MOTHER's readers share their stories about successful swaps, trading services and bartering for goods without cash exchanging hands.
In MOTHER EARTH NEWS issue NO. 37, Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of humankind'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 still-standing offer: Anyone who sends us a short account of an actual barter that gets printed in this column (write THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS® Hendersonville, North Carolina) will receive a 12-month subscription (new or extended) to MOTHER.
Two years ago my wife and I decided to act on our long-cherished plan to move to the country. So—to the dismay of some of out less adventuresome friends and relatives—we packed up all our belongings, piled our three young city-bred children into the car, and headed off to our new home.
And having lived for several years in the somewhat "boxed" environment of an urban area, we were immediately struck by the spaciousness—and beauty—of our rural surroundings. The rolling fields of hay and corn rippled gracefully in the wind as if to greet us, making us feel that this area truly was "God's country"!
Our first winter on the "farm" was spent studying books and magazines (including MOM, of course) on the how-to's of wholistic gardening, animal husbandry, and numerous other aspects of self-reliant living. So by the time the first crocuses peeked through the snow, we were ready (we thought) to put some of those ideas into practice. We began by buying two goats and a batch of baby chicks . . . and later acquired two feeder pigs and a pair of domestic rabbits. As we'd expected, purchasing our menagerie of critters put a crimp in our pocketbook, but it wasn't until after several trips to the feed store that we began to realize just how expensive caring for livestock can be.
We considered trying to put a stop to our diminishing returns by growing our own animal fodder. However, we didn't have access to a tractor or other tilling equipment, so even though we could afford the seed and fertilizer, we had no means of preparing the soil (hand-tilling four acres wasn't exactly an undertaking we wanted to experience).
Fortunately, while discussing our predicament with a neighbor, we discovered that he had a "retired" tractor and a plow attachment stored in his barn. Well, with my knowledge of basic mechanics, it took only a short while to get the clunker in good enough shape to plant the fields. Our swap worked out perfectly for both parties, too. In exchange for an afternoon of my labor, my wife and I now have a corncrib full of winter feed for our animals . . . and our farmer friend has a usable tractor again. Furthermore, we plan to continue to trade my mechanical know-how for free use of the machine . . . and we might find a few other "retired" items in that barn that could use some repair, too!
Hoping to eventually become self-reliant homesteaders by running a Christmas tree farm, my husband and I left our secure jobs near Baltimore eight years ago and bought land in rural Virginia. Over the first few years we planted our pines . . . built a log cabin . . . and put in big, productive gardens. Friends and neighboring farmers were intrigued by our rough, wooden home and—surprisingly—complimented us on our learn-as-you-go interior work. In fact, it wasn't long before we were bartering our amateur skills for livestock.
For example, we accepted wallpapering, painting, and plaster-repairing jobs in exchange for young heifers. Two more calves (bringing our herd to 11) were added as payment for pasturing a neighboring farmer's cattle during a summer drought. We later purchased a bull (that was the only cash outlay required to build up our stock) . . . and now we auction off about ten yearlings every spring. If all goes well, we expect these cows to provide most of our income for about ten more years.
However, now that the pines are of salable size, a new avenue of exchange has opened. Last December the local veterinarian cut his Christmas evergreen from our stand and—in return—our horse got a "free" tetanus shot. Two other customers "paid" for their yule trees with pecan nuts and homemade sausage.
I wonder what riches (and new acquaintances) this Christmas season's barters will bring?
— L. W.
We found a way to enjoy a tropical vacation for very little money. Our story began when we placed an ad in a Florida newspaper, stating that we'd like to swap lodging in our New York-state house for similar privileges in an abode in the Sunshine State. The idea was to offer two weeks of fun-filled snowy weather to some southern travelers in exchange for 14 days of sunshine and warm beaches for our clan.
The advertisement generated a number of responses . . . and among the replies was a letter that included a picture of a family posed in front of their house. Upon further correspondence with those folks, we discovered that the couple had two children about the same age as our youngsters. We continued to write for three months prior to the decided "swapping date", so when we met halfway (in Virginia) to exchange house keys, it was as if we were seeing old friends.
Thanks to bartering we were saved the hassle of finding someone to house-sit during our absence. We were also able to leave our children's toys at home (thus conserving space in the car), since we knew that there would be plenty of appropriate playthings at our "new" house. We even had the convenience of employing our friends' regular babysitter (after all, dependable help is mighty hard to find in a strange town). And the $400 we saved in lodging expenses certainly isn't to be scoffed at, either.
Our family sunned and swam for two glorious weeks . . . while our friends skiied, skated, and sledded to their hearts' content. The arrangement worked out so well, in fact, that we've decided to swap again this coming January!
Whenever I think of swapping, I think of Christmas . . . because trading enables my husband and me to make our holiday season all the more festive. My spouse, you see, fixes appliances for the owner of an antique store. Now the old-timey items in that shop set our hearts a-racing, but our wallets really put a brake on any spending. However, by bartering our skills for goods, we're able to indulge in our hobby and save our cash.
Here's how we do it: The store owner keeps a tab of what he owes us for fixing his gadgets . . . and at the end of the year my mate and I go on a shopping spree . . . picking out antiques until the value of our gathered items equals the repair work bill.
Swapping puts glitter in our life in other ways, as well. For instance, our jeweler is able to keep his home appliances in good running order by fixing our watches and jewelry whenever they need it.
Season's Greetings! May the coming year bring you good health, good cheer, and some good trading opportunities!
— L. K.