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.
Our local Hudson's Bay Company Store has instituted an interesting swap system for its grocery patrons. Before a customer enters the foods department, he/she is met with a table and sign asking that all unwanted cents-off coupons be left on the counter. The customer may in turn choose any coupons already on the table, which may be of use in his/her shopping that day.
This coupon-trading arrangement has been a particular money-saving boon to the Bay's many elderly patrons, who live in a nearby senior citizens' complex. And since it's extremely unusual for a city department store the size of the Bay to involve itself in such an arrangement, we feel that this barter setup is all the more noteworthy!
Edna N. Sutherland
Edmonton, Alta. Canada
Money is a useful yet elusive thing. It seems to disappear into our budget, and we can rarely remember just exactly what it's been used for. Swaps, on the other hand, are seldom forgotten.
I can't remember, for example, what we did with the cash from the sale of my husband's palomino gelding ... but I do know that the trade of a milk goat got us a row of cedar fenceposts for our back pasture. In addition, the wire for the fence was acquired in exchange for firewood and fill dirt for a neighbor's new driveway. The postholes were dug by a neighbor with a tractor-mounted auger in return for enough milk to give his new calf a good start. And finally, the fence itself was put up by another couple in trade for three months' use of the pasture.
It has also slipped my mind what we did with the money from a prime steer that we sold last spring, but the extra calf we're raising now has already been bartered for some custom cabinet work in our house. And when we replaced our prefab fireplace with an efficient airtight model, we swapped the old unit for enough backhoe work to dig the foundation for a new barn and make repairs on our pond. You may often wonder where your money has gone, but you never forget a successful swap.
But barter has still another advantage over cash transactions: So far Uncle Sam hasn't figured out a way to tax it. A few years back we contracted to have our overgrown woodlot selectively logged. Since even scrawny trees can be sold to pulp mills, we were pleasantly surprised that the proceeds paid for all the materials we needed to build our new barn. We viewed this simply as converting the standing trees into a building, but Uncle Sam saw the intermediary cash as income and taxed us $200.
The loggers are back now, thinning another section of the lot. But this time they'll clear, grade, burn stumps, and build an access road to our future homesite. No money involved—a much better arrangement!
Patricia A. Blundell
Here in our part of Alaska there are always lots of fishing boats around during the winter, so we have plenty of opportunity to swap fresh bread, blueberry wine, and other treats for shrimp, crab, and bottom fish.
But when warm weather rolls around, we have a yen to go out and do our own fishing, and last summer this led us to our most profitable swap of all: the season's use of a 30-foot fishing boat, in exchange for renovation of the craft. We traded fish all summer for a large variety of fresh produce from a friend's garden and made quite a profit from the surplus fish besides.
But as a result of our commercial fishing, we found ourselves too busy to can our salmon catch for our own winter's use. Fortunately, though, we came upon a good barter: We swapped our already canned venison and cranberry jam to a friend, who—in turn—canned a whole case of salmon for us.
We've since made further trades, many of them related to our frequent outdoor excursions. Since my husband and I are fanatic beachcombers, we've had lots of opportunity to salvage "beach crabs" (buoys) which we trade for halibut fishing gear. I also send my mother Japanese glass fishing floats in exchange for boxes of paperback books and magazines. And I once found an elk horn, which I traded to an Alaskan native friend of mine who carves antlers into cribbage boards. In return, I received a fine cranberry picker.
I could probably go on forever about the many swaps I've made over the years, because—here in rural Alaska—barter is simply the way of life.
It seems that most folks in rural Montana choose to live by the old adage, "Buy it new, make it do, wear it out, do without." But we object to "Buy it new" because of the all too frequent disadvantages: poor quality and huge profit margins. So swapping has found a permanent home in every area of our needs.
We exchange sewing skills, astrological charts, and babysitting for various and sundry goods and services. We swap cut firewood and ready labor for other skills, for garden sets, and for enough potatoes, onions, plums, crab apples, and pie cherries to last the winter. We've also traded roofing assistance for help installing a wood-burning heater and the use of a camper for hand building a toolshed and fence.
