Alaskan Bush Exchanges, Urban Gardener, and Other Successful Barter Agreements

Food exchanges negotiated by Alaskan bush dwellers and an urban gardener who traded his labor for access to land are among the barter agreements covered in this ongoing feature.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
September/October 1981
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In the Alaskan bush, barter agreements are often the only way to make purchases.
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF


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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.


Alaskan Bush Exchanges

The fine art of bartering has enhanced our Alaskan bush life and is often about the only way to purchase things here in the far North. This past year, for example, my husband and I exchanged carpentry work for a snug winter's lodging, and as the cold season tightened its icy grip we traded food supplies with other snowbound folks. Since the nearest grocery store is 35 miles down river by dogsled, swaps such as a few jars of high-bush cranberry jelly for a tin or two of salmon have, in these parts, long been a common way of adding variety to winter meals.

We barter for services as well: A refinished rifle stock paid a buddy of ours for delivering the winter mail, and we used a walrus tusk to hire an airplane for a midwinter trip from the bush to town and back. During the spring, friends boarded our dogs for a month in exchange for a week of our help in finishing a greenhouse and starting a log sauna. And our part in the group effort that helped a neighbor move nine birch trees from the forest to a boat was repaid when the same work crew helped us lower our fishing vessel down the steep riverbank to the water.

We're looking forward to yet another season of swapping too, because we've discovered that trading has magic that far surpasses the lure of cold cash.

C.F.
Alaska

Urban Gardener

Living in an urban apartment saves me a lot of tame and money, since I can "hoof it" to my nearby workplace. Still, I'd always longed for enough garden space to let me grow a wide variety of vegetables (an impossibility in the postage stamp-sized plot allotted by the landlord). How I yearned to plant a few of the new hybrids! But although the unfamiliar (at least to me) vegetables such as spaghetti squash were tantalizing, I was reluctant to commit even a corner of my precious space to any crop other than the "old favorites": peas, beans, and tomatoes.

So when one of my co-workers lamented that he loved garden-fresh produce but had neither the time nor the expertise to prepare and cultivate a growing plot on his unused land, I immediately suggested a swap: my labor and experience in exchange for the use of his acreage. Well, he enthusiastically agreed to the deal ...and so did several other folks in the neighborhood.

The members of our new-found "garden club" shared the initial heavy work of clearing and tilling and split the cost of supplies. Since then, I've embarked on my "garden beat" every Saturday morning. A few hours of labor keeps !he four plots I'm now responsible for weed-free. Then, as each crop is harvested, I take home half of the produce ...a share which provides me with plenty of fresh vegetables, and an ample supply for canning as well.

As you might guess, I'm as contented as a brown bear is a blueberry patch. And I'm especially pleased that the gardening deal has treated our group of "cliff dwellers" to s touch of country neighborliness.

R.C.
Pennsylvania

Milk Trading

My family's well-endowed cow not only pays her way by filling our larder, she provides bounty for barter as well!

Our Brown Swiss/Jersey, you see, produces more milk than our household can consume even though we use it in cooking and make our own butter and cheeses. So rather than waste the surplus dairy goods, we've developed a convenient swapping system: When any member of the family needs an item purchased or a service rendered, Bossy's by-products simply butter the way!

To date, I've received two beautiful wildlife paintings from a local barter-minded artist in exchange for cottage cheese and yogurt. My daughter's piano lessons are paid for with milt and cream cheese. As a "thank you" to some neighbors who share their well-kept but outgrown clothing with my brood, I furnish the folks with homemade cheese.

Everyone involved in our "butter bargaining" circle is satisfied with his or her end of the deal. We intend to keep on trading as long as our milk manufacturer will cooperate!

J.S.
Montana

Wood Stoves for Repairs

My wife and I first tried bartering last winter, when our aging pickup needed some extensive repairs. We own a small stove store, you see, and found ourselves with a greater supply of woodburners than of ready cash.

A small ad in the local newspaper backed up with some word-of-mouth advertising soon brought an able mechanic to our shop. He was more than happy to rebuild our vehicle's engine in exchange for a brand-new woodburner. After that initial success, we were hooked! We next traded a second stove for body work and a paint job on the same trusty truck. Yet another bartering deal landed us a rifle as down payment on a third heater.

We're so pleased with the results of swapping that we're now actively seeking out a trader with a cold house and a spare motorcycle, and next year we may exchange a greenhouse or solar collector system for a homestead tractor.

We've found barter agreements to be the most satisfying "sales" of all bringing us many new friends while helping us obtain needed goods and services during tough economic times.

R.G.
Illinois

Truck Crew Travelers

With "extra" money being virtually nonexistent in our household, try friend and I hadn't been able to indulge is one of our favorite pastimes: traveling. But then our sightseeing urge was fulfilled in a way that we hadn't ever imagined!

A buddy of ours had quit his factory job to make a career as a cross-country tractor-trailer jockey. Whenever he was in our area, the wandering tractor would stop by and fill our evening hours with tales of places he had been. Finally we realized that he was our ticket to adventure!

Our long-haul friend, you see, needed helping hands to load, unload, and secure the freight in his rig ...and we wanted to see some new sights. So (and what could be more fitting?) we simply traded our labor for a free ride and a guided tour of the country!

D.H.
Indiana

Crop Thinning for Rootstock

About two years ago my wife and I bought a small "dream farm" in the Aloha State. However, since we spent practically all of our savings to purchase our new homestead, we were in a quandary as to how we could ever afford to get the land planted.

After a few months in our new home, though, we noticed that many of the nearby fields of bananas, taro, and bamboo had become so overgrown that the plants were actually strangling one an other. A trifle apprehensively, we approached the next-farm neighbors with the idea of a trade: We would thin their crops and accept rootstock in return for the labor.

It's been over a year now since that swap began. Our new friends have manageable fields, while our plantings, in turn, are well on their way to be coming overgrown!

D.R.
Hawaii


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