A barter agreement can involve any kind of goods or services, as long as the parties to a negotiation are both satisfied with the exchange.
ILLUSTRATION: FOTOLIA/PATRIMONIO DESIGNS
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.
"How soon can I run a chain saw?" I asked the surgeon as he
probed my hand for the ends of the cut thumb tendons.
And in the next breath added, "Would you consider barter?"
To my surprise, he replied affirmatively . . . while joking
that it was a good thing I hadn't used my sharp axe. Later,
as I was leaving (literally "in stitches"), we agreed on
several hardwood scoops, four deer-bone crochet hooks, and
a cord or two of firewood as "payment" for the doc's
My new dentist was willing to do some trading, too. (At a
military base in Alaska, he'd swapped with the Eskimos . .
. fillings for fresh moose meat!) So, with gleaming teeth,
the whole family pitched in to deliver several loads of
cordwood and some houseplants to the specialist's home.
And — best of all — the arrangement was left open-ended, so we
can expect to repeat the exchange for future
Those stories are examples of two of my favorite swaps, but
I've bartered for more than medical expenses over the past
ten years. My other trades include home baked bread for
mulch, ginseng for printing, corn on the cob for freshly
ground wheat flour, woodenware for pottery, venison for
pork, rawhide for tanned leather, maple syrup for vetch
seed . . . and the list goes on and on!
We've found that the no-cash economy is thriving in these
parts. Neighbors, trades folk, and even complete strangers
are often willing to swap goods, services, or labor. Often
all it takes to make a deal is the gumption to ask!
Most of the swappin' tales in MOTHER EARTH NEWS involve individuals or
families who've made it back to the land. But barter can be
found between organizations as well . . . and can even
exist in the heart of New York City! Here's how our unusual
"corporate" trade came about:
The city's Metro Chapter of the Registry for Interpreters
for the Deaf and (a separate organization) the Council for
Mental Health Services for the Hearing Impaired, Inc. were
both searching for office space to house their newly formed
chapters. Finally, after realizing that each group alone was
too poor to pay the rent on an adequate suite, they decided
to team up and share business quarters. In practically no
time at all, meeting schedules were juggled to guard
against time conflicts, and a joint furniture hunting
venture was begun.
But the deal didn't end there! The Council needed sign
language interpreters at its meetings, but the budget
failed to include money for such an expense. With some
downhome barterin' in mind, they went to the Metro RID . .
. and proposed an exchange of services.
Now the Council has a regular (rotating) "signer" for all
its gatherings . . . and the members of the RID can attend free of charge any of the workshops on mental health
services for the deaf.
And with luck, the trading will continue . . . with both
organizations sharing their free copies of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
For several years my husband and I hoarded a box of
pheasant feathers — relics of past hunting trips — in our
basement. We pondered (as the plumes collected dust) how to
best utilize the delicate and attractive agents of flight.
Then in MOTHER EARTH NEWS we discovered the answer to our
Guided by the article "Fine-Feathered Hatbands," we made
several samples of the headwear . . . and took the feathery
items to a new boutique in town. Luckily for us, western
hats and other related items of apparel were becoming
increasingly popular at that time, so the store manager was
eager to give the bands a chance.
Now one short month later we can barely keep up with the
demands for the feathered millinery of our new "bootstrap
business." But the best part of the deal is that — rather
than receive money for the hat-bands — we trade with the
store! One of our favorite exchanges involved swapping our
feathered haberdashery for a fabulous leather hat for my
husband and a gorgeous suede coat for me . . . both of
which we'd never have been able to "buy" otherwise. Thank
you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS!
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following two submissions are not
only coincidental . . . but also show that the barter
system — when used well — makes both parties feel that
they got the best part of the bargain!
French Barter, Pt 1
When Karl, Rene, Larisa, and I settled here in the eastern
Pyrenees five years ago, we wondered vaguely if we'd be
able to find swappin' people like those we knew back in
Rochester, New York. Well . . . find 'em we did. Although
"to bargain" is pronounced troquer here, the practice seems
to bring the same satisfaction to people as it does back in
Shortly after we bought our present home, some helpful
neighbors offered us a fine woodstove that had been
relegated to the shed when the folks remodeled their
"How about taking one of our (future) goat kids in
exchange:"' we asked . . . they replied, "Fine," . . . and
voile, our first French swap was made.
Later-when we no longer kept billies and nannies-some
goat-herding friends offered to trade their surplus milk
for some of our special whole wheat bread. We agreed to a
once-a-week swap, and that arrangement is now in its third
year! (Often one swap leads to another: Yesterday, for
instance, a woman with a honey business asked to trade the
sweetener for some of our bread . . . which she had tasted
at the goat people's home!)
We've been given honey in exchange for replacing a damaged
auto taillight, too . . . plus some handwoven slippers for
wheat, a custom made wool vest for guitar lessons, knitting
wool for cheese, and wheat-grinding for homemade peanut
butter. I guess this proves that there are eager swappers
most anywhere . . . even in a mountainous rural area where
neighbors are few and far between. Under these conditions,
barter is a logical and enjoyable part of an all-too-rare
French Barter, Pt 2
The barter system is alive and well in the south of France!
(At least here in the Pyrenees Orientales . . . I can't
speak for the more "fashionable" regions.) My husband and I
are English, and came to live in this beautiful and
relatively unspoiled part of France three years ago.
Through necessity at first (then more and more willingly)
we developed a relatively self-sufficient lifestyle. Our
one priceless asset is the old mill — now run by
electricity — which is part of the property. My husband
restored it to working order, and we are now able to
prepare and eat the most nutritious and tasty bread
As word began to circulate that the mill was back in
operation, couples and small groups of people began to call
on us . . . dragging sacks of grain from their
often beat-up old cars and asking hesitantly if it would be
possible to have it ground. We were delighted to discover
so many people living on the ragged edge of this
middle-class-oriented society . . . and even happier to
exchange milling for new laid eggs, grain, or fresh
The first of our new-found friends were an American couple,
with whom we immediately entered into a system of barter.
We exchange everything from pumpkin pickles and marmalade
to — you've guessed it — our copies of THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS!