The Successful Swaps column shares success stories in bartering, including stories on bartering stained glass, fishing lures and goat fertilizer.
The big move of our lives is planned for this spring. We’ll be going to the Pacific Northwest, to make our living as upholsterers and stained glass artists.
The upholstery idea found us, but we’ve had to seek out the stained glass know-how that we feel will augment our furniture renovation income. Though we were rich in ideas, we lacked the money it would take to learn the intricacies of the ancient art. We were able, however, to locate an expert at the craft who, like us, is making an effort to be self-sufficient, and who wanted to know how to upholster his chairs and such!
So we’ve arranged a swap of our knowledge for his . . . and, since we’re two and he’s one, we feel we reap double. Every week the fellow joins us for a nice meal, and then we adjourn to the workroom, where he upholsters his furniture while we work on our stained glass . . . all of us with individual, professional instruction.
Yvonne & Charli Wingo
Morgan Hill, CA
Our son has enjoyed farm life ever since he was old enough to help out and be useful. About two years ago, a bull calf born to one of the dairy cows on my brother’s farm was given to our boy in exchange for all the time he’d put in over the past few years. We’re now enjoying a freezer full of good beef . . . and our youngster takes real pride in knowing that he earned it for us.
Second, a friend of mine who has a mill in her home often needs help in hand checking the wheat she grinds (to be sure all the small bits of stone and chaff are removed before the grain is run through the mill). This has become a pleasant time for visiting and exchanging views, and I go home with enough whole wheat flour to keep us in bread and other goodies for at least a week.
These are just two examples of the way successful swaps can happen . . . more or less by themselves!
Audrey C. Asp
I live in a seacoast area that has great bluefish and bass fishing and, some time ago, I came across a book that told me how to tie all kinds of saltwater lures. So I sent for various fishing gear catalogs, and ordered some necessary equipment. And, before long, I was making my own artificial bait at 1/2 to 1/8 the cost of store-bought lures.
Little did I know in the beginning that my moneysaving pastime would eventually become a moneymaker. Before long, however, some of my fishing companions — and then some of their friends — began to request that I make the hand-tied baits for them. In return, they would do something helpful for me.
And that’s why now, if I want to make any kind of transaction with a saltwater fisherman, I use my lures as an exchange medium. And it’s also why new “customers” are constantly seeking me out when they want to make a swap with me.
Believe it or not, I’m currently forced to have an ample assortment of my work on hand at all times to keep up with demand. And I’m happy to say that I’m about to form my own small home business . . . with very little outlay of capital, tools, or space!
When we left our get-nowhere-fast city life, we tried to learn all we could about country living. AS it turned out, the oldtimers in our new area far outshone any of the books we read. They taught us so very much . . . and one of the things we learned was the concept of barter
The first swap came soon after our relocation. We had a rather crummy garden — full of rocks and heavy clay — and our first potatoes were marble-sized. Well, as a neighborly gesture we’d done some work for a guy down the road (cutting and hauling tobacco), which we were happy to do just for the experience. But the fellow insisted that we accept 200 pounds of potatoes for our help, and those full-sized spuds helped keep us going all year.
We’ve also traded the healing of a sick sow for vegetables, the cutting of firewood for some logs of our own, and the pickling and juicing of others’ produce for a share of the finished product.
The simplest kindness done to any of these people eventually comes back to us. We truly enjoy our country existence — and its barter system — and believe it’s one of the best ways of life available.
Sue & Roger Weaver
Barter is a way of life in the Kansas countryside where we live, but we were still surprised to see how well it can work in other places . . . like the Bahamas, where it actually provided us with an extended vacation!
We went to one of the remote “out islands” to backpack for as long as our money would allow, knowing we’d be unable to get work permits there. Once we arrived at our destination, though, the ancient art of barter came to our aid . . . and made money seem almost unnecessary. We met a charming British couple — the owners of a 100-acre homestead on the island — who were glad to exchange our Midwestern gardening know-how and Karl’s mechanical abilities for a cabin to live in, a boat to fish from, and friendship.
We stayed three months, had a wonderful time, and made two good friends who (surprise!) turned out to be MOTHER readers. Through trading we were able to see the real day-to-day side of island life . . . and that made our trip a much richer experience.
Karl & Deanne Losey
Succulent strawberries, plump blackberries, buckets of nuts, fresh-killed squirrel . . . these were some of the foraged foods of my youth.
Nowadays, though, my old legs won’t take me beyond the front gate, and my eyes can no longer spot the flicker of Mr. Squirrel hiding in the tree leaves. But I can still sew a fine stitch, fry up some tasty rabbit, and bake a good huckleberry pie! So I arranged a swap with one of my young neighbors, Jeff: jacket repair for wild mushrooms, a haircut for a mess of fish, jeans patching for a new walking stick, fresh blackberry cobbler after Jeff picks the fruit . . . and so the trading goes.
