These MOTHER's readers have found the art of bartering: learning to swap time and talent for needed items around the homestead and turning trash to treasure.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/YVAN REITSEROF
Suzy LaMonte from Days Creek, Ore.:
Life without running water has its disadvantages ...
especially when autumn weather sets in and local creeks
become too chilly for cleansing dips.
And as Hoedad tree planters,
we always come home kind of "grungy" and in need of a good
scrub, too. Imagine our gratitude, then, when a fellow
homesteader (who'd just bought a place about a mile down
the road) heard of our plight and graciously offered us the
use of his shower. (Ahhh ... hot water!)
But what to offer in return? Of course! We could rototill
and expand his small garden plot, come springtime. And
that's just what we did!
Many other good swaps have resulted from our utilization of
the gifts of our local madrone trees. In the fall, the
madrones are laden with deep red berries, which we collect
and string into necklaces. The little fruits dry into firm,
colorful beads ... and make great "tradables" at the many
craft fairs held throughout the year here.
We've traded our "nature necklaces" for a wide assortment
of lovely handmade goods: pottery, jewelry, drawings,
wooden toys ... the possibilities are many, and it's
But then, that goes for swapping in general!
Margaret Higgs from Indianapolis, Ind.:
One day last winter a neighbor of mine stopped by to visit
wearing a new flannel shirt that his sister had made him
for Christmas. I was quite interested in her handiwork,
since it's impossible to find a store-bought flannel shirt
with sleeves long enough to fit my boyfriend.
While we sat talking, this fellow mentioned how much he
liked the macrame plant hanger I had just finished making.
Right away, something told me my boyfriend was going to get
a flannel shirt.
My neighbor worked out a deal with his sister: He would
give her some help she needed in exchange for one handmade
flannel shirt. His sibling made the garment (to my
specifications, of course), and he then promptly traded it
to me for my plant hanger.
All three of us were pleased with the arrangement, and now
I hear that my neighbor's sister is eyeing his new macrame
hanger ... and wanting to know if I need another flannel
Scott Feierabend from Baton Rouge, La.:
On our 2,000-mile hike from Georgia to Maine along the
Appalachian Trail, my wife and I learned how adaptable
swapping can be.
We found out (firsthand!) that long-distance hikers soon
tire of their repetitious and consequently unappetizing
meals, and we also discovered that barter can help to
remedy the situation. At a hikers' hostel in Hot Springs,
North Carolina, we encountered a "swap box" ... a very
simple exchange system based on give and take.
Whatever a person didn't want or could no longer use was
placed in a large carton. These contributions included not
only every sort of on-the-trail food imaginable, but soap,
rope, books, candles, and a variety of backpacking
equipment. After "shopping" through the box, an individual
would replace what he took with whatever unwanted goodies
he or she might have.
In this way, hikers are able — at no cost — to
sample new foods, replace excess gear with more needed
commodities, and (best of all) leave behind their most
unappealing victuals ... knowing that the foodstuffs will
probably be relished by the next swapper to come along!
We were so impressed with the system that we established a
swap box at a trail stop further north.
Friendly trade works ... no matter where it occurs!
J.H Mayeux from Weaverville, N.C.:
I was born and raised in the most beautiful part of the
Louisiana bayou country, where barter is a way of life.
A boucherie, for example, was when several people
would bring their pigs to one fellow Cajun's house to be
slaughtered. This man would be well equipped and educated
for butchering hogs. The air would be full of friendship ... and tasty aromas, for the outdoor tables were soon
laden with good eatin's. In exchange for a free feast, many
folks would gather to help the butcher with some of the
chores around his place. Some got professional butchering,
and we all profited by getting good fellowship, a great
meal, and usually even some entertainment.
Now I live in North Carolina, and I'm still an active
trader. Among other things, I've many times swapped my
skill as a tree surgeon. On the whole, I've found that
people — because of the special bonds that seal a
deal — definitely enjoy tradin' more'n payin'.
Jacqueline Sintay from Forks of Salmon, Calif.:
My husband and I have a large garden, and we often barter
excess produce for things our place doesn't supply. Last
summer, for instance, we had a bumper crop of luscious
raspberries so we traded some of the fruit for our
neighboring friends' fresh eggs, raw milk, honey, and
In the fall we needed apples, so a neighbor with a large
orchard let us pick several crates in exchange for some of
our vegetables, peaches, and peppermint. Then we traded
some of the apples for pears!
