Bill Wodraska 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 agreements and skill-and-labor exchanges," said Bill. "You're on!" MOTHER EARTH NEWS replied.
Green Tomato Chutney
We grow delicious tomatoes in our little seven- by nine-foot garden all summer long. But, when the weather turned cold, we used to be stuck with bushels of green fruit that just wouldn't ripen. We'd have to turn 'em into the soil or maybe store a few wrapped in newspaper. Now—thanks to a new neighbor and a handy swap—we've got a use for those unripened "love apples"!
One day while we were clearing our small plot for the winter, the woman who lives upstairs commented that we'd probably be making chutney soon. When we told her we'd never heard of the stuff, she introduced us to a sample jar from her pantry: a delicious, bittersweet relish, the main ingredient of which was green tomatoes.
The next day she came down with a recipe book, and—in no time at all—spicy "tomato chutney" was cookin' on the stove. It turned out that our new neighbor had just arrived from England, where the condiment is a common side dish with many meals.
So in return for her recipe and her expert advice, we've given the lady a big bag of green tomatoes and some help in making her own batch of chutney. We all have enough of the sauce now to last until next season.
Highland Park, NJ
Would you believe barter is alive and well in Hollywood, California? As an aspiring professional photographer, I have found the trading possibilities nigh onto limitless.
One of my best recent swaps occurred when I traded my shutterbug talents for some great fashion "originals." A young dress designer whose work I admired agreed to furnish me with several new outfits—and pay all of my costs for film and prints— if I would provide her with some first-rate pictures for her fashion catalog. (Of course, I now have the same photos for my own portfolio, too ... and the professional model who posed for the shots also exchanged her services for some clothing!)
Now I'm trading photography for belly dancing lessons, Greek language instruction, and some lovely handmade furniture.
Of course, photography isn't the only thing I swap. I've also given away homemade vinegars for pottery and fresh honey, home-cooked meals and mending for carpentry, and fresh-baked breads for ranch-baked suppers and hospitality. Even city life gives you a chance to use your swappin! skills!
In the late '60's, while we were living in the Sacramento Valley, my husband and I decided to get into the dog-raising business. But, when our collie grew to maturity and presented us with her first litter, we found ourselves with not only several perfect puppies (readily traded) ... but one real "dog" which appeared to combine the worst traits of every generation! Nobody seemed to want that "Lone Ranger."
Luckily, a young Air Force couple eventually came out, looking for "a pup for the kids." The "only" thing they had to swap, they told us, was a new refrigerated air conditioner. (They were being transferred and couldn't use it.)
What a deal! They got the pup and we got instant, beautiful relief from the humid heat. Several moves and 11 years later, that trusty air conditioner is still keeping us cool. I hope the pup proved to be as faithful a friend!
Mrs. Dwaine Blanchard
Your swap section is really for me. I'll trade anything I've got except my wife and children! Shortly after I bought my homestead, I began to worry about the orchard because I couldn't spot any bees. I pondered gettin' into the apiary business, but figured it was too expensive. Besides, I hate to get stung.
Well, Providence smiled on me. One day a working acquaintance asked if I had any interest in bees. Seems he was raising the little honeymakers in town, and his neighbors didn't like 'em buzzing around next door.
So he offered me this swap: If I would let him keep his hives on my farm, he would take care of them, "rob" them, keep the area around them clean, and furnish me with all the fresh honey my family could eat.
When I looked at the deal later, it figured like this: I have the bees in my orchard to pollinate the trees, I get fresh honey, it costs me nothing, and he does all the work. Can't beat a trade like that, can you?!
Free Apple Harvest
Last autumn as the apples began to ripen and fall to the ground, I noticed that a lot of the fruit on the trees around town wasn't being harvested. And, since I'm an apple lover myself, I hated to see all of that good eatin' go to waste.
I soon discovered that the various owners of these trees were—to my amazement—just as happy to have me pick the "produce" from their yards as I was to get it. As the fruit continued to drop, I made applesauce and concocted a special brew called "apple beer."
Meanwhile, my car began to give me trouble. So, I placed a free ad in a local paper offering a gallon of apple beer for help in getting my wheels going again. Well, I got a quick response! A man and his son looked the car over, made some suggestions, and supplied and installed the proper parts. Now I've got a car that works, my "mechanics" got their brew and some beer bread I'd made, and the neighbors don't have to worry about those pesky old apples "dirtying up" their lawns. All this, without a penny changing hands!
