The Successful Swaps column shares success stories in bartering, including stories on bartering a stay in a rustic cabin, thinning trees and hand-carved furniture.
In Issue No. 37, Bill Wodrasks 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 and skill-and-labor exchanges," said Bill. "Maybe MOTHER could even swap subscriptions for contributions to the department." "You're on!" we replied . . . and announced our still-standing offer. Anyone (and that means you!) who sends us a short (200 words or less) account of an actual barter that's good enough to print will receive — as the folks on the following pages have — a twelve-month subscription (or extension of same) to THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS®. THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS®, Inc., P.O. Box 70, Hendersonville, N.C. 28739.
When I was growing up in the city, barter was an unknown term, but now I couldn't get along without it! For instance, I've traded houseplants for jelly, old clothing for mending, and surplus corn for fresh salmon. And in the winter — since we don't own the kind of heavy vehicle suitable for travel on snow packed roads — our neighbor rims errands for us in exchange for baby-sitting.
Last (and best) of all are the barters that occur between my husband and me . . . like a backrub, for help with caulking, or a thorough shampoo for doing the dishes. These husband-wife swaps are fun, and they usually make for a better day.
— Lynn Moen
My first barter arrangement couldn't have worked out any better. It was the year after I'd bought my property, and there were three main factors involved:  I was still desperately broke from the 10-acre purchase,  the sugar maples on the place had been logged many years before, which left an "overstory" of beech and red maple, and  I needed the old logging road on the property graded and graveled.
Hence, I struck a deal with a local logging contractor who wanted to harvest the beech and red maple (which I wanted thinned anyway), and who in return gave my old logging road the work it needed.
At that point, I'd already benefited twice . . . but the story wasn't over yet, because the tree tops that were left behind made excellent stove wood, with little or no splitting required. Since there were more tops than I had time to cut and store, I swapped some to a neighbor for his occasional welding services.
So — with a four-way win on my very first barter — you can be sure I'll continue to rely on this medium of exchange in the future!
— Peter Benison
Montgomery Center, VT
I live and work in Massachusetts, so I'm only able to enjoy my cabin in New Hampshire on sporadic weekends and vacations. I'd been contemplating the possibility of a barter situation — work for housing — but I didn't want to give up my use of the property.
One day I casually mentioned my situation to a friend, and his face immediately lit up. He told me he was starting college soon in a nearby New Hampshire town and needed an inexpensive place to live. We soon decided it could be mutually beneficial to make that work-for-housing trade I'd thought of, and he whole-heartedly agreed to bartering a stay in a rustic cabin. Our deal would allow me to still visit my cabin on weekends and holidays and feel comfortable about it. (He goes home to see his friends and family most weekends, anyhow.)
I pay the mortgage, he pays the utilities, and after only one month I have a new back porch and deck complete with shingled roof . . . plus the security of knowing that someone's watching over the property in my absence. And my friend has a rustic cabin to live in, rent free.
— Patti Illsley
Four years ago I bought 25 acres of unimproved land just outside our Colorado town. I was happy to see the value of the property increase as time went by, but the cost of house construction in our area ($30,000 and up ) grow even more quickly.
When my wife and I moved onto the land with a 20-year-old trailer and temporary utilities, we dreamed of building a "real home", but after five months I hadn't even passed the planning department, septic system, and building permit stage. Our dream seemed unreachable.
Then a friend introduced us to a building contractor who was looking for acreage on which to put up a house of his own . . . and we worked out a perfect deal! We gave him five acres on the western end of our property, and he built us a beautiful little custom house on our favorite part of the remaining acreage. We were even able to design, decorate, and decide details for our dream home throughout its construction.
Both parties ended up very pleased with this swap (and with Its excellent financial advantages). I've made a lot of trades in my life but this is my biggest and best of all.
— L.K. Meens
Grand Junction, CO
With a new baby to care for — a baby who hardly ever sleeps in the daytime — I was unable to put in much of a vegetable garden last year. But I did find time (mostly at night) to work in my darkroom and pursue my hobby of photography.
On the other hand, my neighbor — who did have time to put in a garden — was more than happy to trade her fresh, organically grown vegetables for a few 8 inch by 10 inch portraits of her three children. So for a couple of nights' "work" in my bathroom darkroom I received about a ton pounds each of beets and onions, handfuls of carrots and green beans, and several ears of corn, as well as raspberries, grapes, and three cantaloupes!