In this way, my young bachelor friend gets his mending done . . . and I can still share in the outdoors world I’ve loved for so many years.
Four years ago, I decided to raise purebred Toggenburg goats here on my ranch (which is southeast of Seattle in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains).
I kept the goats (48 of them, at one time) in a large central barn with outlying feeding and exercising pens. Naturally, the animals produced great amounts of rich manure. But since I make my living as a writer (my first of five Doubleday-published books was Mister B., about a black bear cub raised on this ranch) I have no time for gardening. Besides, over 100 unpenned Bantam chickens — capable of making short work of a started garden — live here, too.
So I gave that terrific fertilizer to various friends, who loaded it into their pickups or (by the sackful) into their cars . . . thus helping me with the chore of barn cleaning.
When summer came and their gardens thrived, these friends would appear at my place with everything from lettuce to green peas to potatoes, corn, and squash. There were always plenty of fine, fresh vegetables for myself and whatever guests might arrive.
Proof positive that man’s basic nourishment comes from friendly barter!
I was raised on a small farm here in northern Wisconsin, where barter is common, and it’s still a pleasure to recall some of the early “deals” I made.
Every summer I earned extra spending money by selling fishing worms from a roadside stand. In addition to augmenting my wealth, this enterprise once led to the trading of a thousand worms for  a ten-foot fishing boat,  many hours of enjoyment, and  countless delicious suppers of fresh fish . . . all for one day’s digging and counting.
One time a neighbor asked me to help catch and haul 80 “feeder pigs” and four horses. In payment for the two days of fun . . . er, work . . . these undertakings required, I was given two of the shoats to keep. And the raising of those pigs turned into a barter situation, too. Half of their feed (the morning feedings) came from the restaurant where my mother worked. In exchange for some of our garden vegetables, the cooks would go through the kitchen refuse that was ordinarily dumped, separating the paper. bones, etc., from the good hog food . . . and consequently cutting my feed bill in half.
I’m still swapping today . . . thanks to the excellent start I got!
When the impending birth of our son called for extra hands at haying time last summer, we got enthusiastic help from a new neighbor who’d just recently “made the break” and who said he was eager to learn all he could about the haymaking process. (Actually, we think he was eager to leave the plaster dust of his remodeling job and get out into the sun.)
After that, barter seemed to occur spontaneously between us, as I found opportunities on several evenings (including one all-nighter) to help our neighbor learn drywall and plumbing techniques in the cool of his gutted kitchen. He, in turn, gave us a good many of his days.
Another swapping relationship has been of a learning-rather than teaching-nature. Early last winter, we needed a bulldozer to move some frozen fill dirt. The old gentleman at the local sawmill had one, but the dozer needed repair. I gladly mended the damaged machine, and offered to help at the sawmill (the operation of which I’d been wanting to learn), if the fellow would backfill our foundation. Not only did he agree . . . he was proud to be of such timely aid to us.
A. Paul Chapin
A couple of years ago, this city boy finally “sprung” for some real estate of his own . . . and there the land sat for the next six months while I wondered what in blazes I could do with it. Of course I’d go camp out every month or so, but that wasn’t exactly getting back to the land.
My main problems were: [I] My car was fine for the city and the highways, but I couldn’t even get close to my property with it, and  sleeping on the ground with the rattlers isn’t considered healthy out here.
One morning — at the local cafe — I got to talking with a man who mentioned he needed a reliable car for his wife. It so happened he not only had a ’55 Ford pickup for sale, but also owned an old but repairable 8 by 35 house trailer. All I could think of was “Barter!”
A year and a half later, his wife still drives the car I used to own and I’ve just finished converting that ’55 Ford pickup into a water truck (since I recently bought a newer pickup for my “regular” driving). Best of all, I’m writing this letter in the comfort of that old trailer (which is nicely situated on my property) . . . and I’ve never been happier.
Jan D. Paulson
Dolan Springs, AZ
My wife and I are old enough for a lot of the “new” old ways of doing thingslike swapping- to be old hat to us . . . but every now and then we do learn a new wrinkle on something we thought we knew all about. That’s why we always get a big kick out of reading “Successful Swaps”.
I guess the best swap I ever made was back during the depression . . . about 1933, I believe.
My wife and I scrounged around every way we could to make a dime, and cutting stovewood was one of those ways. (Six bits to a dollar a tier, delivered!)
One hot day in September, a neighbor bounced me for a swap: an old cow for a load of my wood. It was OK by me, but all the wood I had was a little dab that I hadn’t cut up yet. So I told him to go look at what I had and take it if he wanted it.
