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.
Farm Labor for Food and Shelter
My husband and I started our married life–just as
we’d planned to for six years–with a move to the
country. And barter has played a major role in our new
lifestyle by providing us with food and shelter.
Our trading began when a little determination (and a little
luck) landed us a part-time milking job on a fairly large
dairy farm. In exchange for one week’s work a month (on
days of our choosing), we live rent-free in a fine
two-bedroom farmhouse, have the use of a wood burning
stove and free-for-the-gathering fuel, and have access
to a five-acre pasture to graze our animals in!
The vegetables from our garden and fresh-from-the-cow milk
for making butter and cheese keep our larder full at little
cost. In addition, one of the best salmon and trout rivers
in the Northwest borders our new home (I’ve caught fish
that produced steaks the size of a dinner plate!).
Furthermore, as part of the milking deal, our farmer friend
gives us a discount when we purchase day-old calves. We’re slowly building up a dairy herd (for the time when
we can afford our own farm) at very little expense.
The swap is good for the dairyman, too, since he gets a
fourth of his farm work done “free.”
Now we think that’s a pretty darn good MOTHER EARTH NEWS-type
Natural Foods for Art, Labor, and Legal Advice
Being a “get more for less” enthusiast from way back, I’ve
always been interested in swapping. But by far the best
opportunity I’ve had to enjoy my horsetrading hobby
occurred a little more than three years ago when my
wife and I opened a natural foods store.
Because we started out on a shoe-string budget, we found
that bartering was essential to get our enterprise up and
running. And rather than hurt our budding business venture
by making folks uneasy (as we, on occasion, had feared it
would), swapping actually helped attract customers! Once
people knew we were willing to trade our wares for items or
services of like value, all kinds of deals were proposed. A
commercial sign painter, for example, designed our outdoor
advertising display in exchange for credit at the shop. Two other barter-bent brush-wielders supplied the
artwork for our catalogs and promotional flyers in return
for nuts, dried fruit, and other organically grown foods.
More trades followed: During the summer months we swapped
rice, grains, and dried beans for locally grown produce; our part-time help accepted food as payment for their
labor; and a share of our store’s wares even “bought”
us legal advice! You might say that barter has become the
main means of exchange in this business venture!
Mushroom Hunting for Leftovers
Toward the end of my travels in the United Kingdom, my
funds grew scarce and I realized that the trip would
have to come to a close sooner than I had anticipated. Even
though I wanted to spend more time hiking in the rugged,
breathtaking highlands of northwestern Scotland, I knew
that–as a foreigner–it wouldn’t be fair or
legal to compete with the local folk for the already
too-few jobs in that remote region.
I noticed, however, that the birch-covered knolls of the
north country harbored a veritable carpet of edible
chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius), a
delicacy that is highly regarded and sought after in
continental Europe but shunned by many of the local Scot
villagers because of its exotic golden-orange color.
So, being something of a wild-food fan, I struck up a
bargain with the local hotel chef (who had neither the time
nor the desire to search the hills for the fungal morsels but whose clientele were fond of such delicacies). In
return for a steady supply of the succulent mushrooms, he
provided me with ample portions of his leftover fixings
(meals which included salmon, duck, and–of course–home-baked scones).
Thanks to our trade, the hotel guests were treated to tasty
mushroom sauces, while I was able to save money on food and
thus extend my vacation!
Shotgun for Auto Repairs
As an avid angler, I find that I often accumulate more
fishing equipment than I can use (it seems I’m forever
testing one type of rod after another to try to locate the
“perfect” bigmouth-bass snagger).
So when an acquaintance approached me about a trade a few
years ago, I was glad to swap some of my excess gear for a
Soon after that “purchase,” however, I landed a stimulating
but time consuming job that afforded me fewer leisure hours
to devote to hunting and left the shotgun sitting idly in the
back room. In fact, I had just about forgotten about the
weapon when both of the family cars sputtered to a stop. After learning the repairs to get them back on the road would cost $300, and knowing my wallet couldn’t foot that bill, I decided to try barter.
I made a circuit of the local
garages with the hope of trading my unused firearm for
some auto repair work, and struck it lucky on my second
try: The service station’s owner was hankering for just
such a gun … and he had recently priced the same model
for over $300!
Now the runabouts are both in prime condition again, my
pocket’s not a penny poorer, and I’ve made a new friend!
Bees for Barn Work
Not long ago I was stung by the beekeeping bug,
and–after boning up on the basics of
apiculture–was eager to acquire a hive to tend. As I
was discussing the possibility of purchasing a colony from
a neighboring Apis mellifera enthusiast, though, the farmer
mentioned that his barn needed some repairs. That was all
the encouragement I needed! Being in the construction
business, you see, I have a considerable supply of
stockpiled scrap lumber. So, being a not-too-shabby
carpenter (and a bartering fiend at heart), I quickly
proposed a trade: my wood and labor for one of my
beekeeping buddy’s inhabited hives.
Now–a load of wood, a bag of nails, and a couple of
afternoons later–I’m a proud backyard beekeeper,
eagerly looking forward to that first honey harvest!
Firewood for Veterinary Services
Last autumn, when my husband and I needed to pick up some
supplies from our veterinarian, we found ourselves–upon
arriving at the doctor’s office–surrounded by stacks
of old house parts that turned out to be discards
from his latest remodeling project. And, when we discovered
that the medical practitioner was planning to have the
“junk” carted off and burned, we quickly asked whether we
could salvage the usable materials in exchange for
hauling away the entire heap.
Furthermore, as we started to work on our end of the deal,
we realized that the animal doctor had recently installed a
wood burning heating system but as yet had no supply
Well, we had leftover treetops from constructing a log
house, the equipment (and time) needed to cut more timber,
and a $100 vet bill!
An even trade was arranged. Now when we need the doc’s
services, he charges us by the cord!