This installment of Successful Swaps recounts trades that involved medical care, pheasant feathers, and public services.
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 services!
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!
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 kitchen.
"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 visit.
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 produce.
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!
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