In issue 37, Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of humankind's better ideas — barter — and offered up an interesting suggestion: "I'd like to see a continuing feature on barter and skill-and-labor exchanges, " said Bill. "Maybe MOTHER could even swap subscriptions for contributions to the department." "You're on!" we replied . . . and announced our still-standing offer: Anyone who sends us a short account of an actual barter that gets printed in this column (write THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS ® , 105 Stoney Mountain Road, Hendersonville, North Carolina 28791) will receive a 12-month subscription (new or extended) to MOTHER.
I'm a lineman (more specifically, a cable television lineman), which means that I spend my working hours hanging cables on utility poles. Of course, those wires have to be stored and transported somehow, and — once or twice a day — I end up with an empty wooden reel on my trailer. That's my signal for bartering.
Most of the contractors I work for, you see, consider the big spools junk, and they're glad to get rid of the clunky rounds.
It takes two to make a trade, of course, but I've found that while I'm working, I can almost always spot someone watching my progress from a backyard porch or a front stoop. And — in my experience, at least — these folks are usually eager to have a reel (to use, for instance, as a summertime picnic table).
My swaps are dictated by the time of year . . . one day I'll trade one of the oversized bobbins for a glass of lemonade or a draft of iced tea, while on other afternoons I'll take a mug of hot chocolate or a cup of coffee as payment. Regardless of the beverage, though, the barter always includes a few minutes of pleasant conversation with a new acquaintance . . . and that, after all, is part of what swapping is all about, isn't it?
When my husband and I were eagerly anticipating the birth of our first child, we decided that we'd like to arrange to have the delivery at home, assisted by a midwife. And after a bit of hunting, we found a qualified person whose terms included the option of swapping for part of her fee. So in exchange for my prenatal visits, we gave the knowledgeable woman a 25-pound pail of our homegrown honey and an afternoon of babysitting. Then, after the arrival of our son, we negotiated again . . . this time for a half-cash, half-barter payment plan.
To fulfill the latter part of the deal, I presented the midwife with a bundle of custom-sewn clothing. I'm an experienced seamstress, so it was a snap for me to construct 15 garments which she could give as gifts or wear herself. The arrangement worked out well for our new friend, too, because her busy birth-counseling schedule didn't leave her much spare time for holiday shopping. And best of all, I was able to work off my payment at home . . . with our baby boy right beside me.
My series of rather unusual swaps began several years ago, before I made my move from the city to the country. I'm an avid bear hunter, you see, and even when I was located in the middle of a smoggy business district in a southern California metropolis, I managed to keep a few of my long-eared hounds in my home. Thanks to those keen-nosed friends, it's been a rare year that I haven't had bear roasts in the freezer. And I've found that the wild meat is a sought-after trading item!
One of my favorite deals was arranged with a seafaring buddy. This neighbor had an appetite for bear meat but didn't do much hunting. He did, however, have both a boat and a knack for ocean fishing . . . and although I'm an avowed landlubber, I love fresh seafood. Swapping satisfied both our cravings: A hindquarter of bear meat went into his icebox and a good supply of cod and cabezon was stacked in mine. We both ate high on the hog (or, rather, on the fish and bear) that year!
Since moving to the country over six years ago, I've discovered that the same type of arrangements work well here. My family has traded bear meat for vegetables, holiday dinner fare, and more. One fact is obvious: Bartering makes today's grocery costs a little more bearable!
I'm a Japanese linguist by trade, and a trader by inclination, but I used to think my skill was too esoteric to offer in exchange for goods or services. Early in my career as an interpreter/translater, however, I met an oral surgeon — the head of a local dental clinic — who was conducting research on prenatal tooth eruption. When he found out about my language ability, he remarked (with obvious excitement) that I might be of help to him. It seemed that much of the data in his area of research had been compiled by Japanese dental specialists, who — quite naturally — had written their reports in their native language.
Well, the good doctor had already anticipated the idea that was beginning to take shape in my mind, and offered to provide me and my family with whatever dental services we might require in exchange for translation work.
My part of the deal turned out to be fairly easy and was quite interesting . . . and for three years my family and I enjoyed the distinction of having our teeth cleaned by the chief of the dental clinic. The real payoff, though, came when my wife needed a very expensive bridge put in . . . and we didn't have to pay for a bit of the gold!
I've never. particularly enjoyed dealing with money (despite the all too obvious importance of cash in today's corporate- and government-dominated society), so swapping comes naturally to me.
One of my most satisfying coinless transactions took place when a neighbor noticed that I had some unused plywood (left over from a rabbit hutch construction project) and asked whether he could buy the lumber to build a bed . . . to replace the sagging backbreaker he was using. I was trying to think of an appropriate trade when he offered to pay for the material in two or three installments . . . and I remembered that he had started a fledgling therapeutic massage business. Well, it didn't take long to come to an agreement that helped both of our spines feel better: a new, firmer bed for him and two expert rubdowns for me.
I guess you might say that we're "backing" the bartering system!
My favorite bartering deal to date took place between a neighbor and me. We were both avid breadmakers and appreciated the good taste, financial savings, and high nutrition of our homebaked "staff of life" . . . so we decided to combine our skills and materials.
Every Monday was Baking Day in our swap. We'd trade breadpans, muffin tins, and cookie sheets as needed. One household would bake four loaves of "daily bread", while the other concocted a delicious array of fancy dinner rolls, cinnamon muffins, bagels, French bread, or whatever else happened to seem appealing on a given morning. Then, at the end of the day, we'd give each other half of the fruits of our labor. And in order to add variety to the task, we'd swap baking roles (pardon the expression) each week as well.
We both benefited from bartering, by having a constant supply of fresh-from-the-oven goodies. Often, in fact, both families had surplus to freeze. Moreover, because we each felt obligated to keep up our end of the bargain, neither party procrastinated or neglected to carry out her part of the deal.
My breadbaking buddy recently moved away . . . but I'm confident that I'll find another dough-dealing neighbor to trade skills with. (I'm even considering expanding the next swap to include another day on which we'll trade casseroles for desserts!)