Successful Swaps: The Lifestyle of Bartering

Learn some tips on how to barter as MOTHER's readers share their bartering tales.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
March/April 1977
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From swapping colts for cows to chores for fresh produce, the art of bartering has become a lifestyle for these MOTHER's readers.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/SVEN CRAMER


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Mrs. Herman B. Barnes from Zavilla, Tex.:  

In these parts, hardly a day goes by that we farmers and ranchers don't barter something , because so many little things can lead to a swap. Sometimes it's no more than a mess of fresh greens from your neighbor that starts it. Not to be outdone, you even the score with a sack of ground cornmeal, and so it goes.

But, besides these small everyday trades, I can recall many larger-scale swaps that have taken place down through the years.

The first bigger deal I ever transacted started out as a joke. During a visit I paid to a neighbor lady, her son commented about a young paint colt he'd seen at our house. I laughed and said, "Yes, and I know a boy with a very pretty calf. How about trading with me?"

Two or three days later, the young fellow and his parents turned up at our place, wanting to know if we'd really trade our colt for their calf, as the boy wouldn't let his folks rest! Not only did we all have a good laugh ... my family got both a nice steer for the freezer and the satisfaction of watching a happy lad grow up with his horse.

Glen and Rita Dyer from Victoria, Tex.:  

When anyone expresses an interest in the goods we have to offer from our small farm, our first question is always, "What do you have to trade?" The least welcome response is "Money," and over the years we've swapped everything from eggs and turnip greens for pecans and oranges to a no-longer-used heater for a brake job on our pickup. The whole concept adds an exciting dimension to our lives.

Recently we had an architect draw plans for a home to be built on our acreage. After we took him a gallon of creamy milk in appreciation of his "above and beyond" help, he insisted in setting up a schedule of milk deliveries to serve as his fee! Now, as the house is being built, we're negotiating similar trades for the electrical wiring, the plumbing, and even some of the construction materials. It all adds up to a substantial saving on the cost of our new dwelling.

We've discovered, in short, that nearly everyone is open to barter if we make the first move.

Tony Lagera from Corning, Calif.:  

I was born and raised in the city, so for me barter was just a word in history books. Then we moved to the country ... and I found out that the exchange of goods and services — with no money involved — is a living concept.

Our first trade happened the time we needed some lumber moved. We had butchered a hog, and there was a young man who had some extra time ... so we arranged to exchange some of his spare hours for some of our fresh pork.

Also, we've already swapped surplus peaches for baby calves, and three piglets we raised brought us building lumber and some olive trees with which we've enclosed our property.

And remember ... we're new at this!

Earl M. Clough from Rosedale, W. Va.: 

Just before I moved to this state, a fellow who was short of cash asked me to swap my sports car for his four-wheel-drive truck. Now, three years later, the West Virginia hills and mud have nearly worn the get-you-through machine out ... but I'd have lost that low-slung Fiat on the first unpaved road.

Then I was offered a Tri-Sport with its motor taken apart, in lieu of money owed to me. I carried it home on the top of my station wagon, a neighborhood boy put it back together, and I traded it for a nine-foot patio door.

Most recently, after I'd moved a mobile home onto our acreage, I needed the wheel assembly cut out from under the building. For this reason, I was interested in talking a deal when a young fellow who makes spinning wheels came by to ask about some walnut logs we'd felled while bringing in electrical lines. I told the craftsman he could have them if he'd do my wheel cutting and then build me a trailer from the axles we'd have left over. He did a fine job for me ... and hasn't even come to pick up his walnut yet!

Well, that's the way we do things here in West Virginia ... and, until I started reading MOTHER, I'd never even thought of it as barter!

Russell J Anderson from North Amherst, Mass.: 

Incubating eggs has been a hobby of mine for quite some time. So when my college roommate (an animal science major like me) discovered an opportunity to buy goose eggs last spring we both thought that hatching them would be a real challenge in our little machines. We immediately contacted the people who'd advertised the sale, but the couple volunteered to give us some of the goose eggs if we'd incubate some birds for them, too.

Though only a few of the eggs finally hatched (they weren't very fertile) the deal still turned out great. We discovered that the folks were also interested in starting other projects with animals, but knew very little about keeping different species. Since we wanted to raise some critters ourselves (but couldn't think of it while we lived in an apartment), it took us very little time to arrange a swap: our know-how in taking care of rabbits, pigeons, guinea pigs, chickens, quail, geese, and ducks ... in return for space on their farm.

But best of all, we developed another close friendship ... and all because of barter.

