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.
When travelers from the West visit Ahmednagar, India on their way to Avatar Meher Baba's tomb, they frequently bring along reading materials and—inevitably—some such folks end up leaving books behind. Rather than let the volumes simply collect dust, or—worse yet—be lost or destroyed, a group of us living in the area decided to gather the discards. We soon formed a small library.
However, it wasn't long before our athenaeum owned three copies of Tolkien's Middle Earth trilogy and five volumes of Watership Down, as well as surplus copies of other popular books. The duplicates were of little use to our library, and it was evident that—if they continued to accumulate—there would soon be no available shelf space for new titles.
Well, a bit of old-time bartering solved our literary predicament. In the nearby village there's an English bookstore that carries the latest best sellers. We arranged to trade our duplicates (often in mint condition) for credit toward new volumes of our choosing. The swap has now been going strong for three years, and it's been so successful that the shop has opened an entire used-book section, so that other folks in the area can trade in their reading materials, too!
Furthermore, since foreign magazines are very expensive here, our newspaper deliverer has devised a system by which, for a monthly fee of $1.20, he'll circulate periodicals to his subscribers every day. I contribute my old copies of such publications ... and receive a fret, daily newspaper in return. (My back issues of MOTHER are not part of this round-robin arrangement, however. Those I keep!)
Downed Tree Removal
Firewood prices in our suburban locale are soaring, but so far I haven't had to buy a single log. By using a bit of old-time bartering sense, I've been able to fill the woodbox and keep my bank account out of the red.
While commuting to college classes throughout the summer, you see, I kept a lookout—especially after wind storms—for downed limbs and fallen trees. Upon spying a possible bonanza, I'd leave a note in the door of the residence giving my name, my telephone number, and an offer to haul away the woody nuisance. Then, on my way home from class, I'd call on the "customer" and—usually—clinch the deal. (If no one was home, I'd get the owner's name from the mailbox or a neighbor, and telephone later. In some cases the householder might even contact me.)
Most folks appreciate the prompt removal of unsightly brush or trees, and as a result of swapping my service, I'm stocked up on fuel for the winter months!
Apple Cider Swapping
A couple of years back, when we moved up here to the Badger State, my husband and I were glad to discover that six prolific apple trees and a stored-in-the-basement grape press were part of our homestead purchase package. And—as you can well imagine—when bushels of tart red beauties started dotting the limbs of the trees in our miniature orchard, we yearned for an apple press which would allow us to produce some sweet cider. Our depleted savings, however, couldn't quite cope with the cost of a fruit squeezer.
This past autumn found us still pretty barren of surplus cash, but we had located a reasonably priced cider press kit. Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I felt capable of handling the carpentry involved in constructing the do-it-yourself apple crusher, but one of our friends—an excellent carpenter by trade and an avid winemaker in his spare time—came to our rescue by proposing a deal: He'd share his woodworking know-how in exchange for our inherited grape press.
The trading didn't end there, either. During the fall we were given freezer space (for storing frozen apple cider concentrate) in exchange for picking rights in our orchard. Photographs of our children, jars of honey, and a chicken dinner were ours in return for bottles of the sweet homemade squeezings.
Now the apple season is coming to a close, but we'll long treasure the goodies, and new friendships, that were generated by our autumn cider-swapping deals.
Ad Campaign for Auto Work
Last spring, after my family had spent the winter coaxing our Jeep pickup up and down the glorified creek bed that serves as our driveway, the runabout was in dire need of a thorough tune-up. Fortunately, when the cold northern winds were finally beginning to depart from our region, I met a couple who'd recently Invested in an auto clinic franchise. And during the course of my conversation with the entrepreneurs, I discovered that they knew very little about advertising, the profession that had been my livelihood for many years.
Well, I've always had a bent toward barter, so I immediately suggested an even swap: a tune-up of our overworked vehicle in exchange for a promotional plan for their fledgling business.
The trade has been even more of a success than we expected! Our rejuvenated Jeep purred contentedly along the stream-bottom road all summer long, and our new-found friends' enterprise has prospered with the help of a six-month advertising campaign. But best of all, the deal hasn't ended. When the family pickup required another engine adjustment in early autumn, the auto clinic was due for its second advertising planning session ... and we've already arranged for a similar barter again next spring!
Food and Labor Exchange
Barter is alive and well, I'm glad to report, even in the heart of what some folks might consider the cash capital of the world: New York City. As a matter of fact—despite our hometown's money-oriented atmosphere—our family of three meets the basic needs of food and shelter by relying almost entirely on swapping!
In exchange for "free" rent, for example, I spend a few hours each week showing potential tenants the vacant suites in our apartment building. My part of the deal also includes keeping an eye on the brownstone's maintenance to make sure all the services are running smoothly.
Our groceries are provided for by a similar setup. During the week I volunteer a couple of my leisure hours at a nearby natural foods restaurant, preparing meals as payment for a daily "homecooked" dinner for my family. Moreover, I'm able to use the eatery's kitchen facilities to bake pies, cookies, and bread, which I then trade to a store down the block for such staple items as rice, beans, eggs, and tofu.
In fact, my goodies (many of the recipes for which came straight out of MOTHER EARTH NEWS) have become so popular at that shop's checkout counter that word of our swap has spread: The local movie house now sells my delicacies at its concession stand, while our family enjoys a cost-free film each week ... and a classical repertory theater waives our admission fees in return for a steady supply of my baked goods!
In short, I've found that food and labor are among the best of trading items. I feel I'm just beginning to discover the possibilities!