Alaskan Bush Exchanges, Urban Gardener, and Other Successful Barter Agreements

Food exchanges negotiated by Alaskan bush dwellers and an urban gardener who traded his labor for access to land are among the barter agreements covered in this ongoing feature.

| September/October 1981

  • 071 barter agreements - alaskan bush exchanges
    In the Alaskan bush, barter agreements are often the only way to make purchases.

  • 071 barter agreements - alaskan bush exchanges

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.

Alaskan Bush Exchanges

The fine art of bartering has enhanced our Alaskan bush life and is often about the only way to purchase things here in the far North. This past year, for example, my husband and I exchanged carpentry work for a snug winter's lodging, and as the cold season tightened its icy grip we traded food supplies with other snowbound folks. Since the nearest grocery store is 35 miles down river by dogsled, swaps such as a few jars of high-bush cranberry jelly for a tin or two of salmon have, in these parts, long been a common way of adding variety to winter meals.

We barter for services as well: A refinished rifle stock paid a buddy of ours for delivering the winter mail, and we used a walrus tusk to hire an airplane for a midwinter trip from the bush to town and back. During the spring, friends boarded our dogs for a month in exchange for a week of our help in finishing a greenhouse and starting a log sauna. And our part in the group effort that helped a neighbor move nine birch trees from the forest to a boat was repaid when the same work crew helped us lower our fishing vessel down the steep riverbank to the water.

We're looking forward to yet another season of swapping too, because we've discovered that trading has magic that far surpasses the lure of cold cash.


Urban Gardener

Living in an urban apartment saves me a lot of tame and money, since I can "hoof it" to my nearby workplace. Still, I'd always longed for enough garden space to let me grow a wide variety of vegetables (an impossibility in the postage stamp-sized plot allotted by the landlord). How I yearned to plant a few of the new hybrids! But although the unfamiliar (at least to me) vegetables such as spaghetti squash were tantalizing, I was reluctant to commit even a corner of my precious space to any crop other than the "old favorites": peas, beans, and tomatoes.

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