Mrs. Richard Thoms from Scottsville, N.Y.: 

For my husband and me, trading is a way of life.

Last week we swapped a six-pack of beer for a deer that had been killed by a car, then gave part of the venison to a friend for his help in butchering the animal.

It's no trouble — and takes little time — for us to ready our gardening neighbors' plots with our tractor and plow, and deliver some rich manure from our barnyard pile while we're at it. In return, we receive wonderful fresh produce ... some of it already processed, labeled, and ready for the freezer.

We recently revived the time-honored custom of horse trading, too, when we found ourselves with a registered Morgan that needed professional training, a mare we wanted to breed, and a younger mare for sale. We found new friends who took a fancy to the filly and were willing to give us 10 months of training and the stud services of their good "show stallion" for her.

To me, the greatest thing about our trades is that they're tax free. Not only do we need less taxable income in order to get by, but there's no sales tax on swaps!

Dale Bradford from Licking, Mo.: 

The year before last I gave up my cushy but stifling government job and moved back to the country. One of my first projects was a solar-heated cabin ... a place free from television, where I could think about life.

It became time to furnish my little hide-away about the same time tax returns were due to be prepared. My own forms were easy for a change, because I didn't have much to put on them. But a couple I knew were in a considerably more complicated situation. Since I'd had some training and experience in tax law while working for Uncle Sam, they asked me to do their computations for them. After some talk we made a deal: I would prepare their return and they would find a good used rocking chair for my cabin.

The outcome was that, with my specialized knowledge, I was able to save them $200 which the government would otherwise have spent on missiles. That in itself was satisfying. But, in addition, I now have a high-backed rocking chair which is not only handsome but represents the permanent presence of those two friends in my home. That's something you don't get with cash.

Mary Wild from Sacramento, Calif.: 

My husband and I have been swapping our labor and skills to get the things we need for quite a while now. To us, it seems such a natural way to live.

I had always wanted to learn to ride and train horses, for instance, and one day my wish came true when a friend offered to give me the lessons I couldn't afford in exchange for a complete weekly cleaning of her barn.

My spouse, who used to be a carpenter, built a shop for his dentist in return for dental work of equal value. A few months later, he built a covered patio for my dentist, to "pay" for the extraction of my wisdom teeth.

Now my husband's running a motorcycle repair shop, where he finds trades especially easy to transact. The latest one was with a customer (now a friend) who put in all the leach lines at our new place in exchange for the rebuilding of his two "bikes."

These are only a few examples of our swapping successes. Enough, though, to demonstrate that, in the game of barter, everyone wins!

Merle G. Yoder from Tomah, Wis.: 

Since we farm the old way — with horses — and put loose hay in the barn, it's easier if there's more than one doing the work. So my brother-in-law and I help each other with the hay. One loads up in the field while the other one unloads and mows the hay back in the barn. We also cooperate when it comes to grain threshing and silo filling.

I recently picked some of my father-in-law's apples for him, as he can't climb trees. For my trouble, he gave me 7 of the 14 bushels I harvested.

Then there was the time I needed help with some different jobs I had to do, and a friend of mine wanted to buy a certain horse I had but couldn't raise the necessary cash. He traded me his labor for the horse, and we both came out ahead.

And here's another swap that works: This is hilly country, and my neighbor has trouble getting to one of his fields. So he gave me a hard-to-find wheel rim that I urgently needed, and now I let him cross my land for easier access to his tract.

Maureen Dionne from St. Urbain de Charlevoix, Que. Canada:  

Our neighbor has a dairy cow that gives six quarts a day, which is more than the fellow's small family can use. So we've been offered the privilege of milking the old girl each evening, in exchange for an infrequent barn cleanup. And since three daily quarts is a little much for us , we occasionally give some of Bossy's abundance to another local acquaintance in exchange for a hot bath (we're still a little primitive on our place).

Here are just a few of the other rewarding trades we've been able to make: For removing someone's old wood stove, we had our pork smoked. For repairing our current house, we had the rent reduced. And my husband has been helping a friend chop and haul his wood, thereby ensuring our own winter fuel supply.

I feel good inside when people come to us and offer their help. I know they know that we'll always return the services.

Michael McMullen from Santa Margarita, Calif.: 

Our cabin site — a shelf bulldozed out of a hillside — was just big enough for the dwelling plus a very small garden. We wanted more level ground for parking and additional growing space, but the proposed excavation — we found — would cost more than our budget allowed.

