Get ideas on bartering for goods and services through stories from these successful swapping homesteaders.
In Issue No. 37, Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of mankind’s better ideas — bartering for goods and services — 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,.
When my wife and I went back to the land, we bought some acreage with an old barn on it and set out to remodel the barn into a house. Keeping our costs down was a constant challenge, so we soon learned the advantage of bartering.
One neighbor traded us the use of his tractor and blade (to level our ground) for the hay from our four-acre field. Another local person dug a mile of waterline trenches for us with his backhoe in exchange for the use of our pasture to graze his cattle. When we graded out the driveway, we saved a large heap of topsoil that we were later able to trade to a friend for the installation of our carpet. And, being musicians, we gave enough guitar lessons to substantially reduce the cost of siding on our barn (as we still call it).
The swaps go on and on. After more than a year on our project we’ve met many new friends through barter . . . and the barn is really beginning to feel like home.
— Hank & Eulaine Blumenthal, Renton, Washington
Last year, when I became pregnant with our son, our happiness was marred by financial worries: We wanted good pre-natal care and a Lamaze delivery by a physician, but had neither the insurance coverage nor the cash with which to pay expensive medical fees.
As a handspinner and weaver, I had in the past — swapped my work for that of other craftspeople . . . so I thought, why not now?
I was surprised and delighted when my doctor — who evidently had money, but no weavings — agreed to take a custom-made tapestry in exchange for all his services. For the next six months I “grew” those two “babies”: one on my loom, and the other somewhat under it!
We still laugh about the fact that we got our little boy in a swap for a weaving.
— Christine Simms, Valparaiso, Indiana
A few years ago — at the age of forty — I decided to begin piano lessons . . . and I approached a neighbor who played very well — to see if she was willing to teach me. She was, and said she’d ask around to find out the going rate.
When my friend called back with a price, she went on to say that she’d much rather have some of the whole wheat flour that I ground fresh each time I baked a batch of bread.
What could be simpler? Naturally I agreed . . . and for more than three years now, I’ve walked to her house each Wednesday morning with a can of still faintly warm, stoneground whole wheat flour to exchange for her patience during my struggles with the mysteries of the keyboard. Conveniently enough, any inflation in the value of my neighbor’s services is neatly balanced by a similar rise in the worth of my flour.
The barter idea spread from there, and now her family plants and harvests a garden plot in our front yard in exchange for our use of their pickup truck to occasionally haul wood for our cookstove, chicken manure for our gardens, wood chips for mulching, and anything else that may come up.
Our mutual interests and work projects-which we share through barter have drawn us closer together than we would’ve ever been just over morning coffee.
— Barbara Houghton, McFarland, Wisconsin
This past spring as I was learning to weave baskets, I discovered that willow branches could be used exclusively in the craft. Then, as basket making became more and more fun, I realized that I needed a greater supply of shoots than my single willow tree could provide . . . and soon found out that people were willing to have their willow trees trimmed, and frequently offered treats such as flowers or free dinners in return.
After I had produced several wicker creations, I went to visit some potters who immediately offered me stoneware plates and flowerpots for the as yet unseen baskets . . . simply because they weren’t factory-made.
I was amazed: Not only is the raw material I use natural and free, but my baskets — which are a delight to make — have turned out to be attractive swap items. Among other things, I’ve already bartered for jars of homemade foods and preserves, painted Easter eggs, and manure hauled to my garden.
It’ll be exciting to see what’ll turn up next, since I now prefer to trade rather than sell my wicker wares.
— Jill Campbell, East Lansing, Michigan
I have a large lawn around my home, and I normally set the cut grass aside to rot for later use as compost in my vegetable patch.
During the last Australian summer particularly January — Adelaide was afflicted by a locust plague which obviously hurt many farmers and, one day, an elderly gentleman came around and asked if he could have my fresh lawn cuttings. To my surprise, he turned out to be our local milkman (whom I’d never seen before, since his rounds are finished by 5 a.m.).
The dairyman was short of fresh green forage to feed his cows because of the locust infestation and although I had always kept my cuttings for use as fertilizer-under the circumstances, I told him to help himself. The milkman quickly offered cow manure in exchange, which I accepted.
