Successful Swaps and Barter Agreements

Readers describe their city-country exchanges, food trading arrangements, and other barter agreements.

| March/April 1980

  • 062 successful swaps - Fotolia - PATRIMONIO DESIGNS
    You can exchange practically anything in a barter agreement.

  • 062 successful swaps - 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.

Firewood Trades

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 tradin'.

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 fire.

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 . . . .

City-Country Trades

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 involved!

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.
New York

Food Trading

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 edibles.

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!

Volos, Greece

Garment Barter

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 way.

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 more shut-eye.

My swap just goes to show that you can practice old-fashioned bartering "between the (assembly) lines" . . . even in a money-oriented environment!


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 decent swap!


Medical-Mechanical Swap

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 parts store!

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 young 'uns!!




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