This spring friends are raising our weaner pig with their own "future pork chops" in exchange for homebaked bread, wild berries, and much more. (These wild berries—along with some smoking salmon—will also be traded for an additional garden plot in a warmer area, which will provide us with the abundance of a longer growing season!)
Bartering is also great for Christmas gift ideas. We often give our friends services for the holiday season, such as cutting cords of firewood, hauling manure, preparing new gardens, repairing appliances, tuning up automobiles, and overhauling engines.
Swap it, but also pass it on. It'll always come back to you again. We can't imagine living any other way.
Cal & Melissa Hamilton
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
My husband John and I moved here to the mountains over a year ago, and—with a house warmed only by wood heat—we immediately saw the need to locate a source of the fuel. (Our 1.3 acres of rocky soil clearly couldn't supply it.)
Fortunately, we soon met a local farmer with thousands of acres in timber. And, more fortunate yet, he agreed to let us cut his downed trees for our wood supply in exchange for the clearing of his land. That was the beginning.
Now we lend our friend a hand with all sorts of chores. We've helped him bring in the hay, roof his barn, and round up cattle, and occasionally we give him fresh bread and homebaked goodies. In return we can cut all the wood we need, and fish and hunt in virtually undisturbed areas.
Perhaps more importantly, John and I have learned a great deal about our new locale and about outdoor life in general, and we've formed a lasting friendship with a marvelous, hardworking man. We help him and he helps us. We've always thought of this more as just being neighborly instead of swapping, but whatever it is, we like it!
John & Karen
Allen Nye, Mont.
Eye Doctor, Counselor, and Teacher
I'm an ophthalmologist with a knack for gab, and as such, I've found that a little prodding from me will more often than not cause my patients to open up with problems other than those related to the eyes. Frequently, their questions are merely an effort to acquire information on, and explanations of, issues concerning general health and bodily functions.
Over the years, therefore, I've spent more time serving my patients as a counselor/teacher in these matters than they might ever have expected when making their appointments. Yet my charges never rise with the number of extra hours, for a type of barter has evolved. Kind and appreciative people reward my interest and assistance with the "joys of the earth": a homemade cake or pie, freshly picked fruits and vegetables, and other such delights. And, best of all, I'm sometimes repaid with the "joys of the soul:" a heartfelt thanks and appreciative words which buoy my spirits and give me all the satisfaction I need.
What a wonderful form of barter that is!
Richard B. Coover,
M.D. Topeka, Kan.
Salvaged Wood Stove
Every time I look at our cozy little wood stove and feel its warmth throughout the kitchen, I can't believe we got it for hauling trash.
It all started when a neighbor of ours who owns some old houses offered us free rent in exchange for fixing up one of the buildings. Unfortunately, we found the structure irreparable ... but an old wood-burning stove inside caught our eye.
This was something we greatly needed for the coming winter, so we went to our friend and asked what he'd take for it. He just smiled and said, "You carry off the trash from over there and anything you find is yours to keep, including the stove."
We didn't hesitate a moment: That afternoon we started hauling trash. In addition to our stove, we found an antique bedframe and an antique glass "Lay's Peanut" canister.
Two years later, our wood stove is still keeping us toasty warm, and the peanut canister is now filled with our own homegrown peanuts. We've made lots of worthwhile swaps and plan to make many more, thanks to that friend who taught us the value of trading!
Fruit, Canning, and Romance
Montana is not a land overly blessed with a wide variety of fruit. Still, many of us prefer to use what's available rather than pay high prices for imports sprayed with poisonous concoctions.
This, of course, means that the seasonal canning of local produce becomes an annual chore—a chore that I, for one, don't really care for. I do like to work outdoors, though. So two years ago when I wanted to put up some fruit for the winter,I went out and picked apples, chokeberries, buffalo berries, and vegetables from my garden. I then took the produce to several single ladies, who canned them in exchange for half of the end product. I still have several quarts of chokeberry juice and syrup in my basement.
And—hey!—there can be more to one of these deals than first meets the eye. For instance: Thanks to my initial round of barter I don't have to make such swaps anymore. One lady who baked 18 apple pies for the freezer some time back is now my wife!