Melanesia's Barter Society
Our study of and life with the natives on a remote New Hebrides island two years ago introduced us to swapping as a whole way of life. The barter-oriented Melanesian philosophy is characterized by the concept of "balance." If something is given, something in kind must be returned. Thus, when food was offered in a basket, some small token would be sent back in the same container.
Sometimes their insistence on maintaining this balance drove our "swaps" a step further than we'd reckoned on. For instance, our research grant included a small sum of money with which we were to buy language lessons from the natives. Since these folks did not believe in—and would not accept—money in exchange for services, we had to take our cash to a trading post five miles away, buy such practical items as soap, salt, fishhooks, flashlights, and garden tools, and trade these to the natives in exchange for our language lessons! (In addition, they asked us to teach them English.)
When we obtained medical supplies from the British Hospital for islanders who needed Band-Aids, dressings, and malaria treatments, our friends could not accept these "gifts" without shrewdly reimbursing "the system". ("If the government hospital gives us medicines tree now," they reasoned, "eventually it will want some payment in return, like taxes.") So they voluntarily toted their garden vegetables to the hospital, which in turn used the free produce to supplement the inpatients' meals.
We learned to enjoy the native philosophy of exchanges and "balances." These people valued our medical assistance and teaching, as we appreciated their food, knowledge, and help. And for us, sharing their culture and way of life was a true gift, one that would not have been possible through the impersonal exchange of money.
Robert & Janet Gregory
My recent attempt to convert a coal-burning central furnace—with forced-air and a duct system—to a wood-burning source of heat brought me a bundle of great swaps.
Once I'd decided to convert from (expensive!) coal to wood, I realized that I lacked three major items: access to wood, a pickup truck to haul It, and a chain saw to cut it. (Four problems, if you consider the money to buy the first three.)
When I checked the nearby farms, however, I found one neighbor willing to trade wood for my assistance in building his new barn. (Frankly, I would have been glad to help just for the experience and the skills I would learn!) And, he agreed to let me use his tractor and wagon to haul the wood to my place after I cut it.
So much for the first two obstacles. My power tool I got for a song (literally!). After I noticed that the chain saw dealer's local radio ads were less than attractive, I wrote up a little ditty about saving money by heating with wood and recorded it in my attic studio. Presto! A commercial which I swapped him for $100 off the price of my tree-cuttin' gear.
Well, the coal furnace loves wood (as it turns out). I've had to decrease the amount of air the blower sends into the firebox, but—other than that—it's worked just fine.
Now, if I can trade this recital to MOTHER EARTH NEWS for a year's subscription to my favorite mag, I'll really consider this a series of deals to be proud of!
Some time ago I bought several hundred pounds of ripped, feather-and-down sleeping bags from the Army.
Because the camping equipment was badly damaged, I was able to obtain my leftover military "bedrolls" for a very fair price. Furthermore, I'm not a bad hand with a sewing machine or needle and thread, so I figured that I could mend the sleeping bags and—somehow— find a way to profit from the purchase.
Well, I repaired a lot of them—using stuffing and zippers from the worst to fix the best—and sold some of these bags for cash. But six were swapped for an absolutely priceless treasure! Our local physician accepted half a dozen of those warm sleepers for his efforts in bringing our latest child into the world!
Chores for Land
I traded my handyman services for the title to some really beautiful land! A very nice elderly widow whose family lives far away made the following deal:
She'd give me the real estate at a set, interest-free price if I would work for her at a firm wage (no raises) instead of making payments on the property.
Well, I ended up owning 1.3 acres with a creek through it—nine miles from the paved road—by doin' her chores three days a month for three years.
Barter is a way of life here in the sunny southwest. I've exchanged the labor of tearing down a barn for a truckload of the good nails, boards, and so forth that remained in the building. Hot showers and rent-free living in a small trailer are mine in return for splittin' firewood. And, I swapped four truckloads of garden mulch (30-year-old, decomposing sawdust, which I get free) for one truck-load of fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Wow! Who needs $15,000 a year, anyway?
Road Work Dump Site
A deep ravine and creek that split our property in two provided my husband and me with a terrific "swap" opportunity. Just when we were trying to figure out how to build a road across our "chasm," a work crew arrived to widen a nearby highway. When we found out that they needed a place to unload excess fill, we agreed to provide a dumping site in trade for the road work we needed.
