The Successful Swaps column shares success stories in bartering, including stories on bartering for livestock, boarding horses, lawn mowers, and harvesting excess vegetables.
THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Inc., P.0, Box 70, Hendersonville, N.C. 28739
In MOTHER EARTH NEWS issue 37, Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of humankind's better ideas of bartering 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 who sends us a short account of an actual barter that gets printed in this column (write THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Hendersonville, North Carolina) will receive a 12-month subscription (new or extended) to MOTHER.
Slowly but surely we're on that road that'll take us back to the land. And barter, swappin', horse tradin — 'no matter what you call it — has already been a way of life for us for many years.
For example, I needed a lawn mower and some sort of machine to work my garden . . . so I swapped my dirt bike (and some bucks) for a Massey Ferguson 12-horsepower garden tractor with a multitude of attachments. The tractor — even with all 12 horses pulling — just wasn't strong enough to work my large hillside garden, though, so I traded even up for a John Deere 630 tractor complete with two bottom plows, mower, buzz saw, and discs. The discs turned out to be too large and I bartered them for a .22 rifle. And the rifle was then exchanged for a pig. It never seems to end.
Later I sold the tractor (without the attachments) outright, paid off a bill that required cash, bought a Ferguson 30 tractor, and even acquired a wood stove! After cleaning and repairing the stove I swapped it and some greenbacks for a front-end loader for the Ferguson 30.
I could probably go on forever. The trading sure does. Even my children switch toys and games with a friend down the road. The toys may be used, but you'd think it was Christmas when the small fry bring home their new stash of treasures.
— Keep on swappin'!
Joseph A. DiMarzo
Rather than waiting till we'd worked long enough to save that "nest egg" needed to buy our own farm, Greg (my husband) and I said the heck with it, and decided to move to the country without money. And off we went to Wisconsin to rent a farm and give it a go.
Needless to say, money was as scarce as the Volkswagen customers we needed for Greg's business. But — if you're desperate enough and want to get back to the land badly enough — you can find a way. Barter was our way . . . and we swapped and traded ourselves right into a fledgling farm life with its attendant rough times, good times, and all the times in between.
Three days of having in the 103 degrees July sun for a neighbor lady netted us our first animals, three little pigs: Ruth, Rubberband, and Rose. Then the woman's son had to have the engine of his VW rebuilt. It needed pistons, cylinders, and — most of all — help from ole Greg (who could probably slap an engine together with great success using only his toes). We did need a beef calf to start a meat self sufficiency cycle . . . so the VW work-for-beef trade worked out beautifully and a 300-pound Hereford (Ferdinand) joined our growing family.
Next came a brake job on another guy's beetle. It just so happened that the man had the most beautiful goats in the county . . . and too many of them to keep peace with his landlord. So, once the brakes had been installed, we loaded our bounty of beauty (Ginger and three kids) into our bus and roared home.
Soon enough — what with all that pig, goat, and calf manure being slung around — our clothes started to get a little on the ripe side. Times were tight, though, and laundromats weren't on the budget. But Greg came through again, by trading a couple cords of firewood for a wringer washing machine.
As the animals multiplied and needed new pens, Greg swapped an oil change with the wife of a sawmill owner for a load of slab lumber (the pieces with the bark left on after boards are cut from logs). This slab wood makes for rather classy pens . . . which the pigs are now digging halfway to China to get out of!
Not all of our swapped — for animals are still with us. We have lost a few, sadly enough . . . and we've — on occasion — traded one of our animals for another. But, overall, what all our swapping has boiled down to is a farm with a lot of animals, a lot of fun, and the fact that some great friendship and help has come from the majority of our trades.
I leave those of you "out there" who are working and waiting, trying to accumulate your own country-sometime nest egg, with this thought. Do it now! Don't wait. You can make it without the bucks! It ain't easy . . . but — through swapping and working with your neighbors — a system will develop that can provide you with most of what you'll need, without much money, and with a bunch more fun!
— Elizabeth Coffin
A simple but successful swap solution to a problem of overgrowth turned into a workable trade in our community.
Two years ago the mothers In our area decided to start a supervised play group for our pre-school-age children. The assortment of youngsters moved from home to home each week that first winter . . . which — while a workable arrangement — was a little wearing for both the children and the parents.
By the next fall, however — when the play school had more tots, toys, tools, and supervising mother — some other arrangements just had to be made. It was at this time that we offered a trade to our community firemen. They had just been given an old one-room schoolhouse which — coincidentally — needed curtains, a paint job, and a good old-fashioned cleanup. You can guess the rest.