Then, one afternoon when I had stopped at the local tavern for a cold one, I met the general foreman for a nearby utility company construction job. It was the start of the rainy season, and the fellow was bemoaning the fact that his equipment yard was becoming a sea of mud. Worse yet, his request to the county for permission to dig surfacing material from an unused county facility had been denied.

Well, I got to thinking, "The subsoil exposed at my place had all been decomposed granite. Hmmm ......

And that led me to tell the foreman I needed a little excavating done and that he was welcome to all the fill material he wanted to haul away. Result: A couple of days later a bulldozer, a front-end loader, and several dump trucks appeared and went to work. Within a few days the size of our cabin and garden site had been doubled, the equipment yard got a good surfacing, and everyone was satisfied.

Mary Hamilton from Bremerton, Wash.: 

Last Christmas my sister was given a lovely basket, hand-woven of cedar bark like the ones the Indians of this area used to make. That gift led me to a kind of exchange that just might be unique.

I made inquiries, and eventually found the basket's weaver, a 97-year-old Indian woman who had learned the art by watching her mother and grandmother at work. She was still going strong at her craft, but it had become difficult for her to gather the bark, reeds, and grasses she needed.

It wasn't long before we came to an unspoken agreement: She would teach me to weave baskets, and I would provide the time, energy, and transportation involved in gathering the materials (an education in itself).

It's working out great. My new friend is able to continue her work, and I'm learning the precious, disappearing art of Northwest Indian basketry ... and, in the process, getting to know a beautiful old woman with a rich cultural heritage.

Kathleen Gordinier from Walworth, N.Y.: 

A year ago we made the move to the country ... a move that greatly changed (for the better!) our attitudes about neighbors.

The bartering started in the spring. My father wanted a big garden, but had no way to ready his chosen area. So I painted the trim of our neighbor's new barn, and he plowed and disced Dad's plot.

I soon struck another bargain with the same good neighbor. Our grapevines won't produce a harvest for another year or two, but thanks to him we haven't gone without grapes. For doing the work on his vines (pruning, fertilizing, etc.) I was given half the yield. So we not only had luscious fresh fruit, but surplus grapes to give to my brothers, who make wine. We also took them lots of empty bottles, and when the vino is aged we'll get a few of those bottles back, full.)

Another of my favorite swaps has helped me get started on a new hobby: fiddling! I had the fiddle, but it needed strings and a new bow. So, in return for some babysitting, the folks across the road (who own a music store) gave me everything I lacked.

Not bad for one year into the new life!

Andy Schmelling from Azores, Portugal: 

Where we live (on a small island surrounded by a great ocean) you wouldn't expect there to be a premium value on fish. Yet, in the two years we've been here, my wife and I have found that the 15 other families in our agriculturally based village particularly prize seafood.

One evening, coming home from fishing, I decided I had a larger catch than we could eat. So I stopped at some neighbors' houses to share my surplus. The recipients were very pleased, and thanked me with wine.

The real surprise, however, came the next morning when we went to buy milk. Not only did our neighbors refuse to be paid ... they threw in a fresh cheese besides! And, later, we were brought gifts of bread, eggs, and sweet potatoes.

Naturally, I've been seeing to it ever since that our extra fish go to appreciative homes and, to be honest, the whole thing has gotten completely out of hand. I recently poured a cement floor and the five men who worked with me all day refused to accept anything for their labors but a cup of wine. My wife is even becoming too embarrassed to go shopping because, it seems, hardly anyone will allow us to pay for anything anymore!

The Dixons from Lompoc, Calif.: 

When you're tucking away all the cash you can save toward the purchase of that long-dreamed-of homestead, swapping becomes a necessary part of your life.

In the past year alone, our instances of successful trades have included a goat for a quilt, repairs made on a car for patched blue jeans, and a doctor's assistance at our son's birth for gardening work.

Now our community has initiated a barter directory, in which people can list their names and the skills or items that they want to exchange.

I guess we should be checking the guide to find someone who has land to swap ... then we could forget about the money for that, too!


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Post a comment below.

 

Steve Vencill
8/12/2007 7:59:12 AM
Your article on bartering, "successful swaps", had many great success stores. I'm sure there are just as many unsuccessful swaps. Here's one. Two years ago I agreed to build a website for a friend in exchange for his help building an addition onto my home. I spent over 100 hours fine tuning the website to his ever changing specifications. In return I got 8 hours work from the friend during the framing stage of the project. Needless to say we are friends no more. I would have charged $5000 minium for building the website, but would never pay a carpenter that much for one days work.








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