When we wanted manure for the garden, we located a dairy
farmer whose barnyard needed cleaning up. He said we could
have all of the organic fertilizer we could cart away at
absolutely no charge ... and we reciprocated that
generosity by giving the farmer some of our finest
vegetables. He was pleased to receive the fresh produce and
to get his grounds tidied, and we were happy to have a
dependable source of all the good compost we wanted.
There simply isn't enough room here to list every one of
the successful swaps we've made, but before closing I will
mention one more: We trade issues of Organic
Gardening for THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS ® !
Phil Block from Newington, Conn.:
As a transplanted Yankee (from New Jersey), I've tried to
adopt the proverb, "Buy dear, use well, and make over."
Accordingly, much of what I swap comes from neighborhood
streets on refuse collection day. For example, an
astounding number of slightly worn or damaged but still
perfectly good lawn chairs and garden hoses are thrown out
by the residents of my town every year. So I collect them
each fall, buy plastic webbing and hose connectors at
close-out sales, then repair this otherwise-expensive
equipment and swap it for other things I want the following
spring and summer.
Then there's the story of how I got my brand-new $3
garden shed. My friend and I went to a
going-out-of-business sale, and the store manager offered
us two sheds and assorted odds and ends for a pittance if
we'd clear the display yard. We used my buddy's truck, and
sold or traded the sale leftovers for a garden tiller, a
lawn mower, some tools, and enough lumber and cement to
build the foundations for our sheds. Last fall, after a
season of renting out our backs with the tiller, we found
that the two sheds had cost us a total of only $6.
When I barter, my greatest joy isn't in saving money ... but in utilizing something someone else has given up on, or
in preventing my castoffs from becoming landfill.
Leona Guthrie from Las Vegas, N.M.:
Swapping can be magical: I saw it turn a 1/2-pound
miniature dachshund into a 1/2-ton pickup truck! Here's how
I had just subjected my husband and children to a
blistering lecture, the point of which was: "We have too
many horses! We can't get any more! None!"
Then we went to see a man about a goat, and he asked us to
look at a mare he'd purchased cheap because her former
owners were moving. I felt perfectly safe in looking ... we had no money and too many horses anyway.
Before I could stop myself, I had traded one of our fat,
cute AKC dachshunds for a bony but beautiful appaloosa. The
children and their father just smirked at me, remembering
how I'd laid down the law.
We fattened that mare for about two months, until we met a
man with five young'uns and no horse. He was a mechanic,
and happened to have a nice pickup that he'd accepted in
lieu of pay for repair bills.
We drove away in the truck, he rode away on a plump, shiny
appaloosa, and both families were happy.
Magic? You bet!
Nancy Cook from Sacramento, Calif.:
Although we live in a large, crowded housing development,
we have a small greenhouse, a prolific organic garden, and
even a modest flock of chickens that provide us with fresh
eggs and meat. All of these do help considerably with
living expenses, but our family is large and we recently
got to the point where we needed a second income to
supplement my husband's.
Our predicament was that I had no work experience to call
upon. We were short on ideas and getting discouraged ... until a friend came up with the ideal (for us) solution. He
offered to teach me to cane chairs and do wicker work, in
exchange for our surplus garden produce.
I now have a thriving and enjoyable business that lets me
stay at home and yet bring in extra money, while our friend
receives a steady supply of fresh picked vegetables.
If you ask me , MOTHER, this barter idea of yours
Daniel W. Raffety from Jackson, Mo.:
Citizens' band radio has introduced me to barter! Through
this enjoyable communication medium, I've met so many good
people ... and made so many good swaps.
Recently, a CB buddy gave me a humidifier, a 20 foot pole for
my base antenna, and a small trailer, in return for various
radio components that he'll use to improve his own
I sometimes get requests to help other CB-ers install their
home stations, too. Generally, of course, this means that
the other parties involved will then lend a hand back when
I need it. For instance, I recently helped three fellows
put up their antenna systems and, in turn, they all pitched
in to help me install mine. A commercial installation would
have cost each of us substantially more, and then we
wouldn't have had the benefit of being able to converse
So CB swapping not only enables me to acquire items I don't
have the money for, but also provides me with valued new
Mrs. J.M. Willtrout from Mullin, Tex.:
The most successful swap I've ever made occurred last
summer, when I broke an ankle just as my garden started
I'd heard of the local custom of doing work "on shares" or
"on halves" — in which someone does most of the labor
involved (anything from gathering fallen pecans to picking
fruit) for half of the end results — but I'd never had
occasion to experience such an arrangement firsthand.
