering, but he did give me the name of the contractor in charge of razing the structure.
A phone call later, we learned that the crew needed a location at which to dump the materials they'd cleared away . . . and it just so happened that we'd recently purchased a few acres near the construction site.
Well, it's been three years since we made that trade . . . and this will be the first winter that we'll be looking for fuel again. That one inquiry, you see, furnished us with 14 truckloads of lumber. (In fact, we ended up with such an abundance of wood that we used some of our "surplus" to build a garage, an enclosed porch, and a deck!) The swap also provided us with a bit of spare cash, as we were able to sell the grain elevator's exterior corrugated metal to a salvage yard.
Sometimes, it seems that striking up a deal is as simple as finding the courage to propose it.
I've always read the swapping stories in your magazine with interest, but I used to think it wasn't likely that I'd ever encounter a situation where I could offer a trade. Well, last summer I finally got the chance to do a little bartering . . . and I loved it! Here's how the deal came about.
My husband and I had promised our children a day at the county fair . . . but as the date of the holiday approached and we counted our pennies, we came up short on pocket money. We decided to go anyway, and told the youngsters that we'd spend the day looking at the exhibits. When we saw the disappointment in their faces, however, we relented and promised two amusement rides apiece.
The day of the fair was cool and lovely, and we saw all the exhibits at least twice . . . but finally the children couldn't resist the lure of the midway any longer. With a heavy heart I followed them down the path to the amusement area and doled out the cost of two "goes" each. As I did so, I recalled the fairs I'd attended as a child — in the days when tickets weren't so overpriced — and the fun I'd had trying every ride. There must be something I could do to give my youngsters that same enjoyment, I thought . . . and then I remembered your barter reports. If other folks could trade, I reasoned, so could I!
So while my husband watched the little ones, I marched off to the manager's office and, meeting his wife at the door, nervously proposed swapping some homemade goodies (I thought doughnuts might be a suitable item) for a supply of tickets. The woman was a bit surprised at my request, but the idea obviously appealed to her . . . she admitted that fresh-from-the-oven (or deep-fryer) treats were rare in their home, thanks to the transient life she and her husband led. The two of them conferred for a few minutes, and she returned with a beaming smile and a fistful of passes amounting to $54 worth of rides!
You can bet that a weary but very happy family headed for home that afternoon. And once an early dinner was over, baths had been taken, and the youngsters were tucked in, I flew to the kitchen. The carnival was moving on the following day, you see, and I planned to keep my part of the bargain no matter how tired I felt! By nine o'clock that night I was driving back to town, laden with three dozen doughnuts and two large, warm loaves of banana bread.
As I happily handed over the fragrant food, I asked whether we could strike up a similar bargain the next year. Judging from the response I got, it looks as if I'll be trading with those folks on an annual basis from now on!
My husband is an avid angler, so naturally we enjoy a good number of fresh-caught fillets during fishing season. Recently, however, we've discovered that his catches can land us more than just tasty meals. One of my spouse's fishing buddies, for instance, is an auto mechanic . . . and in exchange for cleaning all the fish the two of them catch, my husband receives free repair service for our cars.
Even a landlubber friend, our children's dentist, gets in on the fishy deals! He has no interest in handling a reel or a rod but does crave a fresh-from-the-lake meal now and then. So — at his suggestion — each time one of our youngsters needs dental work, I bring the doc a mess of finny critters.
Now, I'm trying to hook another deal: these "fish stories" for a year's subscription. Any takers?