Hand Knitting, Warm Clothes, and Other Barter Agreements

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Hank knitting an afghan sweater in exchange for new wallpaper in her kitchen was one Ohio woman's solution to her remodeling needs.

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 agreements and skill-and-labor exchanges,” said Bill. “You’re on!” MOTHER EARTH NEWS replied.

Hand Knitting for Wallpaper

My kitchen walls had a bad case of the drearies, but I didn’t have the money to pay for a wallpaper job nor did I know how to do the work on my own. I had just about resigned myself to another year of bleak baking when barter came to the rescue. It seems that a friend of mine who is a professional paperhanger had once admired my homemade afghan and wished she could make one for herself. So I called my chum and proposed a swap, which she accepted as soon as the words were out of my mouth! I bought the yarn–a total outlay of $13–and crocheted up a storm while my friend purchased the paper and pasted it up. The end results were an artful afghan and a spanking new kitchen.

Some time later, the bathroom needed papering. I called my barter-mate again, and soon had a beautiful bath, while she earned two hand-worked shawls.

An added bonus evolved from our trading, too: While assisting my friend in her measuring and pasting, I learned enough about paperhanging to be able to tackle a second bathroom all by myself! And I couldn’t begin to put a price on the pleasurable hours of company as the two of us worked together.

Karen Besecker
Arcanum, OH

Warm Clothes for a Couch

When we got our chance to relocate from southern California to the Colorado Rockies we jumped at it! We very soon found that our opportunity had created a couple of problems, though: We needed to sell most of our furniture to purchase some good warm clothing.

As the day of the move approached, we had not found a buyer for our sofa–which a MOTHER EARTH NEWS article had inspired us to reupholster–and without that money we couldn’t afford the clothing. Then a fellow worker told me that he was interested in the couch but didn’t have the $200 we were asking for it. I mentioned that we would consider trading for some warm duds, and the next day my friend showed up with two down jackets, a down vest, a pair of fur-lined boots, some rain gear, and $100! Needless to say, we made the swap and moved to Colorado in toasty comfort.

Stephen Spradley
Dillon, CO

Swapping for a Song

My family and I have always made our large suburban yard work for us by filling it with fruits and vegetables. We’ve swapped rhubarb for fine Philippine dinners, sold grapes (and traded some for delicious plums), and processed lots of food for winter use. What we really hanker for, though, is a few acres on the Chesapeake Bay, suitable for farming and accessible to crabbing and fishing.

The trouble is, acreage around Washington, D.C. is alarmingly high-priced, and as a full time student and mother I can’t “work” regularly to earn the down payment necessary for our dream. We had begun to get kind of discouraged.

Then after reading my second issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, the means became clear. I decided that if other folks could swap their services, so could I! You see, God gave me a wonderful gift: an excellent soprano voice (and a lot of guts!), so I decided to use my talent to earn the extra cash we needed.

I posted signs advertising my skill (“soloist will add elegance to your wedding. Willing to barter and trade”) in the most unlikely places: farmers’ markets, local tobacco barns, and country stores (as well as in the classified section of a local newspaper). And surprisingly enough, I’ve been very busy!  

Many people pay cash for my services, but lots of folks prefer to swap. So far we’ve been the recipients of bushels of corn, some bunnies, 10 pounds of fresh pork sausage, loaves of fresh bread, and beautiful flowers and plants. Best of all, though, I’m making lots of farm friends while I’m saving up the money for that “dreamstead!”

Nancy Carol Brodey
Camp Springs, MD 

Traveling Repairman

While on holiday here in Columbus, Ohio I swapped a repair job on a player piano for the roof over my head! You see, in almost every step of my world travels I’ve been given names of folks I should “be sure to look up” for a night’s accommodation. But–after many awkward telephone calls to people on my list–I finally hit on the idea of proposing a trade instead of asking for a handout. And my “brainstorm” really works!

Now when I phone prospective hosts or hostesses, I introduce myself and tell them (with gusto) that I’m handy with tools, can clean, repair electrical appliances, and so forth. And, after making this offer, I feel much more relaxed about asking for a place to stay the night in exchange. It’s amazing how frequently people snap up the idea (especially if I suggest a few possibilities). They nearly always remember some long-shelved maintenance or odd job that needs doing and are happy to barter a warm bed and a hot meal for the labor.  

My swapping method has been successful all over the world: I’ve mended a toaster in Switzerland, cleaned windows in Paris, moved a piano in Salzburg, done an oil change in Munich … each job in exchange for a night’s shelter. So the next time you’re on the road and looking for a place to stay, try my system! Believe me, you’ll feel more comfortable as a contributing member of any household that takes you in.  

