Food Swapping, Donated Clothing, and Other Barter Agreements

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Donated clothing and housewares were a basis for one Nevada family's barter agreements.

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.

Food Swapping

did it for us! I mean, before we read of what other people were doing,
the idea of swapping just never occurred to my husband and me. Now we
swap every chance we get!

We’ve traded
labor for a bank of chicken nests, hay baling for storage space in our
barn, cake decorating for help at canning time, eggs for babysitting,
white potatoes for sweet yams, and made lots of other small swaps as

Our latest exchange involved one
of the two hogs we raise each year. We moved to our new place too late
in the year to raise a calf, but we did manage to buy a couple of
70-pound pigs early enough in the season to bring them up to market
size. Then we traded one of the porkers to a local locker plant for a
side of beef. So now we have a freezer full of steak and burgers, and
pork chops and sausage, all for a total investment of just $70!

Thanks for the idea, MOTHER EARTH NEWS. And, folks … keep on swappin’!

Gary & Carol Hoffman
Gilman City, MO  

Donated Clothing and  Housewares

We’ve been reading your swaps column
for several issues now, and I’m astounded that no one has suggested the
most obvious (to me!) swap of all. Shortly after we made our move to
the land, I let it be known–to all the friends and relatives we left
behind in the city–that we’d be happy to accept any and all donations of
rummage: clothes, linens, home furnishings, kitchenware, or what have

As a result, I haven’t had to buy
a sheet, towel, or canning jar in the past six years! I’ve clothed my
husband, myself, and three growing boys–with a little help from my
sewing machine–and have been able to share the generosity with a local
home for retarded adults and a “free store” that provides for burned-out

In return for the treasures
they bring, our friends and relatives get to spend a day at the farm
and usually leave our home laden with surplus eggs, milk, jam, and–in

Ours is what I call
a good swap! We soothe our friends’ consciences by accepting used but
useful things that are too good to throw away, and they ease our budget.
We’re both happy!

H.R. Gloss

Troupsburg, NV 

Plumbing For Food

I’ve recently been playing the nomad circuit–traveling the country looking for land to settle on–and have found a way to satisfy my weakness for good restaurant food without putting a dent in my pocketbook.

When my lady and I finish enjoying a fine meal–and before I pay the tab–we check out the establishment’s restrooms for needed repairs (not to escape through a conveniently located window!). Then, we go to the management and offer to fix any leaky faucets or clogged drains that we find in exchange for our dinner. Such jobs usually take only about 30 minutes or so–plus a few cents for washers, etc.–and we’re often asked to come back the next day to do major repairs (for cash!) before the business opens. We’ve always found the restaurants happy with our work … and our tummies contented with their food!

We carried this kind of barter a step further when I installed all of the plumbing in a small “organic” restaurant in exchange for a years worth of free dinners! (Anyone with some knowledge of plumbing can use this swap technique. Or as an alternative, try offering kitchen work or cleaning for the same mouthwatering benefits.) The owners saved valuable starting capital by letting me perform the labor, and I ate well for a long while! In fact, the total prices of those meals probably exceeded what I would’ve charged for the job. But everyone was happy with the trade and with the friendship formed because of it.

This last item–friendship–may be the greatest value of all in the swapping game. It’s certainly a benefit you won’t always receive in a cash-for-goods exchange!

David Blume
San Francisco, CA  

Rent for Firewood

We’ve always had pretty good luck exchanging our labor for cheaper rent, but this year we’ve gotten the best deal ever. We lease a nice old three-bedroom, two-story farmhouse on seven acres–with all the outbuildings anyone could want–for only $150 a month. In this part of Washington State, that’s really a bargain!

But, the best part about our present situation is that we don’t have to pay with cash at all. The good man we rent from supplies us with a truck, chain saw, and land that he wants cleared, and we make our rent payment every month by delivering a heap o’ cut trees to his doorstep.

Our arrangement makes our landlord happy (it keeps him warm, too!) and allows us to save what cash we do have for a future place of our own. As you can imagine, we feel that barter is a blessing, for sure!

Bob & Carol Ness
Vancouver, WA 

Land, Labor, and Capital

My brother-in-law and I wouldn’t even have a homestead if my mother hadn’t taught us what she knew about bartering. Luckily we both lived around Mom long enough to learn the trade from the “expert” herself. Those teachings are what landed us our present happy situation.

When we found a 40-acre tract of land with Moccasin Creek running smack through the center of it–and when we saw that flat valley with fields to support our needed gardens, and the tree-covered, wildlife-rich Ozark mountains on either side–we figured our homestead dreams were about to come true.

I guess nothin’ really worth much comes easily, though. The old man who owned the land said he had to have cash, and no matter how we figured it, we didn’t have enough to swing the deal.

Then we found out that the owner’s house had recently burned down and he was planning to hire someone to replace it. So, we put our building abilities on the line and approached the man to see if we could make a trade. We told him we had enough money to buy the material for a small, nothin’ fancy home: That would take care of the down payment. Then, for an agreement from the proprietor to let us pay the rest on time, we bartered ourselves into the construction of his new house … and the purchase of our mutual homestead!

Jeffrey Sunnerville
Jordan, AR

Generational Exchange

When my family first moved to rural Tennessee four years ago, we started swapping with our next door neighbors: an 80-year-old couple who had lots of experience with hard work and self sufficiency (they never bought anything but coffee and salt, while raising eight children!). We began–somewhat warily–by trading our early cabbage plants for their late ones. Then we got all their surplus corn in exchange for all our extra eggs. Soon we were eagerly swapping rides to town for lessons on how to care for bees, butter for learning how to grow beans without bugs or poison, and juice from our apples for the use of their cider press.

There were a lot of jobs those old folks could no longer do but knew how to do, and a lot we could do but lacked the know-how. So, we just merged our strengths to overcome our weaknesses.

Two years ago the man died, and his wife moved in with a daughter. We missed them, their knowledge, and their swaps. But then the old couple’s son came to care for the place next door. He knows lots about hard work and self-reliance too, and he also likes to trade! Now we exchange homegrown beef and milk for hay, pasture for mowing fields, and our bumper garden and fruit crops for his. Our barter is in its second generation!

You just can’t beat good tradin’ or good neighbors!

Linda Miller
Hampton, TN 

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