Trading Pictures, Community Swap Center, and Other Successful Barter Agreements

This installment of an ongoing series about reader-negotiated barter agreements includes stories from a Texas woman who has been trading pictures—photographs—for assorted goods and services and a California woman who established a community swap center.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
January/February 1979
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In the case of one California woman, setting up a community swap center was just a matter of writing "Free" on the side of a wood crate.
PHOTO: MADGOOCH/FOTOLIA


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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.  


Trading Pictures

If you keep in mind that you're out to make friends - not get the better of 'em you'll find, as we have, that almost everyone is receptive to a good swap.

We often trade eggs, milk, firewood, and labor. We even swap chores with the children. As a matter of fact, I began my career ten years ago with a trade—a car "bought" me a camera—and then five years later 30 of my pet laying hens "paid" for another.

My photographs, in turn, have proven to be good swaps to businesses—for their advertising or record keeping—and to doctors or dentists who've used them to decorate their office walls. My most recent photographic exchange even netted me a jar of uncut opals. I think I'll trade some to a gem cutter in exchange for cutting the rest. And then I'll swap those for ... who knows!

Not that our family's trades always start with my photographs. My mate is a commercial fisherman and his fish are considered cash at the local garage (everyone has to eat!), health food store, cheese store, etc. The nicest part—we think—about having an edible commodity is that when we have surplus to just give away, we never know when the favor will be returned. We recently received a bushel of tangerines from an acquaintance we gave fish to six months ago!

Rae Dejur
S. Padre Island, TX

Community Swap Center

Barter is one of my true loves, so when the local thrift store closed up I decided to create a community swap center.

First, I acquired a large plywood crate and painted the words "Free Box" on all sides. Then I contributed some of my unneeded clothing to the container and—with the permission of the owner—placed the carton behind our local natural food store.

Next, I spread the word of potential swaps, and before I knew it the box was filled to overflowing with an interesting assortment of near-perfect clothes, toys, and appliances, all free for the taking! (Since the center made its debut In May, It attracted many a spring cleaner ... though folks often went home with as much as or more than they brought!)

Our swap box is still all abuzz with the trading of unwanted/unused goods for exciting "new" ones ... and not a penny is exchanged. Moreover, the center requires a minimum of maintenance. A weekly check to cull the "unwanted unwanteds" for contribution to the thrift shop of a neighboring town is all it takes.

The free box has been an all-out success in our community. Is your town in need of a new means of trade? Then get yourselves a swap box!

Ellen Gray
Bishop, CA

Rooftop Garden

Tradin' isn't just for country folks! Right here in the heart of the big city, I've found people with the swapping spirit... and my landlord is one of 'em.

We live on the top floor of a three-story apartment building, and I dreamed of using the roof to raise a mini-garden in wooden planter boxes. When I asked my landlord's permission, however, he worried that my project might cause water damage to the roofing. At this, my husband offered to completely re-tar the roof if our landlord would supply the pitch.

And so it was agreed: In exchange for a fully waterproofed rooftop, we were allowed to grow our mini-garden. And did those little planters ever produce (we had a harvest of 125 tomatoes alone)! Moreover our tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, carrots, eggplants, and peppers were only a part of the reward for our efforts: we had the all-too-rare experience of seeing the growth of greenery in the city.

I'm convinced that a good deal more conscientious city folks could easily work out a comparable arrangement in their places of residence (perhaps in exchange for similar types of building maintenance). And if only they would... we might wind up making the city a greener, more pleasant place for all us townsfolk to live in!

Helen Groll
Brooklyn, NY

Homesteading Skills

Bartering between young and old can be the road to a genuinely symbiotic relationship.

I have a swapping arrangement, for example, with an elderly lady who has a wealth of homesteading experience but is unable to drive. For a trip to the market once a week, she gives me free lessons in a variety of basic skills. Knitting, crocheting, sewing, and soapmaking are among the crafts I've learned so far. When I acquire my first cow and chickens, I'll know just where to turn for advice on their care and feeding.

My elderly friend and I enjoy our barter setup, because we both feel we're being helpful. If you'd like a swapping partner, there are lots of senior citizens out there, each with a separate storehouse of knowledge. Make the most of this treasure of information. Don't pass it by! Got In touch with your local senior citizens' group and exchange the voice of experience for whatever its holder may need!

Linda Wood
Howell, MI

Missouri Ozarks Barter

I was raised in the Missouri Ozarks and learned the art of barter at an early age. To this day I still scratch my trading itch.

