Successful Swaps: Food Sharing, Barter Fair, and More

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Successful swaps can include any object or service if the parties to the exchange are satisfied.

In a past issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, 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 EARTH NEWS could even swap subscriptions for contributions to the department.” “You’re on!” we replied … and announced our offer: Anyone who sent us a short (200 words or less) account of an actual barter that was good enough to print received — as the folks on the following pages did — a 12-month subscription (or extension of same) to MOTHER EARTH NEWS. While the offer is no longer in effect, you can still add your idea in the comments field of this article to share it with others.

FOOD SHARING: A couple of years back, I was working on a quilt with two good friends when it came time for our hostess to prepare her family’s dinner. As Gina came from the refrigerator with her arms full of assorted leftovers, she began to complain. Though the food was perfectly good, she said, she was sure her husband and children would not be terribly interested in seeing it on the table for a second time. As I sympathized with Gina, Maggie looked up from her quilting . . . Maggie always perks up at the mention of food. “Hmm . . . looks great,” Maggie said. “You know, I’ve got a ton of last night’s green bean stew in the fridge. How about a trade?” Well, Gina loves Maggie’s stew, so she agreed. And I wasn’t about to be left out of the dinner swap, so I modestly mentioned the wheat bread that I had baked that morning. The barter ended with all of us switching our leftovers around until we each had a new–and easy-to-prepare–dinner. That day’s swappin’ started a regular exchange of leftovers … to the delight of all three families. –L.K., Louisiana

PASTURE SWAP: While I was out in the barnyard putting a patch on the shed the other day, our heifer Blitz came nosing around . . . and I was reminded of her origins.

You see, my friend Bill had inquired how much I’d charge to pasture a calf that he wanted to buy. I told him to bring the critter over, and we’d work something out … as long as no money changed hands. Well, Bill showed up with four heifers! Seems he’d gotten such a good price at the sale that he couldn’t stop. Bill offered me one young’un in return for pasturing the other three, and–of course–I agreed. Later we took another of the calves in exchange for a week’s rental on our VW camper.

The neighbor’s bull crashed the fence one day, and saved us the price of breeding one of our cows … an expense we’d already counted on. Blitz, the incumbent cow, is the offspring of that inadvertent breeding . . . and now she’s pregnant (only this time we swapped pasture privileges for service).

Our freezer has been full of meat for four years now, at no cost to us … except, of course, the normal expenses for land and water, which we would have paid anyway.–D.S., Idaho

BARTER FAIR: Trading is an everyday practice here in the Pacific Northwest! In the past five autumns, eastern Washington has seen five great barter fairs, and the festivities keep growing each year … to the point where we now need more localized gatherings to handle all the swappin’ overflow!

Our family has attended every barter fair so far, carrying our old cider press and a ton or so of the windfall apples that we gather for tree. We press out over 100 gallons of cider, and swap it for . . . you name it! We’ve received keeper potatoes, onions, squash, garlic, melons, wheat, dried fruit, and canned goods in exchange for the tangy treat.

Last year, we also swapped a bottle of homemade wine for a peachwood belt buckle . . . and the year before, our old chain saw was bartered for a new (to us) circular saw. We’ve traded stonewear pottery for a compressed air spray gun, cabbages and beets for an ice cream freezer, and–yep–the kitchen sink (two, actually) for fuel storage equipment!

During the rest of the year we barter whenever we get a chance, too. From snowplowing and babysitting swaps to trades of welding skills and garden produce, our entire year is one big barter festival! –G. & C. G., Washington

VEGETABLES TRADE: Sometimes successful swapping can be accomplished by organizations as well as by individuals. Our church group consists of a number of folks who are becoming increasingly interested in making their lifestyles more simple, ethical, and ecologically sound. We’ve formed what we call our GROW–Great Raising Our Way–club. Besides meeting to discuss matters that we’re all interested in, we’ve also gotten together to learn canning . . . build food dehydrators . . . and do some gleaning in nearby fields.

We have a good swap system going, too. We’ve installed a table near the front door of our church building, and anyone who has surplus from his or her garden can place the goodies on the table. Folks who don’t have a garden (some of our retired members, for example), or those who didn’t happen to raise a particular crop, can simply pick up what they want. We don’t charge anyone for using the garden table, but those who do take from it without replacement are asked to donate whatever change they might have in their pockets to our church’s national hunger fund. Our produce swap has been a great success . . . not only does it promote a sense of community, but it provides an outlet for those humongous tomato crops that you just can’t eat up fast enough! And–with the hunger fund provision–needy people elsewhere in the world can benefit from our bounty, too! –L.T.,

TATTOO TRADE: Last year–when I was at the county fair–I noticed that a tattoo parlor had been set up. Now I’d wanted a “personal picture” for years, but good tattoos are very expensive . . . and somehow I could never get the money together. I went in to ask the man how much a red heart would cost, and was told that–for $50–I could have a design that was guaranteed to last for 30 days after I died! As I stood chatting with the tattoo artist, he happened to mention that his wife loved headcheese, but that he could never find a hog’s head.

Well, as luck would have it, my husband had butchered a hog that day. I had no use for the head, so I thought of MOTHER EARTH NEWS–I’ve been a reader for years–and suggested a trade. The artist was tickled pink at my offer of a head for a heart, and the next night my husband and I took the pork “leftover” back to the fair. After half an hour my masterpiece was done (and my tolerance to pain was about gone) . . . while the hog’s head was already simmering in the tattooer’s trailer out back.

Now, I’m a broken-out-of-the-closet barterer. When I’m in the market for an item, I always ask the salesperson, “Do you barter?” If the answer is no, I go on down the road, ’cause I’ve discovered that there’s always someone who wants to trade. –S.E., Illinois

SURPLUS PROPANE SAVED: My husband and I have worked out a swap that is convenient, saves money for all concerned, and keeps a little pollution out of the atmosphere, too! Tom works for the local propane gas company as a bottle delivery man. Every now and then one of those 100-pound cylinders springs a valve leak. Well, it’s been company policy in the past to take such cylinders out to a field, release all the gas, and then replace the valve. They figure that none of the customers would appreciate paying for a leaky cylinder . . . even when the leak is quite slow and there’s no danger involved.

Now, instead of “dumping” the gas in a field, Tom takes the seeping cylinders to his brother’s farm. This way, his sibling’s family is supplied with gas for cooking and water heating at no charge … so it makes little difference if a quarter of the fuel escapes into the air. And I take all of my canning out to the farm, where I enjoy both the good company and the use of free gas ( I’ve got a dollar-gulping electric range at home).

Everybody benefits from our swap: The customers are happy because they’re not paying for partially filled cylinders . . . the company’s happy because the customers aren’t complaining . . . the environmentally aware employee is less conscience-stricken . . . and two families are “cookin’ with gas.” –N.H., Iowa

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