That was over a year ago, and now every Tuesday morning the preschool bunch gathers at the nicely painted, freshly curtained, always spotless firehouse. We all function a whole lot better with the benefits of extra room, a piano, a blackboard, pint-size tables and benches, even playground equipment. Definitely a successful swap for all concerned!
— Linda Rappel
When does common sense and just plain living together stop . . . and barter take over?
A friend needed some fenceposts for his horse pasture. At the same time I was thinning out my locust trees . . . and I also happened to need some manure for my garden. No big discussion. Now his horses are fenced and my garden did just fine, thank you (thanks to his horses, actually). Is that barter?
My neighbor across the road has a plow. I've got a tractor. Each spring both of our gardens are mysteriously ready for planting. Again, barter or common sense? This same neighbor has all the equipment necessary for a small maple syrup operation. Unfortunately, he also has arthritis. So I gather the firewood and sap, he boils the juice into syrup . . . and — as a result — both our families have some mighty fine syrup each year. Same question: barter or just country-style common sense?
If my neighbor or I need a hand with a job, we both know we can find it right across the road. I needed windowpanes for my cold frame. He wasn't using his . . . they're "mine" now. He needed stovepipe that I wasn't using. It's now "his". If our wives need a cup of buttermilk or a spool of thread, It's there for the asking.
Barter, swaps, common sense . . . how 'bout just plain living together in harmony!
— Andrew Yavornitzky
As a domiciliary midwife I probably have the ultimate occupation suited to bartering. Since running my practice does include a certain amount of cash expenditures, however, I've developed some useful guidelines for trading.
 Never take in trade anything you don't like, don't want, or have absolutely no use for. You'll only end up feeling ripped off . . . and this will cause resentment In your later dealings.
 Be explicit in your agreements. Specify what you're gonna do and what you expect in return.
 Set a time limit for the completion of the exchange.
In addition, I only barter for 50 percent of my total fee, excluding travel expenses. (The companies that sell me surgical Instruments and other tools of my trade just haven't gotten into bartering yet, and I do have to handle enough cash to pay them.)
With all of these points in mind, though, I've happily traded my services for meat and honey, electrical and carpentry work, a down comforter and covers, three lovely matched bookcases, and even custom designed table mats. Those Items not eaten (um-mmm!) still serve to remind me of the joyous occasions when I've been privileged to assist a baby into this world.
— Kay Matthews
Thetford Center, Vermont
Our homestead is located in a steep and rocky river canyon . . . much longer on rugged physical beauty than on productivity. We find, however, that we can rely on barter to enrich our diet and — at the same time — enrich our lives.
This year we traded some of our excess orchard produce (we do grow some things) for a weaner pig. Two days of our labor for a nearby farmer then netted us enough wheat to keep us in bread for a whole year and feed out the pig. (Another farmer had agreed to grind that grain for us if we cleaned his barn and hauled out the manure. Haul it we did . . . straight to our garden and orchard!)
The pig is ready to butcher now and just thinking of that dollar-free smoked ham and bacon sets my mouth to watering.
True self-sufficiency may be the goal for some folks but — for us anyway — a degree of interdependence through barter has led to a wider circle of good friends in our rural community.
— Bob & Sylvia Cockrell
Some 28 years ago, as our first Alaskan winter (and it looked like a hungry one) approached and the last slab was nailed to the roof of our new log house . . . I realized that the summer had allowed us to do three major things:  Locate, file on, and develop a habitable homestead.  Prepare enough meat (some 1,500 pounds of smoked and/or kippered and canned salmon, plus bear sausage, ham, etc., and moose jerky) to face the winter.  Find the bottom of the sock the money used to be stashed away in!
As a result of number three, and with the potato and vegetable harvest getting in full swing in the Matanuska Valley, I hiked on down, found a spud farmer in need of help, and made a "deal".
Two weeks later — tired but happy — I returned to my homestead with a little something for that empty sock, and the rest of the "deal". Our family would get to police the harvest fields — with the use of the farmer's truck — and retrieve all those potatoes, carrots, etc., that were either missed by the pickers or damaged by the harvesting machinery.
We ended up with some three thousand pounds of veggies as a result of our cleanup campaign. Dang! I knew when we were building that root cellar we should've made it bigger!
— C. Lynn Wright
Recently one of my friends in the country fell off her horse and sprained her ankle. She asked me it my family and I would stay with her overnight while she convalesced, and we — of course — were delighted to agree.
