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
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.