I've also traded an old twin-size mattress for six rabbit hutches, and — since I own a dehydrator — I regularly swap dried fruit for the canned variety with friends down the road. And I trade my excess bunnies to some other neighbors for fresh eggs.
Bartering beats buying, that's for sure!
— Ann Mongelli
Grants Pass, OR
As a widow with three youngsters, I have trouble getting my social security check to last the month. Not until I began reading "Successful Swaps", though, did I even consider barter as an alternative to hard cash.
By early last winter, I'd worked up enough "barter confidence" to go ahead and make my first deal. The situation was that my gas dryer needed to be converted to accept bottled gas . . . and when I asked the local dealer who was to perform the work if he would accept some of my young pullets in trade for his parts and labor, he agreed. This was my beginning . . . and I felt great!
Since I "took the plunge", I've also traded a tent for a good lawn mower, housecleaning for two beautiful winter coats for my daughters, and 18 pints of my bread-and-butter pickles for a like amount of green beans and applesauce.
Much of my barter would be considered "small-scale" (like three quarts of tomatoes for five pounds of sugar), but each swap really helps out . . . and it's a lot of fun besides! So thank you, MOTHER . . . even though I can't thank you enough for "turning me on" to barter!
— Christine Althaus
I have to admit that when my husband, David, and I first moved to the English Valley here in Iowa, we used to get strange looks from some of the local people. That was because David didn't — and still doesn't — hold down a regular 40-hours-a-week job. But now, after trading with these folks for five years, we've earned their respect for the lifestyle we've chosen.
Our best bartering item is the beautiful hand-carved furniture we make out of the slab wood David brings home — free for the hauling — from his part-time sawmill job. Last winter, for instance, my daughter and I exchanged some of the furniture for dancing lessons.
We also got a much needed harness in trade for making axe and cant book handles . . . and our baby-sitters trade their services for home-churned butter.
One standing swap that I have every year with a neighbor of ours is all the apples I can put up in exchange for my help on chicken butchering day.
Right now we're working on trading a milk goat for an accordion!
— RoJene O'Mara
North English, IA
We moved to rural Vermont four years ago with little money . . . and have since discovered the benefits of barter as a means of meeting needs and neighbors.
When we couldn't figure out how to repay favors (such as loans of tools), we baked bread or pies which — we learned — were always welcomed and appreciated gifts.
Then, not long ago, a man who spends summers nearby — and didn't have facilities for canning — brought us his vegetables to "put up" . . . and we got to keep half of the final product for our efforts. The summer resident then asked if we needed some furniture, which we accepted in return for weekly "payments" of bread and cookies.
Now that our chickens are laying, we trade eggs for honey and milk from a local farmer. Another neighbor (in his seventies) lavishes us with smelt and perch during lee-fishing season . . . so we fix the dinner and he comes to share it with us. When the same elderly gentleman's garden produces a surplus, he brings us baskets of tomatoes to make into sauce, and — again — we divide the bounty.
We also trade magazines . . . doubting our available reading material at half the price. And, frequently, time is traded for time . . . as with the cutting and stacking of wood in exchange for carpentry labor.
Barter, in short, allows us to share surplus food, eliminate waste, and discover our own resourcefulness.
— Pat Noll
I never thought that I possessed any skills or goods that would be worth bartering, but I recently learned that you don't need homegrown vegetables or a way with a hammer to enjoy successful swaps. Spare time and a desire to help have been the only requirements for my trades.
My first experience occurred when my friend and neighbor — Maria — needed some help with last-minute housecleaning before the arrival of unexpected company. I was glad to pitch in but I really couldn't accept her offer of cash payment. After all, what are friends for? However, Maria wanted to reward me in some way, so we came to an agreement that pleased us both. I had always admired her beautiful handmade jewelry . . . so, in return for my work, she guided me in making a few simple pieces. I kept two of my creations and sent a choker to my sister in Ohio. That swap went a long way!
In the months that followed, I received some much needed curtains for a few hours of baby-sitting . . . and when I helped clean out part of Maria's basement to make room for a pottery studio, we found a lovely wall plaque that is now hanging in my home (and I'll soon be getting free pottery lessons!).
With bartering, everything seems to work out evenly . . . without "driving a hard bargain"!