Geoffrey Hopkins
Dulwich, Australia

Serial Swapping

With no original investment (other than a little of my time) I now have a first-class lawn mower, a three-speed bicycle, a neat little gasoline engine, a good set of tires, and $30 in cash!

A friend–knowing my propensity for barter–asked me to do a bit of dealing for him: He wanted to swap a shotgun to a dealer for a telescopic sight, and he agreed that anything I got in excess of the scope was mine to keep. So I made the exchange … and got the dealer to throw in a used 22-caliber rifle besides.

That’s when my hoss-tradin’ really started: I swapped the rifle for a wood planer, exchanged the planer for a 10″ band saw, used the saw for a couple of years and then traded it to a friend for a 1972 Chevrolet Vega plus $30. I then swapped the Vega (after putting its new tires on my daughter’s car) for an 8-HP riding mower with a brand-new engine, a good three-speed bicycle, and a horizontal shaft kick-start gasoline engine–which was just what I needed to run my leaf mulcher.

Barter has been an important part of my lifestyle for years. At this rate I really can’t afford to stop! But here’s the real secret to successful swapping: In all my deals the other party is always satisfied too!

Jack E. Piper
Metropolis, IL

Barn Space for Hay Bales

About nine years ago our young family moved from suburban Chicago to the dairyland community of Bristol, Wisconsin. As “milk farmers” in this area retire, their tillable land is often bought up by younger folks. These pasture purchases regularly leave behind five-and ten-acre “farmlets” with a full complement of buildings, usually including a large dairy barn. Our homestead is just such a leftover.

When we stocked our farm with three Angus brood cows, our hope was that the critters would supply our family’s beef needs and possibly provide an extra steer or heifer to market. It didn’t take us long to discover that our pasture grass would need to be supplemented with hay–feed that we would have to purchase.

However, the farmer haying the land that had once been the greater part of our homestead found that he was somewhat short of storage space for his cash crop. When that gentleman proposed the swap of 200 bundles of hay for the use of the upper level of our barn, we jumped at the offer. This trade has been such a perfect solution to our problems that it has continued for six or seven years. As a bonus, we get to keep all the broken bales, too!

Marilyn Kotz
Bristol, WI

Technician Trade

Since I’m trained as a technician and experienced as a handyman, I find many opportunities to barter for things that I need. An elderly neighbor, for example, gives the the use of his tractor and tiller in exchange for their maintenance and repair. I recently rebuilt his tiller motor, and I’m really looking forward to using the machine in my garden this season.

For the past few years, I’ve been doing electrical maintenance for another friend. In turn, he has given me access to every carpentry tool he owns. You name it, and he’s got it: routers, band saw, vises, sanders, and closeting jig–it’s a woodworker’s paradise!

Things wouldn’t be complete without wood to use these tools on, though. Fortunately, I have a friend down the road who has a sawmill and occasionally needs my skills. Just the other day I installed a tape player in his car, and he came up with a supply of cedar boards for me.

I barter closer to home, too. As a help to my wife and me, my mother babysits with our small fry once a week in exchange for a lift to her favorite “hallelujah meeting.”  

Daniel K. Adams
Lexington, N.C.  

Chicken Brooder for Bicycle

Tradin’ set me up in business a few years ago, and my life has been bettered by barter ever since!

It all began when a neighbor asked whether I would be willing to sell a nearly new bicycle which was sitting unused in my garage. She wanted to give the bike to her young son for Christmas, but I knew that she couldn’t afford anywhere near the true value of the vehicle. I suggested that we barter, and a couple of days later my neighbor came up with a swap offer that has changed my life: she wanted to trade an incubator and brooder for the two-wheeler.

I promptly exchanged some surplus horse manure for a few hens and a rooster, and in no time I was broodin’ a batch of peeps. In only a few months more, I was in the fresh egg business. Now, three years later, those cackleberries” are still putting bread on our table.

I’ve bartered often since that first swap–a mule for two sheep, for instance, and some surplus chickens for a milking goat. But I still think my greatest tradin’ benefit was the sight of two big smiles on Christmas morning: one on the face of a little boy with a new bike, and the other from his mother, who had been able to “afford” something she couldn’t pay for.

Mrs. Grace Farley
Swedesboro, NJ

Bartering Away the Mortgage

Homesteading is hardly a form of slavery, but we did foresee years of voluntary servitude–in the form of mortgage payments–when we settled on our newly acquired 10 acres. A recent series of swaps has emancipated us from our monthly money miseries, though, and has finally made self- sufficiency seem an achievable goal.  