In the morning I did my friend's light cleaning chores, washed the dishes, made the beds, etc. . . . in return for a delicious breakfast — country-fresh eggs, toast, freshly brewed coffee — for my family and me. The wonderful meal more than "paid" for my services.
But my best barter was struck when I agreed to babysit for the three children of some friends while the parents went to dinner and a movie. Imagine their surprise when they returned and asked me my fee . . . and I said, "A big family dinner". Not only did we enjoy a delectable meal in their home and the fellowship of friends . . . my husband, as a result of that evening, ended up with a better job and — best of all — our friends introduced us to MOTHER EARTH NEWS. A priceless wage indeed for a baby-sitting barter!
— Jean Woodland
Ft. Walton Beach, Florida
Starting a career as a freelance artist was definitely not smooth going at first. It's often pretty hard to convince regular business folks that by supporting my artistic talents (by buying my work) they would be helping to sell their products . . . and, therefore, supporting themselves. Who likes to "convince" anyway . . . I'm an artist, not a salesperson!
A trade or swap, however, is almost always more appealing to everyone Involved than a cash transaction. Such a deal takes the edge off the business aspect of the exchange while both parties usually receive much more for their efforts or expenses than through a conventional cash exchange.
As a result of bartering my expertise as a muralist and graphic designer, I soon became richer by one 10-speed bicycle, a down-filled sleeping bag and vest, and (perhaps the best prize of 'em all) a better artist's portfolio. The portfolio, in turn, led to even more jobs and though I often receive dollars for my work now — I have yet to abandon that back-to-basics barter system.
— Linda Luisi
Morongo Valley, California
Until we get established in farming I work for a local construction outfit where I'm able — at least — to swap overtime hours to my boss for the use of his machinery on our little spread.
Whenever I want a load of fill dirt, or need the bulldozer to take down an old fence, or maybe use the backhoe to dig a trench, we put a price on the job (usually about half the normal cost 'cause my boss is a good guy) and arrange for me to work the appropriate number of overtime hours.
By not paying deductions I "pay up" in fewer hours and my boss — likewise — saves some bucks. This year, in fact, I swapped a week of holiday pay for all the materials and equipment needed to install my septic tank system.
The swapping goes on at home too. Last winter my wife and I paid half the price of our music lessons with our own farm-fresh eggs. I'm afraid we outdid ourselves though, because my fiddle teacher moved away to be on her own farm . . . and my wife's piano instructor loved our fresh eggs so much she got her own hens!
Barter even turned out to be the solution to the problems of owning a family cow. Our neighbor, Peter, has a fine Jersey . . . but he hates being tied down by the cow's milking schedule. Consequently, Peter lets another neighbor and myself milk her for the fruits (juices?) of our labors. Thus three families get all the milk they can drink . . . without drowning in the stuff or being owned by the cow.
Peter and I also swap the use of each other's farm equipment . . . and have traded parts and pieces of various contraptions so that we've both benefited.
Now if I could only find another chickenless fiddle teacher.
— Michael Webster
Verona Ontario, Canada
I believe I'd appreciate barter even if I wasn't, at age 76, on that Infamous "small fixed income". When I retired I chose a town near the Appalachian Trail, that unique 2,050-mile-long footpath through the American wilderness. In fact, our town post office is used by many "through" or "end-to-end" (of the Trail) hikers.
Three seasons ago a couple of nice lads were stranded here over a long weekend while they awaited the arrival of a laggard food package. The Trail headquarters referred them to me and I let them both tent in my back yard. The ensuing swap really arranged itself . . . homecooked meals from my flourishing organic garden in exchange for weeding my flowerbeds and doing other small chores beyond my own capacity.
Each summer since that first swap I've supplied tent space and a number of meals to traveling Girl Scouts, husband-and-wife teams, even solitary hikers in return for odd jobs. A lot of good conversation and new friendships were bonuses in these exchanges.
Recently I've extended the swap system to other skills. I'm currently doing publicity writing for a young woman about to earn her doctorate and — in return — she's organizing six years of my newspaper column "Up In Years" (concerned with the art of aging enjoyably) in hopes of turning them into a book.
Besides that, the last braided rug I made was swapped for biweekly deliveries of some huge, brown-shelled eggs. My next door neighbor and I trade pots of her soup for loaves of my bread. We also exchange plant-watering and cat-feeding duties, but we use an old-fashioned name for that . . . good neighboring.
— Clara Cassidy
Harpers Ferry, W. Virginia
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