He took the stovewood, and I took the old cow home, tied her in a stall, and poured good oat hay into her until the weather cooled off in November. We canned 150 quarts of tasty meat from her — plus what we ate fresh — and sold her hide for two bucks. Not too bad a swap for a wee dab of jack oak poles!
William E. Raybould
Reed organs were almost as common in our grandparents’ homes as TV sets are in ours. The workmanship on some of them was superb, and they made music with foot power alone. I’ve rebuilt several of the instruments for myself and friends, and I get a lot of satisfaction from helping return the old organs to life.
One day a visitor noticed the organ in our living room, and remarked, “We have one of those in our wellhouse, but it’s probably too far gone to repair.”
Since this woman and her husband raise cattle and sell beef by the quarter, I offered to rebuild their old treasure in return for some meat, and they readily agreed.
The organ was in poor condition: Mice and moths had found cozy homes in the silent interior and someone had damaged delicate parts in trying to repair them. But few of these old musicmakers are completely beyond restoration, and just before we ate the last of the meat I was able to return the organ . . . not exactly like new, but working and singing.
We enjoyed our good steaks, and our friends are still happy with their recovered heirloom.
Donald E. Glasgow
Here’s a note on a successful swap: A while back, there was an ad in Yankee magazine that caught our eye. The man was offering to swap a beehive for a platform scale. Well, we just happened to have an old platform scale that we never used . . . and now we have a fine hive of bees!
To carry the story a step further, a professional apiarist in our area, has since taught us a lot about beekeeping. (I should add that our own business has for many years been the restoration of antique boats and houses.) What’s the swap? We’re helping the beekeeper in his search for a good small catboat for his son, with an agreement to check any boat he finds for rot and needed repairs and then help and advise him accordingly.
We’ve also traded hand-knit sweaters for pottery, hand-carved stair nails for a welded track for our small marine railway, an electric planer for an antique Rushton canoe, and a barn door for a vacuum cleaner.
This reciprocal giving works beautifully . . . and feels good, too!
Jennifer & Robert Baker
I especially enjoy the kind of informal swapping that  shows me the cyclic pattern of ownership and  demonstrates that there’s no scarcity in the universe.
For example, when a friend wants to dispose of extra possessions because he/she is moving or cleaning house, I’ll take the things myself, making immediate use of what items I can and storing the rest in my attic or basement. Before long, I’ll hear of someone who needs those very articles that are stored away as excess. And so the recycling continues!
Here’s another swap that really worked for me. Last spring I heard about an exciting new counseling and therapy class, and I wanted very much to enroll . . . but not to pay the steep registration fee. Then, in talking with the instructor, I discovered that she was seeking fresh vegetables and herbs . . . as part of a serious dietary change she was undergoing in connection with her own therapy. As it happened, I had a vigorous garden that produced more than enough for me to share with her.
Consequently, I entered each of my teacher’s classes with a shopping bag full of nature’s bounty under each arm. There are all kinds of nourishment in this world . . . and, at least in this case, that instructor and I both got the kind we needed.
We swap here in Uruguay, too!
For instance, at the Seventh-Day Adventist academy where I work, some parents are allowed to pay for tuition with potatoes, soybeans, corn, wheat, fruit, honey, milk, and other products the school can use. Also, our next-door neighbors — who have a big grape arbor — offered to give us half the harvest if my husband would prune and otherwise tend the vines. Another neighbor does sewing for me in exchange for fresh eggs, and some time ago I translated a few letters for a person who paid me with six pounds of homemade cheese.
But our best swap was made two years ago. We had a secondhand tape recorder which we seldom used, at the same time that we longed to have — but couldn’t afford — a record player. On the other hand, some of our friends had a small, portable record player but wanted a tape recorder. Each party learning of the other’s desires — and all of us knowing the mutual lack of resources — we decided to swap those particular belongings. So now there are two happy families: one with a good (if third-hand) tape recorder and one (ours) with a record player that provides hours of enjoyable listening.
Sylvia de Gonzalez Progreso
My maple sugaring rig hadn’t been used in years — for lack of sufficient spare time — until the day my neighbor’s three sons came over with a proposition for me. They wanted to try their hands at sugaring, and wondered if I’d rent them my equipment.
Well, I wasn’t eager to let some youngsters just up and use my gear when I wasn’t even sure they properly knew how. So, after beating around the bush awhile, I came up with a proposal: I’d let them use my rig if they wouldn’t object to occasional supervision from me. And — for the use of the equipment — they’d have to give me (instead of rent) one-fourth of their product.
They eagerly agreed, and now we all have syrup . . . they to sell and me to use!