— Linda Allison Klem
Although I've been a city boy most of my life, I've incorporated barter into my lifestyle as much as possible. When I was first married, I traded yard work and lawn care for half my monthly rent . . . and through the years I've continued to keep an eye out for potential swaps, such as having the electrical service upgraded in my house after I helped my neighbor lay a new concrete driveway and garage floor.
Last summer, my family realized a longtime ambition with the purchase of a country home . . . and I began to trade in earnest!
A neighbor who knew that electronics was one of my favorite hobbles asked me to do some repair work on two television sets in exchange for one bred doe rabbit and a second doe with a two-week-old litter of eleven offspring. I was soon in the "bunny business" deep enough to provide all the rabbit my family could eat!
Then a nearby dairy farmer asked me what I'd charge him for a couple of bred does. We worked out a swap for his next born bull calf . . . and he threw in some field corn free for the picking.
Just after that, I arranged a trade with a fellow I work with: half a dozen meat rabbits for one of his feeder pigs (and then I surprised him with a gift subscription to MOTHER!). Of course, the sow is now happily eating the free corn that I gathered from the dairy farmer's fields.
Our rabbits have certainly multiplied . . . but in the most extraordinary ways!
— Gary A. Helmic
My husband and I — though still tied to the city rat race — have a house in the mountains that we go to for our real living one day, while driving along a hilly road not far from our "retreat", we saw a sign that said "Apples", so-since we grow only grapefruits and oranges down here in Florida — we pulled right in and quickly got to know the friendly woman who owned the orchard.
After a personal tour of her cold cellar, with its hundreds of jars of preserved foods, and a taste of her homemade grape wine, we made an agreement to exchange our citrus fruit for her apples.
Over the years we've brought her bags of oranges, grapefruits, avocados, and anything else that happens to be in season down here . . . and we've enjoyed not only her apples but her rhubarb, her good advice, and her friendship.
Whenever we smell one of our apple pies baking, or chomp down into one of those fresh juicy fruits, we know we've made a good trade.
— Lida Iles
This past spring I moved to a country house that sits right in the middle of an old vineyard which still produces bumper crops. Since I know very little about how to harvest and preserve grapes, I was a bit overwhelmed by the abundance of fruit that later began to appear on the vines.
As soon, however, as a friend of mine let on that she could make jam, I knew there was going to be a swap. And sure enough . . . now, for every bushel of grapes that she picks and makes Into jam for me, she gets to keep a bushel for her own use.
Furthermore, her husband is a cement contractor who loves to make homemade wine. So he gladly agreed to help me lay some cement in the kiln room of my future pottery workshop . . . in exchange for the grapes that he'll transform into his favorite beverage.
Now I can't wait to get my pottery going, because that will open up many more bartering opportunities for me!
— Gary Smith
Our eleven-year-old daughter has always wished for a horse of her own, and two years ago — when we lived in a town house in upstate New York — my husband and I decided to make her dreams come true.
We all knew, however, that a horse wouldn't be welcomed by our condominium neighbors, and keeping the animal at a local stable would've cost us $60 or more every month . . . so we began a search for an inexpensive solution to our horse-boarding problem.
We started off by stuffing notes in the mailboxes of nearby farmers, asking them if they had any pasture to rent. Our answer came from a couple who owned an old farm adjacent to our housing development.
These neighbors offered us free use of their five acres if we would cut weeds, fix fences, and make necessary repairs in their old barn. The landowners supplied some of the wire for the fencing and even resurrected an old hand pump so we could use an ancient well in the barn. We provided the rest of the materials, the tools, the labor . . . and the horse.
What a low-cost, low-risk way of achieving I "the impossible dream!"
— Sharon L. Naismith
I'm an elementary school teacher and I've been trying to educate my students about recycling and saving our resources. Since firsthand experience usually works best, I decided to have a "Recycle Day" in my classroom.
All the children understood that — with their parents' permission — they could bring any usable items from their homes that might otherwise be destined for the garbage can. Our plan was to set out all the "treasures" in the morning for everyone to see . . . and do some serious trading that afternoon.
What a success! My students brought in all sorts of things to trade: books, magazines, records, radios craft objects, stuffed animals, toys, games, etc. The children quickly learned the value and tun of trading rather than dumping.
We agreed to have another swap event soon . . . and everyone's looking excitedly forward to our next "Recycle Day".
— Greg Hanson