We traded grass for manure for three months straight and the cuttings helped the milkman out of a very difficult period . . . while my vegetable garden had never looked richer!
The locusts are now gone, and the cows (none the wiser about our little swap) are busily crunching newly grown Incerne [alfalfa] . . . while I’m using my newly discovered talent for barter to get our home rewired.
— Denys Pasitschnyk, Adelaide, Australia
My husband recycles “junk” auto batteries . . . and makes a good living at it. Furthermore, his trade often exposes him to some first-rate deals on cars in the hundreds of service stations that he visits each week.
For some time now, Paul has wanted a boat but couldn’t figure out how to get one without the added burden of monthly payments. Then one night, the solution became clear.
The man who had just the boat my husband wanted was in the market for a Cadillac. And one of our friends wanted to swap a van for our “clean” ’68 Chevy . . . while someone else Paul knew (200 miles away) really wanted a van, and was willing to swap his late model Cadillac. When the man with the boat saw this fine Cadillac, he not only gave us his boat, motor, and trailer, but threw in his pickup camper as well!
We got more than we bargained for . . . and each of the four parties was pleased with his deal. Paul and I have bartered many times in the past, but this is the “top swap” we’ve made so far!
— Judy Lambert, Cudahy, Wisconsin
I’m a single mother with four youngsters, so — of course — there’s never any extra money lying around. My success at barter is made possible by my ability to sew and alter clothing . . . and it’s good to see how many people that don’t sew have items that I certainly can use.
I’ve mended jeans to put vegetables on our table, made a coat in exchange for fresh meat, and hemmed garments for (believe it or not) a sewing machine repairman in exchange for a tune-up on my “Singer”.
Every time that I think my family won’t get what it needs, a swap situation arises . . . and behold, there it is!
— Patricia Smith, Havre, Montana
When I decided to make my move back to the land, I was faced with a need for equipment that I hadn’t even thought of before. But I wasn’t willing to stay trapped in my city job any longer to save the necessary money. So I began a “swap campaign” to get rid of my old-lifestyle “stuff” and acquire my new gear.
With a stereo, electric guitar, microphone. and my grandfather’s twistbarrel shotgun, I “bought” an $1,100 gasoline generator which provides me with electricity without the services of the local nuclear-powered utility.
Later, I traded another gun for a wood stove that I subsequently swapped again (along with a third gun, a banjo, a tape player, and $100) for a team of mules! I also bartered away my motorcycle for all the logs that it took to build my house.
And now I exchange my labor for the balance owed on our land to the dairy farmer who sold us the place. Believe me, there’s no better way to pay off your mortgage!
Without all this bartering, we would still be back in the city making money instead of hay!
— John Soule, Redwood, N.Y.
Although we’ve made our move to the country, it’s still necessary for me to maintain my city job . . . and a lot of our bartering is done with our urban friends. One fellow, for instance, eagerly trades his home-ground flour for our country-fresh eggs . . . and another makes wine from the apples, peaches, blackberries, and strawberries we bring him in return for half the finished product.
Last winter I delivered a cord of firewood to a city dweller in exchange for some much needed electrical work on our house. And this past spring my wife worked several days at a local greenhouse in return for all the plants and seeds we could use to start our large garden. Even as I write this, my better half is at work on an afghan which she’s going to trade for an AKC-registered schnauzer pup.
We don’t think there’s anything spectacular about our trades: just affairs of everyday living. But to say “do you barter?” seems much friendlier than “how much?”.
— Don Wesemann, De Soto, Missouri
Our first year on the land was the fourth year of a drought . . . so we needed a heap of mulch to hold the meager rainfall in the soil around our crops. Hay and straw prices were “sky high” and our cash reserves were low.
One thing we could depend on, though, was the harvest of vegetables from our land . . . and sure enough, for the promise of a basketful of produce every week till frost, a neighbor gladly gave us about 70 bales of spoiled hay he had lying around.
We were delighted, but soon discovered that we were still short of mulch. Then we noticed a tree trimming crew at work along a power company’s right-of-way. We had heard that some tree trimmers sold their “wastes”, so we approached them and asked how we could get a few loads. To our surprise, they were happy to give us the bark and leaves (mostly oak) to save the five-dollar fee they’d have to pay if they hauled it all to the landfill dump. We got enough mulch for two years . . . free!