For several years now, for example, neighbors have prepared my spring garden for planting in return for a helping hand in the hayfield when needed. I also help my father-in-law in his shop, frequently, in trade for his vast mechanical experience and know-how. And recently, I bartered a single-shot .22 and an old carpet (which I'd intended to use for mulch on the garden) in exchange for the body—and some odd parts—of a 1928 Model A sedan. This, in turn, I swapped for a solid antique dresser with mirror, that my wife and I refinished (it's now a beautiful addition to our home, and worth many times what we originally swapped for it).

But the trade I still like the best of all took place just a few short months ago when I bartered my small collection of American and foreign coins to a friend in return for six issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS! I liked this swap so well, In fact, that I've now started a subscription of my own!

Gary A. Kimmons
Phillipsburg, MO

Family Exchanges

Swapping wasn't exactly new to my husband and me, but as newlyweds fresh out on our own farm In the "boonies" we hadn't had much opportunity (nor the acquaintances) to do a lot of trading. Then we met a friendly family of "potters" just down the road and discovered—with great excitement—that all of us were MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers. Before long, our discussions turned to barter, our eyes set to twinkling, and we were hooked! You could just see all our thinkers a-workin' and a-conjurin' up some mighty good deals.

Pretty soon we were swapping the building of a chimney for pottery lessons and strawberry plants for manure. And—in no time flat—we had branched out to a family garden/co-op swap (this barter really lit up my mother's and grandmother's eyes). Each household grows certain types of vegetables and then we trade off. Everyone shares in the workload and we each get to enjoy all of the good things grown.

Yep, swapping is a positive and satisfying thing. It has gained us a lasting friendship and the security of knowing that "where there's a will, there's a way." But the best part of all is that feeling you get inside when you know you have just the thing that someone else needs. Then all you have to do is say, "I'll tell you what I'll do... " and sure enough, there goes that twinkle!

Laura Rasler
Corunna, IN

Milk for Contraception

Once - when I worked for a time at a women's contraception clinic a woman in farm overalls came in, obviously carrying something behind her back. She walked up to my desk and placed a big jar of fresh milk on It. "I have an appointment today and I have nothing to pay for it with," she smiled apologetically, "but maybe you could take this."

We handed out mugs to patients and workers alike, and most women who passed through the clinic that day left with milk mustaches over their smiles!

Leslea Newman
Cambridge, MA

Farm Barter

Tradin' is a much more sensible means of exchange (and one that's better attuned to a "minimum waste" lifestyle) than the constant cash outlay that most folks are used to. I've found that I can barter for nearly all of my needs ... and for some of my heart's desires, as well!

For example, my children and I live on a communal farm rent free in exchange for a few hours of work a day. (This sort of opportunity Is more common than most people think. A friend of mine out West, for Instance, Is restoring a ghost town for the same labor-for-rent privilege that we enjoy.) I've also swapped mending for houseplants, old clothing for original pottery, and home-cooked meals for everything from music lessons to car repairs. (It's amazing how many folks don't "get Into" cooking ... I'm currently trading muffins for skiing lessons!)

In addition to my own swaps, the farm where I live also carries on the fine old tradition of bartering: We use our organically grown wheat, hay, and soybeans not only to feed ourselves and our horses but as swapping goods to supplement our supply of honey and to furnish us with publications relevant to what we're doing here (we trade with a combination restaurant/bookstore in our area).

Anyone who wants proof that this moneyless medium is workable needs only to rent space at a local flea market and watch the action. Barter is one of the greatest economic tools we have. Let's use it to the fullest!

Caren Kershner
Bradford, OH

Speed Reading for Shoes

"Barter ability" really came in handy during my financially insecure college days. Friends were always eager to swap for a spot in my eight-week speed reading course. I've also exchanged the lessons for massages, chiropractic adjustments, astrological readings, meals, books, and catsitting services. My most satisfying trade, though, happened just recently while I prepared for my MOTHER EARTH NEWS-style wedding.

I'd been trying to find size 12 shoos (I'm 6" 1") to match my nontraditional, Afghani/nomad-styled wedding dress, but the footwear I wanted just did not seem to exist. On one of my frequent and frustrating "hunting" trips, however, I invaded a local cobbler's shop and explained my dilemma (and thin pocketbook) to the craftsman. He listened intently, excitedly sketched out a beautiful shoe design, and then beat me to the punch on terms: "I barter," he said. Now that cobbler is as happy with his new reading ability as I am with the originally designed, soft leather moccasins I proudly wore on my wedding day!

