New Roof, Apples for Cider, and Other Successful Barter Agreements

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After negotiating with the owner of an orchard to exchange apples for cider, a Vermont couple went on to barter some of their cider for haircuts.

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.

New Roof

Each rainstorm that came dripping through my kitchen ceiling last spring reminded me of the desperate need for a new roof on my 50-year-old house. However, financing the repairs by taking out a home improvement loan (with the current skyrocketing interest rates) wasn’t a feasible option, given my tiny bank account. But with every trickle that found its way from the outside of the house to the interior of my pantry, it became more and more apparent that something had to be done and soon!

So when a friend mentioned that he needed a brochure for a new business venture, I hesitantly proposed a swap. I operate a media service in my home, you see, and suggested that — in exchange for my preparing a promotional booklet for his fledgling enterprise and for consultation on the finer points of mail order — my buddy furnish the labor to reroof my house. My friend immediately agreed to the deal … so I next asked a manufacturer client (for whom I had written a product story) to reimburse me with roofing shingles — which he could obtain at a discount — instead of cash.

Within a week I had a new roof on my dwelling … and my friend not only had his brochure and an introduction to mail order advertising, but also my surplus shingles to use on a log home that he’s building! All things considered, it seems that we both got the best end of that bargain!


Apples for Cider 

October was apple-picking time up here in the Green Mountain State. But though our fingers were fairly itching to pluck some of the tart, tasty orchard fruit (and our empty 55-gallon whiskey barrel was just crying to be filled with fresh-pressed cider), the property my husband and I were homesteading didn’t boast even a single apple tree. In fact, it seemed that we’d have to do without a winter’s sauce ‘n’ cider supply altogether, since the prices at the roadside stands were too high — especially with the large amount of fruit we had in mind to garner — for our limited budget. We had almost given up hope … until, one evening, we thought of barter!

The following morning we approached a neighbor (who had a large orchard of Winesaps) with the idea of swapping a share of our cider-to-be for his apples. Well, in true Vermont fashion the farmer agreed to our picking his overgrown plot . . . as long as we gave him a gallon or two of hard cider in return. We soon had a truckload of the crisp crunchers, and in no time at all our new friend’s brew was in the making.

But the swapping didn’t stop there! That initial trade turned out to be the beginning of an exciting succession of barters! One friend offered us hand-tied trout-fishing flies for a jug of the delicious cider; another buddy accepted a gallon of the thirst quencher as payment for haircuts; and still another pal traded some of his homegrown seeds for a tankard or two of the tasty brew. And to top it off, just last week our family indulged in a “potluck” duck dinner with all the trimmings, and the “dish” we furnished was the beverage!

The possibilities for trading seem to be limited only by our supply of cider. And — best of all — we’re learning what fun it is to be able to offer friends a product we’re proud of, and to receive something back that they, in turn, are pleased to give us. You can bet that barter will stay alive and well up around this part of the country!


Travel Trades

Ever since my husband and I and our two children left New Zealand ten months ago, we’ve been traveling around the world … exchanging our skills and labor for places to rest our heads during our visits to different countries.

Now that we’ve been on the road for almost a year, our “home-hunting” procedure has become regular as morning chores. As soon as we arrive in a new city (such as London, where we are at the moment), we advertise in alternative magazines and in the local newspapers, offering to help on farms in return for food, a spot to park our van, and an exchange of conversation and knowledge.

And although we initially began our worldwide bartering scheme with the intention of merely saving funds on the trip, my husband and I have decided that this is an ideal way to tour! Despite the inevitable language barriers, we’ve had no trouble at all adjusting to the many new lifestyles. In fact, we’ve felt right at home with our temporary families. Working side by side with the local people, eating the same meals that they do, and partaking of their different customs have enabled us to experience how folks live in various cultures, instead of seeing only the superficial side of life often viewed by the average tourist.

Our family has also discovered that a good many farmers are glad to find seasonal labor, especially when they can get such help at minimal cost. As a matter of fact, most people welcome the idea of exchanging food for work.

In short, our family has found swapping to be a great way to see the world . . . and we plan to continue trading wherever we go!

Wellington, New Zealand 

Appliance Exchange

The fine art of swapping isn’t by any means new to my family. In fact, it’s been part of our way of life for years!

Back during the lean times of the Great Depression, my grandfather (who was a dentist in the Big Sky country of Montana) fixed dentures, filled cavities, and pulled teeth in exchange for a myriad of commodities: firewood, fresh garden produce, an occasional dinner of farm victuals, and — most commonly — the helping hands provided by his patients.

In fact, I remember Grandpa’s telling me (back in the days when I was a mere whippersnapper snuggling up in his lap) about the summer when he was building his first log cabin and a man with a team of draft horses (plus a whole passel of youngsters) hauled a load of pine timber down from the mountain forest in return for dental care for his entire brood. Then — the tale went on — until the dwelling was actually completed, other folks skinned and notched those logs as payment for my granddaddy’s skills.

So I guess I’m just following the tradition of our clan, now that I’m bartering my way out of a city existence and into a country lifestyle! The land that my husband and I are building our log home on has no access to a power line, so — before the long-planned-for move could begin — all of our watt-consuming appliances had to go. Instead of hosting the usual garage sale, however, we opted for a barter day.

At first we were a trifle apprehensive about the response we’d receive to our idea … but when our neighbors learned of the scheme, they were only too glad to trade their “old-fashioned,” dust-collecting goods for our power tools and appliances. Our “booty” from the swapping sale included a handcranked cider press, a wheelbarrow, some good double-paned windows, a chain saw, garden tools … and even a do-it-yourself sound system consisting of a hammered dulcimer, a clarinet, and conga drums!

These items, bought new, would have been much too expensive for us to purchase, but since our treasures came out of the attics and basements of friends’ homes, it wasn’t difficult at all to decide upon a reasonable bargain. In short, we feel that business by barter is better for everyone involved!


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