In our year in the country, we’ve also been able to offer copies of the gardening book we’ve written in exchange for rhubarb plants, winter onion sets, and some ground cover.
Furthermore, tilling a neighbor’s garden got us all kinds of indoor and outdoor plants in return. And other local people are glad to take some of our vegetables in return for the sacks that we desperately need for the produce that we sell at a nearby farmers’ market. And we’ve conveniently discovered that country families with small children are happy to swap baby-sitting services with us too!
Only one year on the land, and so far a good part of our success is due to our “trade relations”!
— Don & Jan Riggenbach, Glenwood, Iowa
I’ve baked a lot of homemade bread over the years . . . mostly for personal use and as “gifts” to friends. Well, when I read in MOTHER about all that swapping going on, I decided to try and barter my bread for other groceries.
Finally — after two weeks — I worked up enough nerve to pop the question to the owners of the small general store in town . . . and was I surprised! As it turned out, good ole “Wonder” was about to go on strike, and the owners needed bread delivered immediately! I hadn’t planned on baking as much as I did . . . but what could I do when both local folks and weekend vacationers kept taking the bread home with them!
Now, on the average, I bake eight loaves of bread, a dozen sandwich rolls, and twenty cinnamon rolls every day . . . which, on a monthly basis, I exchange for more than half the groceries that my family-of-four consumes.
My bread is guaranteed not to be perfect every time . . . but my “customers” still love it!
— Diane Petty, Washington, California
My brothers and I had made plans to build a house on the land that we owned before we moved out of the city dwellings which we had been occupying. But around last February-when inflation really began to soar in Ghana — we had to take quick action if we were to fulfill our dreams. But how do you go into the bush without any food or even a tent?
Fortunately, in a small hamlet near our tract of land lived a seasoned hunter with his three wives and children. So we went to him and asked if we could be given a room while we built our own home. In return, we offered to bring him certain items — such as kerosene, calcium carbide, and ammunition — which he and his harem could not easily get from the nearest village.
As time went by, we realized that the old man was providing us with more than we had given him. It was then that I hit upon a bright Idea: Since they are illiterate, why not help educate the old man and his clan and thereby, perhaps, improve their lives?
I now teach them basic hygiene . . . have started them on fish culture . . . and once took the old man to a big town to open a bank account with the money he had kept in his mattress! In gratitude, he now teaches my brothers trapping and other bush crafts.
Now an offer to MOTHER’s readers: I will swap African textiles and other objects (plus room and board here in Kumasi, for anybody who happens to pass this way) in exchange for some of those mouth watering books from MOTHER’s Bookshelf, or other items such as a rototiller or a tent.
— Kwabena A. Sarpong, Kumasi, Ghana
Two years ago we purchased our 5-acre homestead site here in the San Juan Islands of Washington and began saving for the day we could make the “big move”. Our attempts to “cut corners” while we remain in the city have become a serious game for us, with all “winnings” going straight into our house and land kitty. Barter is now at the top of our list of ways to save.
We’ve joined a baby-sitting co-op, and now exchange child care instead of cash . . . and we trade clothing with friends and relatives to save even more.
Then, since we’re not very mechanically inclined, we’ve swapped the use of our “tired” bulldozer for or the welding and repair work needed to make it run smoothly. We’ve also traded a handmade cribbage board for a tune-up on our truck, and two broken-down lawn mowers for the labor to repair our power generator motor.
To get our orchard area cleared before we could possibly attend to it, we gave a grove of alders to some local boy scouts who felled, cut, and removed the trees to sell as firewood (after they brushed out the area or us).
For some woodworking I did in a beauty shop, we get free haircuts . . . and we’ll soon be the owners of half a pig from a swap we made for a few pieces of stained glass.
Meanwhile, out on our land, a friend is providing muscle power to help put in our new home’s foundation and case our hand-dug well. In exchange, we’ll do the same for him (plus give him the use of our bulldozer) when his cabin goes up.
Through hard work and barter, the day we move to our warm and cozy log house moves closer and closer.
— Bill & Pat Buttery, Anacortes, Washington