A reader in New York City family was able to get by on comfortably on food and labor exchanges, including baked goods for live theater tickets.
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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.
When travelers from the West visit Ahmednagar, India on
their way to Avatar Meher Baba's tomb, they frequently
bring along reading materials
and—inevitably—some such folks end up leaving
books behind. Rather than let the volumes simply collect
dust, or—worse yet—be lost or destroyed, a
group of us living in the area decided to gather the
discards. We soon formed a small library.
However, it wasn't long before our athenaeum owned three
copies of Tolkien's Middle Earth trilogy and five volumes
of Watership Down, as well as surplus copies
of other popular books. The duplicates were of little use
to our library, and it was evident that—if they
continued to accumulate—there would soon be
no available shelf space for new titles.
Well, a bit of old-time bartering solved our literary
predicament. In the nearby village there's an English
bookstore that carries the latest best sellers. We arranged
to trade our duplicates (often in mint condition) for
credit toward new volumes of our choosing. The swap has now
been going strong for three years, and it's been
so successful that the shop has opened an entire used-book
section, so that other folks in the area can trade
in their reading materials, too!
Furthermore, since foreign magazines are very
expensive here, our newspaper deliverer has devised a
system by which, for a monthly fee of $1.20, he'll
circulate periodicals to his subscribers every day. I
contribute my old copies of such publications ... and
receive a fret, daily newspaper in return. (My
back issues of MOTHER are not part of this
round-robin arrangement, however. Those I keep!)
Downed Tree Removal
Firewood prices in our suburban locale are soaring, but so
far I haven't had to buy a single log. By using a bit of
old-time bartering sense, I've been able to fill the
woodbox and keep my bank account out of the red.
While commuting to college classes throughout the summer,
you see, I kept a lookout—especially after wind storms—for
downed limbs and fallen trees. Upon spying a possible
bonanza, I'd leave a note in the door of the residence giving my name, my telephone number, and an offer to haul
away the woody nuisance. Then, on my way home from class,
I'd call on the "customer" and—usually—clinch
the deal. (If no one was home, I'd get the owner's name
from the mailbox or a neighbor, and telephone later. In
some cases the householder might even contact me.)
Most folks appreciate the prompt removal of unsightly brush
or trees, and as a result of swapping my
service, I'm stocked up on fuel for the winter months!
Apple Cider Swapping
A couple of years back, when we moved up here to the Badger
State, my husband and I were glad to discover that six
prolific apple trees and a stored-in-the-basement grape
press were part of our homestead purchase package.
And—as you can well imagine—when bushels of
tart red beauties started dotting the limbs of the trees in
our miniature orchard, we yearned for an apple press which
would allow us to produce some sweet cider. Our depleted
savings, however, couldn't quite cope with the cost of a
This past autumn found us still pretty barren of surplus
cash, but we had located a reasonably priced cider
press kit. Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I
felt capable of handling the carpentry involved in
constructing the do-it-yourself apple crusher, but one of
our friends—an excellent carpenter by trade and an
avid winemaker in his spare time—came to our rescue
by proposing a deal: He'd share his woodworking
know-how in exchange for our inherited grape press.
The trading didn't end there, either. During the fall we
were given freezer space (for storing frozen apple cider
concentrate) in exchange for picking rights in our orchard. Photographs of our children, jars of honey, and a
chicken dinner were ours in return for bottles of the sweet
Now the apple season is coming to a close, but we'll long
treasure the goodies, and new friendships, that were
generated by our autumn cider-swapping deals.
Ad Campaign for Auto Work
Last spring, after my family had spent the winter coaxing
our Jeep pickup up and down the glorified creek bed that
serves as our driveway, the runabout was in dire need of a
thorough tune-up. Fortunately, when the cold northern winds
were finally beginning to depart from our region, I met a
couple who'd recently Invested in an auto clinic franchise.
And during the course of my conversation with the
entrepreneurs, I discovered that they knew very little
about advertising, the profession that had been my
livelihood for many years.
Well, I've always had a bent toward barter, so I
immediately suggested an even swap: a tune-up of our
overworked vehicle in exchange for a promotional plan for
their fledgling business.
The trade has been even more of a success than we expected!
Our rejuvenated Jeep purred contentedly along the
stream-bottom road all summer long, and our new-found
friends' enterprise has prospered with the help of a
six-month advertising campaign. But best of all, the
deal hasn't ended. When the family pickup required another
engine adjustment in early autumn, the auto clinic was due
for its second advertising planning session ... and we've
already arranged for a similar barter again next spring!
Food and Labor Exchange
Barter is alive and well, I'm glad to report, even in the
heart of what some folks might consider the cash capital of
the world: New York City. As a matter of fact—despite
our hometown's money-oriented atmosphere—our family of
three meets the basic needs of food and shelter by relying
almost entirely on swapping!
In exchange for "free" rent, for example, I spend a few
hours each week showing potential tenants the vacant suites
in our apartment building. My part of the deal also
includes keeping an eye on the brownstone's maintenance to
make sure all the services are running smoothly.
Our groceries are provided for by a similar setup. During
the week I volunteer a couple of my leisure hours at a
nearby natural foods restaurant, preparing meals as payment
for a daily "homecooked" dinner for my family. Moreover,
I'm able to use the eatery's kitchen facilities to bake
pies, cookies, and bread, which I then trade to a
store down the block for such staple items as rice, beans,
eggs, and tofu.
In fact, my goodies (many of the recipes for which came
straight out of MOTHER EARTH NEWS) have become so popular at that
shop's checkout counter that word of our swap has spread:
The local movie house now sells my delicacies at its
concession stand, while our family enjoys a cost-free film
each week ... and a classical repertory theater waives
our admission fees in return for a steady supply of my
In short, I've found that food and labor are among the best
of trading items. I feel I'm just beginning to
discover the possibilities!