Elizabeth Lyon
Carpinteria, CA

Rebar Log Holder

I recently picked up a used posthole auger bit when I noticed a little old lady trying to remove the odd-looking piece of metal from the street gutter In front of her house. Recycling the prize was easy: I gave the bit to a co-worker who- in exchange- welded together a "MOTHER EARTH NEWS Rebar Log Holder" for me. The entire cost for the holder (I purchased and shaped the reinforcement rod myself) was about half the $10 estimate given In MOTHER EARTH NEWS. What could be more successful!

Stephen T. Sprehe
Tulsa, OK

Forest Harvesting

We live so high in the mountains that we can't grow many of the fruits and vegetables we'd like to raise. The owners of a gold mine that surrounds our home, though, let us harvest half their treasure ... for free!

Now that may sound unbelievable unless you know that the "gold mine" is the forest around us, and the treasures we gather are the wild foods, herbs, and nuts which grow there. We do leave half to the rightful owners—the forest animals—and the rest we sun dry and swap to folks in the valley for small Items and growing things which we want and need but can't produce ourselves.

Twenty or more herbs, for instance, go to a friend who operates a health food store In town: I trade mine for vitamins and health foods that we could never afford otherwise, and my children made their own spending money last year by gathering and drying the herbs and selling them to the store (a good lesson for them on how to make and manage their own money). One farmer in the valley has an Irrigation ditch plumb full of wild peppermint and lets me take it all. He hates the mint—says it clogs up the flow of water in the channel—but what a help to us! The wild foods aren't trusted by most folks here, so we keep those ourselves and eat 'em to our hearts' content.

Drying herbs is hard and tedious work (we use only fresh air and sunshine to do the job) but for all the good things we've gotten and the swell folks we've met in exchange, it's well worth the effort, and just as valuable "trade goods" as real gold could ever be.

Elm Cowles
Wolf Creek, OR

Tire Exchange

I'd like to share this swap with MOTHER EARTH NEWS and all her readers ... a fair trade in itself since she's the one who prompted It.

Trying to rejuvenate an old trailer—a 15-year occupant of our backyard—more difficult than I had expected. I'd repaired the bull joints and packed the wheel bearings, but the secondhand 16-inch tires I needed to got her rollin' just didn't seem to exist anywhere. When a helpful junkyard dealer finally used his radio to locate some tires for me and gave me directions to find them ... I figured my problems at last were over.

Well, the tires were nearly bald, but I was desperate and agreed to pay $10 apiece for them. Then, while waiting for the attendant to wrestle the rubber off their old split rims, I checked on the possibility of using different wheels, ones for which good tires might be easier to find. The Chevy mags we found flat would fit, though, were out of my price range ($40 each for wheels and tires), and I decided to stick with the 16-inchers.

As I continued to wander around the yard—still waiting for the tires—I noticed that the rest of the crew was making lift-out gates for a spiffy flathed truck and having a terrible time at It. That's when I thought about MOTHER EARTH NEWS and what she teaches and decided that there was no time like the present to stick my foot into this bartering business. So I sought out the yard boss, told him I was a carpenter and had my tools with me, and suggested that we work out some kinda trade. His ear-to-ear grin was the only answer I needed.

Well, I whipped my truck around and took charge of the construction in a minute. Once the boss saw that I knew what I was doing, he hollered to his helper to get those nice Chevy wheels, find some equally good tires, and put 'em together for me!

I finished the gates in two hours, and in exchange the yard boss gave me the tires and wheels, threw in a fantastic brush guard for my truck, and said he still felt he'd come out ahead. I'm supposed to go see him the next time I need anything!

Glenn N. Willis, Jr.
Perris, CA

Seed Swap

When our order arrived from the seed company last February we (easily!) forgot the snow still covering the ground and started looking forward to spring and our garden just waitin' to be planted. However, there were several things we hadn't ordered but still wanted to try growing. Rather than buy a whole seed packet of each "experimental" vegetable, we came up with the following idea:

Ali our neighbors and friends were invited to our home one Sunday afternoon and asked to bring with them any old, saved, or spare seeds ... and swap!

It was a huge success! Everyone visited, traded seeds, and shared gardening know-how—and we all enjoyed a touch of spring in the middle of winter.

Of course, not all the seeds we received sprouted. But of all the variety planted in our garden that season, the only things the wild critters bothered were some soybeans we'd gotten at the "seed swap" and they'd already "paid" for themselves anyway.

Lynn Nuttall
Spencer, WV


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