The Successful Swaps column shares success stories in bartering, including stories on bartering room and board for homestead services, a demolition crew drops free lumber on a homesteader’s property and a mother barters baking for amusement rides for her children.
In MOTHER EARTH NEWS issue 37, Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of humankind’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 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.
Because the village I live in (a small community in the
mountains of Washington state) is quite isolated from any
large city, my neighbors and I are self-reliant folks by
necessity. For example, we generate all of the electrical
“juice” we need with a small-scale hydropower plant, we
operate our own drinking water system, and we tackle the
inevitable community machinery repairs . . . all in
addition to raising most of our food.
Despite these efforts to be self-sufficient, however, we
still find that occasionally there’s work to be done that
requires specific skills which no one in the community can
supply . . . such as putting in a bit of complicated
electrical wiring or drawing up architectural plans for a
new building. And — since our cash flow is limited
— in those rare instances when we do have to seek
outside help, we turn to barter as a way to “pay” our
Usually, we trade a week or so of room and board in our
backwoods community, basically bartering room and board for services. The
village then gets the required work completed, and the
volunteer enjoys a free vacation in the mountains! It must
be a pretty even exchange, too, because to date our swap
offers have never been refused!
In fact, this arrangement has worked out so well for us
that I’m surprised more folks don’t make similar deals. If
you live on a small farm — or in a coveted location
in the city — and need help with a chore that’s
beyond your ability, try trading a week’s room and board
for the task. I think you’ll be pleased with the response
With seven children to keep warm, my husband and I spent a
lot of time searching for an inexpensive way to heat our
rambling ten-room home. We finally decided that wood was
our best bet, so we built a double-barrel Sotz
timber-burner and then set to the task of finding fuel for
Hardwood is a dear commodity in this part of the Buckeye
State, so when I spied a demolition crew tearing down the
old wooden grain elevator at the farmer’s co-op, I couldn’t
resist stopping and inquiring about the possibility of
swapping for some of the wood. The manager allowed that he
didn’t know much about bartering, but he did give me the
name of the contractor in charge of razing the structure.
A phone call later, we learned that the crew needed a
location at which to dump the materials they’d cleared away
. . . and it just so happened that we’d recently purchased
a few acres near the construction site.
Well, it’s been three years since we made that trade . . .
and this will be the first winter that we’ll be looking for
fuel again. That one inquiry, you see, furnished us with 14
truckloads of lumber. (In fact, we ended up with such an
abundance of wood that we used some of our “surplus” to
build a garage, an enclosed porch, and a deck!) The swap
also provided us with a bit of spare cash, as we were able
to sell the grain elevator’s exterior corrugated metal to a
Sometimes, it seems that striking up a deal is as simple as
finding the courage to propose it.
I’ve always read the swapping stories in your magazine with
interest, but I used to think it wasn’t likely that
I’d ever encounter a situation where I could offer
a trade. Well, last summer I finally got the chance to do a
little bartering . . . and I loved it! Here’s how the deal
My husband and I had promised our children a day at the
county fair . . . but as the date of the holiday approached
and we counted our pennies, we came up short on pocket
money. We decided to go anyway, and told the youngsters
that we’d spend the day looking at the exhibits. When we
saw the disappointment in their faces, however, we relented
and promised two amusement rides apiece.
The day of the fair was cool and lovely, and we saw all the
exhibits at least twice . . . but finally the children
couldn’t resist the lure of the midway any longer. With a
heavy heart I followed them down the path to the amusement
area and doled out the cost of two “goes” each. As I did
so, I recalled the fairs I’d attended as a child — in
the days when tickets weren’t so overpriced — and the
fun I’d had trying every ride. There must be something I
could do to give my youngsters that same enjoyment, I
thought . . . and then I remembered your barter reports. If
other folks could trade, I reasoned, so could I!
So while my husband watched the little ones, I marched off
to the manager’s office and, meeting his wife at the door,
nervously proposed swapping some homemade goodies (I
thought doughnuts might be a suitable item) for a supply of
tickets. The woman was a bit surprised at my request, but
the idea obviously appealed to her . . . she admitted that
fresh-from-the-oven (or deep-fryer) treats were rare in
their home, thanks to the transient life she and her
husband led. The two of them conferred for a few minutes,
and she returned with a beaming smile and a fistful of
passes amounting to $54 worth of rides!
You can bet that a weary but very happy family headed for
home that afternoon. And once an early dinner was over,
baths had been taken, and the youngsters were tucked in, I
flew to the kitchen. The carnival was moving on the
following day, you see, and I planned to keep my part of
the bargain no matter how tired I felt! By nine o’clock
that night I was driving back to town, laden with three
dozen doughnuts and two large, warm loaves of banana bread.
As I happily handed over the fragrant food, I asked whether
we could strike up a similar bargain the next year. Judging
from the response I got, it looks as if I’ll be trading
with those folks on an annual basis from now on!
My husband is an avid angler, so naturally we enjoy a good
number of fresh-caught fillets during fishing season.
Recently, however, we’ve discovered that his catches can
land us more than just tasty meals. One of my
spouse’s fishing buddies, for instance, is an auto mechanic
. . . and in exchange for cleaning all the fish
the two of them catch, my husband receives free repair
service for our cars.
Even a landlubber friend, our children’s dentist, gets in
on the fishy deals! He has no interest in handling a reel
or a rod but does crave a fresh-from-the-lake meal now and
then. So — at his suggestion — each time one of
our youngsters needs dental work, I bring the doc a mess of
Now, I’m trying to hook another deal: these “fish stories”
for a year’s subscription. Any takers?