MOTHER's readers share real-life stories of trades, barters, and skill-and-labor exchanges.
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.
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?!
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
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
When my wife and I decided to chuck traditional employment and try making it on our own, we knew we'd have to pare our budget to the bone. And since we didn't want to give up our weekly visits to the local foreign film theater, it occurred to us that we might be able to help the proprietor with his monthly mailings.
It seems that the gentleman had been hand-addressing several hundred movie schedules every four weeks, so we proposed that we'd keep his mailing list in our home computer and print a monthly set of computer-generated address labels for him, in exchange for free movie tickets.
He accepted our offer, and now we get free movies and popcorn in return for an hour or two of effort and a couple of dollars' worth of blank labels.
—B.M., New Mexico
This isn't just another "babysitting swap" story, but admittedly, the idea did spring from our ten-mother group, which was originally organized for that purpose!
What with times being hard, you see, we've also started a clothing and toy exchange. It operates on a one-for-one rule (one article of clothing for another or for a toy, or a toy for a blanket, etc.), the only stipulation being that each item must be in good repair. In other words, we encourage people to swap what their children have outgrown, not items that they've worn out!
Furthermore, the enterprise has been so successful that we're now discussing expanding the concept into a barter day that would be open to anyone and advertised in the garage sale section of our local paper. (Anything we have left over would then be donated to a charity.)
Our group activities give three benefits: access to a community of women, some welcome scheduled time to ourselves, and "new" clothing and toys for our growing children, all without one penny being exchanged!
At a recent yard sale, I spied a lathe that I thought would make a splendid addition to my husband's workshop and—at the same event—noticed a set of six lovely, old oak chairs without their cane seats.
After investigating the prices, though, I knew I couldn't afford the lathe, but I was considering buying the chairs since I cane as a hobby and was aware that the repaired furnishing would bring a good price.
As I was deliberating, the homeowner came over to chat. He told me that the chairs had been in his family for a long time and that he really didn't want to sell them, but figured he might as well because he'd never been able to afford to have them recaned.
Well, you guessed it! My husband now has a lathe, and I'm weaving new seats for six family heirlooms.
—E.D., New Hampshire
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