The following are barter agreements and trades negotiated by MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers.
You might be surprised to know that suburbia can provide a fertile field for successful swaps! Although the "native soil" for most of the trading reported by MOTHER EARTH NEWS seems to be in the back-to-basics agricultural community, we've reaped high "barter yields" in our region of half-acre-lot developments. Here's my favorite swap story:
Several years ago friends of ours purchased a new house on a "clear lot" ... meaning that all the trees had been cut down, and the entire parcel bulldozed, when the subdivision was laid out. Well, our new neighbors wanted to put some greenery on their property, but — after shelling out the down payment — they found their purse too light to afford professional landscapers. So — for a mere $10 — the innovative couple purchased 140 seedlings from the county soil and water conservation district ... which, once planted in the bare 15' X 30' back yard, soon grew into a miniature forest. When the small trees outgrew the backyard nursery, some were transplanted to the front yard ... and the remaining saplings attracted eager friends and neighbors ready to swap.
Some of those "tree trades" simply bought variety, such as when a number of pines were swapped for apple saplings. In another instance, a neighbor offered unlimited use of his rototiller and wheelbarrow in exchange for a seedling, and one friend even constructed a patio (providing sand, used paving bricks, and his labor) as payment for several of the handsome nursery "starts".
Last year our family bought a new house on a bare half-acre lot ... and — for spring planting this year — we've ordered 140 little trees. Soon we'll be swapping, too!
Library Research for Dental Work
As a research librarian at a university, my lifestyle has been more city-centered and cash-oriented than I'd like it to be. However, I recently discovered that urban folks can find bona fide "hoss tradin'" in the heart of a metropolis!
My first contact with the bartering bug occurred after a dental checkup about a year ago, when I was advised to have extensive restoration work done on my teeth to the tune of $300. And despite all the so-called "benefits" of working for a large employer, I found that my health insurance covered none of the cost. My budget couldn't foot the bill, either ... so I began searching for an alternative to hard cash. Finally, I located a barter-bent dentist who offered to do the tooth repair for the cost of materials plus some library research on his thesis topic.
For a cash outlay of only $30, and some diligent fact-finding in my spare time, I was restored to excellent dental health, and — for his part — the tooth-tinkering doc received the information he needed to begin writing his paper.
I guess the moral of this story is that whether or not you have an item (eggs, homemade bread, livestock) or an obvious skill (woodworking, sewing, mechanics) to barter, don't neglect less tangible things — such as information and the ability to ferret it out — as possibilities for trade. My smile is a shining example of successful swapping!
Haircuts are the basis of my trading sprees. And, since most folks need a trim every now and again, the skill is in great demand and makes for some good exchanges)
My favorite continuing swap is with a neighbor who works at a food distribution plant. When a case of canned goods gets dented or otherwise damaged, the edibles are legally unfit for commercial sale and the tinned food is given to the employees free (or for a nominal fee). So, in exchange for haircuts for him and his wife, my pal brings me all the canned goods my family can use! This swap has continued for five years (supplying our two boys with all the baby food they needed and a good part of their "childhood" munchings!) ... and it's still going strong!
I've also traded haircuts for welding repairs on the lawn mower, babysitting, boxes of walnuts, bushels of apples, garden produce, shoes, wicker chairs, and bee equipment ... to name just a few. Furthermore, as an added benefit of the bargaining deals, I keep the shorn hair to add to our garden's compost pile ... and when gophers trespass on our property, we simply put the head clippings in the burrows of the vegetable-chomping varmints to chase the critters away!
Construction Materials Trading
Thanks to the barter system, our family built a three-bedroom semi-subterranean home for less than $2,000!
The construction of our new earth-sheltered abode here in the Keystone State began when I traded my mechanical labor for the loan of a backhoe, which we used to dig the foundation and landscape the site.
Then — with the help of my wife and our five small youngsters — I hand-poured the cement (mixed with sand and rocks from our stream) for the footings and the four-foot-high walls. With that done, all that we needed to complete the foundation of our home-to-be were cement blocks for the corners and guides. A snowplowing swap supplied those ... and the "base" was done!
Next, the 2 X 6 wall studs — cut to size — were "purchased" with a used chain saw. I then dismantled (and scavenged) the remains of an old pole building, using the lumber for the roof joists and sheathing of our new home. And our family has been snug this winter, too, thanks to six inches of swapped-for insulation in the walls and roof.
Another chain saw trade and we were able to pour the cement floor (once again using sand and gravel from our brook). And, finally — after the exchange of five used tires for the chimney tile — we moved into our sunken shelter.
Barter has definitely paid off in our family ... by literally helping to put the roof over our heads!
Sheep Mower Trade
Now that the season's first daffodils are just beginning to peek out at you folks up in the Northern Hemisphere, I'll take a break from my "Australian autumn" chores and tell you about our latest swap in the "land down under."
Along with the warmth and rain of our spring (last October), we faced a veritable jungle of grass that seemed bent on taking over our rented home's acres. To complicate the situation, we discovered that the trusty old push-pull hand mower we'd always depended on at this time of year had rusted apart over the winter and was out of service just when the greenery was pushing through the moist earth with renewed vigor. It started to look as if we'd have to purchase a new grass cutter. However, with the plans to move to our own land finally materializing, we certainly didn't relish the thought of forking out cash for an expensive (and soon-to-be-unneeded) gas-guzzling power mower.
We even tried borrowing a lawn leveler, but that machine broke down, too, after one bout with our knee-high vegetation. In fact, we'd just about resigned ourselves to renting a heavy-duty mower when a neighbor came to the rescue with her pet sheep. The voracious animal soon had the Brobdingnagian ground cover trimmed like a country club putting green (and had fertilized the lawn as well!) ... and — in return — I promised to knit my friend a shawl and scarf from the handspun fleece.
Now that I've taken the initial trading plunge, I intend to continue my swapping throughout the year!
[EDITOR'S NOTE: MOTHER-readers who might be interested in sharing seedlings with their neighbors should contact the county's soil and water conservation district office to find out what tree-growing programs may be offered in that area.]