Bartering with Llamas, Mailing Labels, and Furniture Repair, and More Successful Swaps

MOTHER's readers share real-life stories of trades, barters, and skill-and-labor exchanges.

| July/August 1983

  • Cabin And Trees
    One couple persuaded some landowners to allow them to build a cabin on their land and live in it for the duration of their schooling, in return for sole ownership of the structure when they left.

  • Cabin And Trees

In the January/February 1976 issue of MOTHER, reader Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of humankind's better ideas—barter—and made 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. The following are stories of trades and barters we received from MOTHER's readers. 

Llamas Bartered for Veterinary Care, Well Pump Removal

My partner and I use llamas as pack animals in our summer hiking business in the high Cascades of Oregon, and—as a result—have learned a lot about training and handling these animals.

Well, our expertise resulted in the first of two great swaps we made this past year! A local breeder traded us two young male llamas in return for our giving shots and worm medicine to his seldom-treated female critters. He now has a healthier herd and is rid of animals he had no use for, while we have a couple of nice males to train for our use or to sell.

Our second exchange occurred when our well pump broke down. We discovered that the local well expert was willing to pull and reinsert the unit in exchange for a summer pack trip. (We did have to pay to have the pump repaired, but still saved several hundred dollars in removal and installation charges.)

Who'd have ever thought that owning llamas could give us such barter power?!
—T.L., Oregon 

Couple Builds a Cabin to Live In, Hand Over to Landowners

My husband and I know you get many letters describing the experiences of people who care for homes in exchange for shelter—or barter labor for land—but we think our arrangement is unique (and hope you'll feel the same).

You see, we came to Fairbanks because the university here is (in our opinion) the best in the 49th state, but we soon discovered that the usual college housing crunch was compounded by the area's rapid population growth and the influx of summer inhabitants. After trying dome tent living (for three weeks) and renting an overpriced one-room cabin (for a month), we were claustrophobic and desperate!

We had enough money to build a small cabin for ourselves, but not enough to buy the land for it. However, we found a prospective site only five miles from the university, and when we inquired about using it the owners were both surprised and intrigued by our proposal: If they'd allow us to build a cabin on their land and live in it for the duration of our schooling (three years), they—in turn—would be given sole ownership of the structure when we left. (We knew we could build the dwelling for less than a single year's rent at the area's going rates.)

The landowners mulled over our proposition and then made a generous counteroffer. They said they'd provide an even better piece of land, and would buy the building materials for the house that would eventually be theirs.

You can imagine our excitement and delight! We immediately accepted the deal, set to work constructing our home, and moved in five weeks later. Now, we have a place to live for as long as we need it, and our landlords own a well-built cabin, which cost them about half the price they would have otherwise had to pay.
—L. D., Alaska 

Barter Bazaar at a Community College

This story isn't about one of MOTHER's more usual swaps, but it does show how she inspires others, and that she isn't alone in extolling barter these days. At Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, our program in Human Ecology includes a course called "Self-Reliance," in which we study and have hands-on experience in food self-sufficiency, alternative energy and shelter, and barter.

One week during the semester we hold a bazaar that gives the class a chance to actually engage in trading. We also discuss deals reported in Successful Swaps, ask each student to assemble a list of his or her barterable goods and skills, and circulate the results. Since the students are already, by that time, involved in other constructive projects, many of them end up horse-trading such things as goose eggs for black walnut seedlings, wood ashes for old storm windows, or raspberry plants for tools. We may strike as many as 30 such deals in a week!

In addition, our barter days teach the students to recycle rather than discard, give them useful goods to take home from class, and demonstrate that self-reliance without wealth is possible.

Here are some other swaps that we made this past semester: a set of sheets for a sampling of iris bulbs, children's books for a theater ticket, a record album for compost, herbs for transportation, plant clippings for a magazine, and a haircut for a bicycle repair job. And at the start of the semester, I made a deal with an enterprising young lady who wanted to sit in on the class unofficially: yesterday she gave us all a yoga lesson!
—M.G.B., New York 

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