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.
I’ve learned plenty about swappin’ since moving to the Ozarks
a year ago. For one thing, a person can meet lots of interesting
folks when he or she barters . . . and there’s just no beating
that good feeling that comes from doing a little neighborly
For instance, since the piece of hillside I now call “home”
includes a number of densely wooded acres, lots of time gets
spent with chain saw and Stickler, clearing the land and
splitting the trees into firewood . . . and that oak timber is
ideal for tradin’! So when I needed aerial photographs
in order to design the plans for a proposed road, I paid a visit
to the manager of the local photo shop (who was rumored to be an
avid amateur pilot as well). A little dickering, and — before I
knew it — we were cruising at 1,000 feet with shutters snapping!
Several days later, while I studied the up-to-date lofty shots,
the moonlighting aviator was basking in front of a crackling
Before long I’ll be burning some of that sliced oak myself:
Because, no sooner had I spotted an ad for a used Franklin stove
than I found myself swappin’ again. The owner of the old
woodburner had purchased a more recent, airtight model . . . and
he was more than willing to exchange his black-bellied cooker for
a cord or two of wood.
Now . . . if I can just find someone with some insulated
stovepipe that he or she’d like to trade . . . .
Trying to employ MOTHER EARTH NEWS-type principles, particularly the
age-old practice of swapping, while living in the city can be
downright difficult at times. Consequently, when two good friends
of mine moved to the country, I enviously bid the new
homesteaders goodbye . . . not realizing that their
switch to greener parts would bring a little of “the good life”
back to my urban confines.
Our trading arrangement came about when I first visited their
farmstead over a year ago. While relaxing in the mountain
stillness I lamented the fact that — in my rat-race
community — firewood was expensive, food prices outrageous, and
personal services almost impossible to come by. My rural
companions, in turn, complained that their jaunt to town once a
month was costly in gas . . . not to mention that a whole day’s
labor was sacrificed for the eight-hour trip. After a little
dickering, we worked out a swap that profits everyone
Now, before I leave my citified life style for a sojourn in
the peaceful countryside — a move which occurs every four weeks
or so — I shop for staple goods, pick up store-bought items (such
as gifts, tools, or clothes), and make any needed phone calls (to
save the toll charge) for my rural friends. In short, I do for
them whatever they used to do in town. And, in return, I
come home from my monthly visits laden with firewood, home-baked
bread, jams, jellies, and canned goods galore . . . and
occasionally a hand knit sweater or two!
Our swap — begun over a year ago — is still continuing. My
back-to-the-land friends have saved gas and time, while I’ve
gained a warm hearth and a full belly.
Ten years ago my husband and I established a new
lifestyle based on barter while living on a sailboat in Greece.
Our main swap during the time was to trade packets of vegetable
seeds (sent to us from Oregon and France) to gardening landlubber
friends . . . in exchange for a partial share of the resulting
Then, after we eventually traded our homemade boat for a
generous plot of rich land with a hand-built cottage on it, we
developed a thriving greenery of our own . . . and now swap
our fresh produce for fish and needed food staples.
We’ve spread the spirit of barter in our new home, too. Each
year my husband paints oil portraits of a neighboring shepherd’s
children (the family lives in the nearby mountains), and we are
rewarded with sheep dung for our olive and fruit trees . . . as
well as thick natural wool for my loom!
Although this trade may not surpass swappin’ for a
free homestead in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, it shows how barter can invade
even drab, corporate-run factory life . . . albeit in a small
I work the night shift — and have for the past 20 years — in a
plant where many of the employees rent working clothes to protect
our street garb from the oily, grimy, and generally
tough-on-clothing conditions in the mill. The weekly expense is a
real strain on many of my buddies’ budgets . . . but, thanks to
tradin’, I save my duds and my paycheck!
In exchange for collecting the once-a-week garment rental fee
from my co-laborers (the delivery driver who usually makes such
collections naturally prefers to keep daylight hours), I get my
coveralls free! Now I’m shielded from the grime and a good bit
richer as well, and my parcel-pushing friend catches a little
My swap just goes to show that you can practice old-fashioned
bartering “between the (assembly) lines” . . . even in a
Elder Care Trading
I’ve been bartering for years! But my best trade yet has been
with an elderly lady in my neighborhood. Our swap: I bake
homemade goodies for her, do simple chores around the house, and
offer my time and companionship . . . in return she gives me
items which she no longer wants. As a result, I’ve acquired
everything needed for home food preservation, from a pressure
cooker and cold packer to a meat grinder and food mill . . .
including over 100 canning jars!
In addition, this same deal has earned me a portable gasoline
generator and a bundle of 1920 teachers’ manuals (full of
“up-to-date” ideas). My most valuable “pay,” however, is the
wealth of advice about old-timey methods of. living the simple
life that my neighbor has imparted to me . . . as well as the
friendship that has evolved between us.
I soon hope to be swappin’ chores with more elderly folks in
my community, because I’m just discovering what a vast and
vanishing resource such people are. Years of know-how can be
acquired by just caring a little. Now that’s what I call a right
After the home birth of our first child, I not only had to
adjust to the unfamiliar role of proud parent . . . but also to a
whopping $450 prenatal care and delivery bill! Over the next two
years — while the initial balance had shrunk by only $100 — our
family (and the debt) had grown again.
Feeling the weight of my obligation but lacking the sorely
needed funds, I hesitantly proposed a swap to our obstetrician: I
had noticed that she owned a real clunker of a car . . . so I
offered to apply my considerable mechanical skill to try to fix
it. The physician’s initial response to the plan — “Well, if you
must” — was less than encouraging. But after thinking it over the
next time she had to drive that vehicle, she headed right to the
Since the day our swap was made, I’ve rescued the doctor on
the road several times and successfully overhauled her car’s
automatic transmission (a job I’d never even attempted before!).
Now, the doc’s runabout isn’t a lemon by anyone’s standards . . .
and we have agreed that I am her personal, on-call mechanic for
as long as she’s the family physician. If it weren’t for MOTHER EARTH NEWS,
I’d never have thought of offering a tune-up in exchange for two