Last summer a fella had some missing cattle up in the mountains where my son Robert and I were riding. We offered our services to try and hunt them out, figuring it’d give us something interesting to do while we were enjoying the scenery. (I’ve ridden this beautiful country for years, but there’s always something different to see.)
It being a dry year, the cattle were really spread out. (They don’t stay put when there’s a lack of water and not much feed.) We’d find one alone, or maybe two. But Robert and I enjoyed the adventure, and it was good training for the young mare I was just starting.
Now, the horse trailer we’d been using was getting old to the point of collapse. I had the frame, axle, wheels, and tires to replace it, but that was as far as I’d gotten. So the fella with the missing cattle — being a welder — offered to make us a trailer for our work!
I think we got the best of the deal, so this year we’ll give our friend some help on a fence he’s building around a meadow.
There’s always an uphill climb to ranching . . . but experiences like these make it all worthwhile to me.
Red Bluff, CA
One day not long ago, I drove into the country to tune a piano for some friends of mine. (I do piano tuning on a part-time basis, to supplement my income as a music teacher.)
My friends have a large family, and do their own everything . . . such as raise and butcher beef, keep poultry, garden organically, repair vehicles and machinery, and fire pottery. There’s no end, seemingly, to that family’s industry and self-sufficiency.
But getting their piano to play in tune was something they preferred to leave to me. When I’d done the job a year ago, they’d given me two chickens to show their appreciation. This year, during the course of our conversation, I asked if they knew where I could get some fertilizer for my garden.
“Do we have any turkey manure left?” yelled the missus to her husband.
When I finished my work that afternoon, I had three .55-gallon drums full of rich plant food, and a pair of pigeons for my children.
Richard S. Boshart
My children and I always look forward to grape tying season here in upstate New York, with the extra money it brings in.
And this year, my four-year-old daughter — being close to the ground and energetic — learned to sucker grapes. It’s a backbreaking job for adults, but just right for three-footers! Besides, Sarah’s brother was in kindergarten and she had no one to play with, so she eagerly accepted the challenge.
Since money wasn’t important to our preschooler, she learned to trade her services … and became the proud owner of a used wading pool, several good toys, and some other items that were considered obsolete by our employer but gratefully welcomed by my daughter.
Now Sarah knows a trade — suckering grapes — and a fine art . . . bartering!
Joan F. Phillips
Seems like “Wanna swap?” has become our family slogan.
In partial payment for selective logging of our woods, our sawmill buddy gave us boards we didn’t have (butter nut, walnut, cottonwood) for the kitchen cabinets, counter top, and table that my husband wanted to build. And the siding on our new addition will be from our own hemlock trees . . . processed for us as part of the deal.
That’s not all, of course. Soon, a neighbor’s woods will be logged and, for the loan of our back field as temporary millsite, we’ll receive the treetops, slabwood, and shavings that are left over. No fear of running out of firewood next winter for us!
We’ve also been able to trade wood scraps (from the kitchen project) to an art major in exchange for baby-sitting, the unneeded pipe grate from our stone fireplace for a small lawn mower, and haircuts for houseplants.
On and on it goes . . . with no end in sight, I hope:
Linda D. Kondzielski
For several years, we’ve had a standing trade agreement with various neighbors for some rather commonplace things: my good organic honey for okra, fresh eggs for just-off-the-tree lemons . . . and in the fall, when our mountain orchard hangs heavy, we trade bushels of apples for pickin’ help and gallons of cider for cider press turnin’ (we have neighbors who wait in line to do this).
But our second son has turned into the most imaginative barterer of our bunch. He works in a CB radio and antenna shop, and — though many folks prefer just to pay cash for their installation — our son trades his services every chance he gets.
When the feed store owner came in for an “install”, our young bargainer exchanged his CB know-how for two 50 pound bags of chicken feed . . . and the time his customer was a woman upholsterer, our boy traded an installation for a custom-made truck seat cover.
He enjoys these swaps much more than he does getting “just regular pay”, and we’re always eager to see him come home at supper time so we can hear of his latest barter adventures!
Last spring a neighbor and I got together on a good swap. It seemed he wanted to expand his garden, but there was this big old maple tree in the way. And the old tree just happened to be full of bees!
It was my first attempt at “liberating” a. swarm of bees from a tree, but the little buzzers didn’t seem to notice my lack of experience. (Thanks to MOTHER — and features like “Down on the Farm” in Issue No. 44 — this kind of timely how-to information is reaching the people who need it, namely me.)
Two days and two bee stings later, I had a double hive full of contented bees to add to my homestead, and my neighbor had a new garden area and a winter supply of maple firewood. And we both enjoyed that wild mountain honey!
In Issue No. 37, 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 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 stillstanding offer. Anyone (and that means youl) 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®
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