So, in exchange for our taking all that dirt off their hands, here's what the workers did for us: Bulldozers graded a trail down the side of the ravine, and trucks covered it with loads of fill. Crew members brought in gravel, built a graded surface to the creek, placed an eight-foot-wide, 30-foot-long steel culvert in the creek bed, and continued the roadway over the culvert and up the far side of the ravine. They built 400 yards of new access roads with surplus gravel and diverted 30 loads of black muck to our garden areas. Best of all, the foreman paid my husband $4.00 an hour to "direct" the incoming trucks!
Counting wages, material, and labor, we figure that we reaped over $10,000 worth of work, just for a place to dump dirt. And even that's not all: In addition, the construction camp cook gave us all his "leftover" pies and goodies ... and we made lots of new friends!
Massey, Ont., Canada
My very first swap—on moving to a small Vermont community a few years back—turned out to be an even better bargain than I had "bargained" for! You see, I planned to pick up some much needed (I thought) cash by using my carpentry skills, but I lacked a few essential power tools. As luck would have it, I met an innkeeper who was desperately trying to finish an addition to his country hostel before the tourist season but couldn't afford a professional carpenter. Well, it wasn't hard to strike a bargain. In a few days he was ready for business and I was well equipped with his extra tools.
I didn't realize the full value of our swap until later, though, when my phone started ringing off the hook with people offering me work! (My new friend had spread the word that I did top-notch work and that I was willing to barter.) The good local reference turned out to be the most valuable part of our deal. Before long I had traded my services for rent, furniture, car repairs, and some really priceless home-cooked meals.
I've since left Vermont, but I'll never give up swapping. I've found it the best way to get settled in a new community, lessen the financial burden of moving, and make friends with new neighbors.
David T. Sleeper
Dentistry for Wood
I used to be under the impression that the "successful swappers" who wrote you were basically self-sufficient country types who were mindful of every penny. Well, I'm discovering that more and more of us "suburb dwellers" are turning to the barter way of life, too.
Recently, for example, my dentist told me that I'd need some rather expensive crown work ... which I really couldn't afford. I was in a dilemma. So at my next appointment I asked if he might have some work I could do for him instead of cash payment, and—after a little thought—he allowed he'd be needing firewood for the winter, and said that he'd take all I could give him.
Since I don't have a fireplace myself, I didn't know where to start. Still, I began to inquire everywhere I went, and before I knew it I had 10 places lined up where I could sharecrop the wood! I also found out that all of the cleared trees on a new state highway were available for anyone who wanted to haul 'em off.
It won't be long, now, before I'll have my new crowns and the tooth doctor will be sitting before a blazing fire. Thanks, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, for giving me the courage to ask!
Charles E. Wolf, Jr.
Trading for Everything
Three years ago I weighed 287 pounds. Then an intestinal bypass operation whittled me down to 160 pounds.
Problem: All my clothes were extra large. Fortunately for me, I found a farmer who was the size that I used to be. I swapped him some of my oversized duds for a season's worth of fresh potatoes, onions, squash, and corn! Another $200 suit was traded to an income tax consultant as payment for three years' tax work.
Now that I've moved to the country myself, my new five-acre farm provides me with ample fruits and vegetables. A neighbor does my canning in exchange for half the finished product. My "take" last year was 30 pints of peaches, 25 quarts of squash, 20 quarts of green beans, and a few canned pickles, sweet bell peppers, and jalapeñas. And—when I tilled a backyard garden for a family in town—my "reward" was canned beets, pickles, and at least one meal every week for nearly a year. (Since I'm a bachelor, the prospect of these "feasts" was really exciting!)
Then, when a dentist informed me I needed $500 work done on my chompers (he wouldn't trade), I decided to try elsewhere. I looked up the owner of a nearby dental lab, explained the situation, and swapped him one yearling heifer for a full upper plate and a four-tooth partial on the bottom!
Other super exchanges have included a cord of wood for a good, solid chicken house, the use of my garden tractor and mower for electrical work and 25 laying hens, and stovewood for barn-building material.
I'm happy to hear from MOTHER EARTH NEWS that this kind of friendly dealin' still exists in a few places. Expanding these old-time "good neighbor" relations will make the world a better place to live.