Way back in January 1976, we initiated this regular feature on bartering and trading and asked you to share stories about your non-cash transactions. Nearly ten years later it's still going strong.
In the state penitentiary, where prisoners aren't allowed to have money, a man has to know how to barter! And when I traded one stack of magazines for another and found my first copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I knew I'd discovered a treasure. After reading your magazine — which put so many of my dreams into words — I just had to get my hands into the soil!
So I bartered again ... this time with the warden: I'd keep his flower bed weed-free if I could have a 20' X 20' plot of ground to garden. Then I traded an afghan I'd crocheted during the winter for several packages of vegetable seeds. The ground had been in clover for more than 50 years, so with the help of a shovel—the only tool I was allowed to use—and some composted scraps from the chow hall, I soon had really fine soil.
Many five-gallon buckets of water later, my first-ever garden was bursting into bloom! I couldn't believe how many vegetables I harvested. What I couldn't eat myself I swapped: tomatoes for pairs of jeans, radishes for books and magazines, cabbages for a fan, and watermelons for the typewriter I'm using to write this letter! But the best thing that came out of my garden was a feeling of accomplishment from hard work. Even in prison a man can dream of self-sufficiency and freedom, and — as I now know — he can also work toward it!
Doll Making Parties
I used to envy the people whose successful small businesses were described in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Then, in mid-1982, I decided to join them and start a business of my own. Soft-sculptured dolls were becoming quite popular, and for less than $20, I bought several how-to books, some fabric, fiberfill, and thread, and tried my hand at doll making. The first two seemed to take forever to complete, but I was able to sell them for $40 apiece. That was enough incentive to keep me making the dolls, and I sold about one a week during the rest of 1982 and for most of 1983.
Then late in 1983 the Cabbage Patch phenomenon hit. I thought the popularity of those dolls would kill what little business I had, but oh was I wrong! Every child wanted a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas, and the "official" versions were simply not available in the stores. And by sheer luck my doll was remarkably similar to the Cabbage Patch "kids." I could hardly keep up with the orders! I cleared $300 to $400 a week that November and December. Because I figured the demand would die a natural death after Christmas, I worked long and hard to make the most of the boom.
Well, the demand didn't die; it only rested for a few weeks. Then calls started coming in again. In addition, people who couldn't bring themselves to pay $40 for a doll were buying kits and trying to make the toys themselves. However, many of these people were finding doll making too difficult, or they weren't pleased with the results they were able to achieve. So, to help out beginners, I began organizing doll-making parties.