Handyman Ballet Dancer
About eight months ago, just as I received my first issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I was also dragged by my girlfriend to my first ballet class. With little money to spend on such things, I figured the lessons would have to be on about a once-a-week basis. But after reading the Barter Agreements section, I decided to work out a deal with the dance teacher. Now my dance lessons are free (up to 25 classes a week), "paid" for with time put in fixing up the studio: I paint, tile, and do general handiwork. Pretty soon I'll be starting on a garden. This is one swap which has paved the way to a complete change in my life: I'm now headed toward a career in dance!
In addition, I've been taken in—free of charge—as handyman apprentice to my dance teacher's husband. He's taught me to make and fix furniture and to repair electrical appliances and wiring in his small furniture/shoe repair/fix-it shop. My handiwork instructor also supplies me with free wood which I use to make my own furniture, and which he—in turn—sells at his store.
Incidentally, a Japanese light I constructed which was seen by an architect and some of his clients has now brought orders for more of the same ... plus, I've been commissioned by the architect to build some furniture he'll design. And all of this with the inspiration of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' timeless message: Money may be limited, but swapping holds no bounds!
My husband and I recently made a very special swap, through which we found a small heaven and a great truth! Here's how it happened:
One day, the two of us accidentally discovered an island for sale in our own home state of West Virginia. The spot was unbelievable: a remote area bordered by national forest, with clear streams, swinging bridge, stone cabin, and virgin spruce. However, even at its bargain price it was out of our financial league.
So instead of purchasing the land ourselves, we passed the word of the buy on to good friends in a neighboring state, who purchased the property immediately. (Our friends—former West Virginia residents themselves—follow these country roads home whenever they can.) In return for our tip, we were handed a key to the cabin and were urged to look after the island in our colleagues' absence.
Though we regret not owning this secluded paradise, by means of our caretaking, we are in fact able to enjoy it as often as—if not more than—its proprietors. And we see a significant parallel in this arrangement: After all, man does not "own" this planet; when he acquired its use in exchange for its care, he undoubtedly made the greatest swap of all!
Philippi, W. Va.
I've been bartering for the past 60 years now, with a tradin' peak during the Great Depression of the late 20's and early 30's. At that time, money was practically non-existent and swapping was a way of life with me. Back then, I'd work for a farmer in the height of the rush season and wait till fall for my wages. It was a long time between paydays, but the farmers were honest folk and they remembered. I'd come home and find a half porky or beef hanging up on the porch or sacks of grain piled high. If my employer had no way to deliver the goods, he'd send word for me to come get 'em.
Those days we always gave a little more than we'd bargained for. When I wanted to trap or gather herbs on someone else's land, I was always welcome ... and if I saw a fence down on the owner's property, I'd repair it without charge. Those things were appreciated. It was a world of give and receive, rather than one of grab and take!
Nowadays, some people look down on barter. Yet if the world is to survive, I feel it will have to be in the form of a cashless society. I, for one, will be dealing—as always—for my wants and needs ... but for now I'll have to be going. The postman has just brought my copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and for the next two days that's where my nose will be buried—while my better half fumes 'cause she can't get me to move.
Since I live on the coast and work on a large commercial drag boat, I have access to a wide variety of seafoods, many of which most landlubbers consider "delicacies." Commercially, we fish for shrimp only, so all else is thrown back ... but through the season, I pick out and save whatever I choose from the rejects. We freeze the squid, smelt, lingcod, black cod, sole, and snapper that I retrieve when we come ashore, and the salvage serves to fill our bellies all the way through to the next fishing season.
At the end of each season (when I retire from the ocean for a bit), I go sport fishing about 100 miles inland. The catch from these ventures plus my frozen tidbits from the sea provide trading stock that's hard to beat.
We load up the family pickup and bring an enviable haul to friends who live near our fishing site. And when we're ready to head back, our partners in trade shower us in return with garden vegetables galore—items that cost a fortune where we live (we were traded tomatoes for fish when the former brought $1.00 per pound in the grocery store)!
We think we've got quite a setup here: Our friends farm the land, we farm the sea, and we all reap the benefits of both!
Crescent City, Calif.