Our stock-in-hand was an aluminum garden shed I had traded for several years earlier. When a neighbor recently announced that he wanted to get rid of a 50-year-old log barn that was awkwardly located, I promptly offered my “tin can” as a swap. Bartering was the easy part of the job–as we discovered while removing the roof of the old building, numbering the logs, unsticking the walls, hauling the materials to their new home, building foundations, and reassembling the walls, floors, and roof. Of course, our four-wheel-drive truck–we’d swapped a beloved but now useless city car for the vehicle–made things easier. And once I installed our recently bartered-for doors and windows, we were marvelously snug in our recycled house.  

Here’s the best part of the deal: We can now sell our mobile home, and–with the proceeds–pay off the mortgage on the land. We’re truly “free at last” in a stout log home on land that’s fully paid for all thanks to barter!  

G. Carson
Creston, B.C., Canada

Homestead Barter #1

Barter has become an economic fact of life for my husband and me since we moved to our 65-acre subsistence farm just over four years ago.

We have a sizable woodlot, so we’ve traded oak firewood for the following items: 4,000 feet of plastic pipe for our water system, a heat-distribution insert for the fireplace, our house insulation, and part of a doctor bill. A close friend who is a welder and metal fabricator has woodcutting privileges on our land in exchange for doing all our metalwork. And, currently, my husband is trading his labor at a local horse ranch cleaning stalls for all the manure we can use on our garden.

But our true crowning achievement in swapping came when we pooled resources with a neighbor. In return for help with clearing his pastureland, our friend brought in a D-7 cat and built us a dam and a one-acre lake!

We are now confirmed and enthusiastic barterers, and are always looking for new ways to enrich our lives and the lives of other folks through this great system.

Barbara Coulson
Penn Valley, CA

Homestead Barter #2

You bet swaps are successful! Nothing feels better than a trade: both parties come home happier and wealthier.

Our homesteading journey took us nine long months and we traveled halfway across the country, but we never would have left Missouri if we hadn’t traded a Chevy engine we had but couldn’t use–and certainly couldn’t take with us–for a powerplant-rebuilding job on our failing ’53 Buick.

Then, once we reached Oregon, we fell into an arrangement that allowed us to muster all our resources for the fateful move back to the land. In exchange for the care of an elderly lady, we received free room and utilities. Meanwhile, we kept building our grubstake and looking for just the right piece of acreage to build our homestead.

After the home birth of our zesty son, the real urge for a place of our own hit us. And by a stroke of blessed fortune, we found our wrinkle of earth after 22,000 miles of searching!

Barter in our new, isolated location proved increasingly satisfying as we forged new friendships with young and old alike. At first, we swapped mostly our labor in the hayfields for a nanny, a gentle old gelding, a barely used handcranked forge, and four tons of alfalfa. Then word circulated about Joe’s woodworking skill, and we landed a feeder pig for minor carpentry and rabbits and ducks for some fencing. Even the family Buick straight-eight Special switched homes with a cranky tractor!

Now, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, how ’bout swappin’ for a renewed subscription?

Marcee & Joe Edmonds
Prineville, OR

Paint for Dental Work

Barter is alive and thriving in the city, and I’m a classic example of someone who makes it pay! During a recent checkup my dentist informed me that I would need a left molar bridge if I wanted my right molars to last much longer. I explained to him that I paint houses for a living and couldn’t afford another debt right then, and he came up with a solution which worked out beautifully.

My dentist needed a $300 paint job and I needed a $300 bridge. It was a Treat trade: He got a fresh, clean office and I got a bridge over troubled molars!

Walter Green III
Knoxville, TN

Rural Barter

After reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS for the past three years, we swapped our city life for a farm. And once we settled in, the barter system turned out to be a natural. I first swapped labor for fence posts and barbed wire. Then my wife traded fresh eggs for lessons in sausagemaking, and now we barter our own homemade breakfast meat for other needed items.

Building a few hives and supers for a local beekeeper “bought” us two colonies of insects for our farm, and another day spent helping extract honey from his hives gained us 16 quarts of the sweetener … as well as invaluable experience in beekeeping.

Being the community chimney sweep–again, thanks to MOTHER EARTH NEWS–provides me with even more barter opportunities. The butcher shop in town had a flue that needed a sweeping and a new cap. I suggested a trade, and the answer was an immediate “yes.” The result: a month’s supply of fresh beef and pork!

A few hours spent with the tractor and rototitler last spring earned us a full winter’s supply of seasoned firewood from a neighbor (and brought us a new friend). Later, trading bluebird and purple martin houses to a nursery resulted in several fruit and nut trees for the orchard and strawberry plants for our garden.

I feel that barter is the best way to go. It helps us meet our needs and make new friends, too!

Harold Sweeny
Monroe, NC