Since I was temporarily "out of commission," a distant
relative who was also a neighbor offered to pick and put up
part of my produce "on the halves." (She's elderly and
hadn't raised any extensive crops her self.) I accepted her
proposal with relief, and she harvested my vegetables, took
my jars and lids home, and returned with cases and cases of
Of course, we both benefited from the deal. Without my spry
kinswoman's help, my garden would have gone unpicked ... and had it not been for our trade she wouldn't have had her
share of all those winter preserves.
If more communities operated like ours, what a great world
it would be!
Stas Grabowski from Provincetown, Mass.:
Our home is on Cape Cod, and the beach is our back yard. I
had been able to raise some crops on the
shore — despite the winds that come in off the
water — by using a cold frame. But growing tender
plants like eggplant and melons remained a problem until we
got friendly with a retired teacher who lives down the
Ken had some open land in back of his house (away from the
beach), with only two old cottages on it. So I asked him if
I could spruce up the little houses for summer rental in
return for the use of a 25-foot square garden on his
property. We were soon in business and my new vegetable
patch quickly began to thrive.
Our yields seemed endless last summer as we ate snow peas,
cucumbers, broccoli, four kinds of tomatoes, and many other
homegrown delicacies. In late November, I was still
harvesting things like cauliflower and parsley.
So barter wins again. We enjoyed free food from free land,
in exchange for something as simple as my time and labor ... which I love to give.
Ellen Brooks and Dave Hackett from Gays Mills, Wis.:
Like many other MOTHER readers, we exchange labor for our
rent, vegetables we have for produce we lack, and piano
playing sessions for having our garden plowed. But this
winter we've arranged to trade three months of labor for
the fun and adventure of being in a different country!
Ellen's mother plans to build a house on land she owns in
Costa Rica. By bringing her labor force (us) along, she'll
gain two traveling companions, some steady workers she's
already familiar with, people she can consult when the many
inevitable building problems arise, and advocates of
alternative energy sources who want to make her homestead
as ecologically sound as possible.
In turn, we'll get to experience another culture (which
otherwise would be prohibitively expensive on our apple
pickers' wages). And all three of us will appreciate the
strengthened family bond this association is bound to
Tahca Ska from Manomet, Mass.:
Since I support my family with the few dollars my
handicraft items bring in, we seldom have any extra money
around. For this reason — and because we live in a tipi
and use horse and wagon transportation, which doesn't
endear us to the typical private campground owner — we
have frequent problems in our travels throughout New
But we've worked out a nearly ideal (if temporary)
solution. Friends of ours said we could camp on their land
and use the grass, water, and wood we needed in exchange
for maintaining the grounds at their motel. Also, for doing
painting and general building upkeep, I was allowed to
display my crafts in the motel office ... which brought
me a good many customers from around the country.
The motel closed after Labor Day, but that didn't end our
mutually beneficial relationship with the proprietors. As
my wife is very pregnant, I'm loathe to move camp just now,
so in return for improving the motel woodlot my family and
I have been made welcome here through the winter. With
careful management, the woodlot will now be profitable ... and next year's guests will find the patch of timber more
inviting now that there's a trail through it.
Dian Stout from Penn Yan, N.Y.:
I've rediscovered swapping, and I find it still produces
the silly, giggly excitement in me that it did when we used
to exchange baseball cards and student photos in grade
Though I forgot about the fun of trading for 20 years, it
all came back after my husband and I bought some property,
became organic farmers, and generally transformed our
We went for a marriage encounter weekend, where we met
several really neat couples from our area. And it was
through some of these new friends that I was reminded of
the joys of barter.
I was secretly wishing for an herb garden like one of these
other wives had, you see, when one day she happened to say,
"I wish I could draw like you do."
"Hey," I shot back, "I'll teach you to draw if you'll give
me cuttings from your perennial herbs."
Well, that woman now draws better and better, and I'm
sitting here sipping my own blend of tea as I write this.
Next, my husband flipped for a beautiful lamp our new
potter friends had made ... until he saw the $60 price
tag. When I sneaked back to them with an antique crock we'd
dug out of the cellar, however, they declared it to be of
equal value and we made the swap. You should have seen Al's
face at Christmas!
Dick Stanley from Stanford, Calif.:
With today's proliferation of "househusbands," many men who
work at home find themselves in need of either paying to
have their correspondence typed or mastering some
secretarial skills themselves.
Since my wife is in graduate school, and I'm faced with the
dilemma described above, I've hit upon the idea of swapping
baby-sitting for typing. I provide child care at the rate
of two hours for every one hour the typist puts in.
(Fellas! It gets you legitimately out of the house at
night!) The arrangement has so far resulted in about $60
worth of "free" secretarial work, plus many quiet evenings
spent reading articles I couldn't find time for on my