"Barter is a method of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money. Barter usually replaces money as the method of exchange in times of monetary crisis, such as when the currency may be either unstable or simply unavailable for conducting commerce."- Wikipedia
During these economically unstable times, when work is difficult to find and personal budgets are tight, more and more folks are finding themselves bartering for needed goods and services. Although trading is an age-old practice that is still common in many parts of the U.S., I've only recently reaped its benefits. In Maine, where I grew up, it is very common to strike up trading deals. I remember in college being surprised to hear from my mother that even her law firm bartered regularly; they would trade legal services for getting their building painted, for plumbing work, and for antique furniture used to decorate the offices.
This Spring, when I found myself with an overabundance of garden lettuce that miraculously survived the winter, I posted an ad on Craigslist- "Trade Garden Lettuce for Fresh Rhubarb." I don't have a rhubarb plant, but had been eying the many over-growing rhubarb plants around town. I received a number of responses and ended up making some great "transactions." In addition to making several rhubarb-blackberry crisps a la mode, I also now have two big bags of cut rhubarb in my freezer. I plan on making Montana cherry jam again this summer and will use the rhubarb with the cherries to create more volume. In addition to being very high in calcium, rhubarb has the unique quality of taking on the flavor of whatever you mix it with.
I also traded lettuce on a more casual level. Our neighbor out back has occasionally been giving us fresh duck eggs, so I thought I'd return the favor by giving him lettuce. Lots of lettuce, actually; he received many big bags. Two big bags also went to the married couple that I nanny for. In exchange, they gave me rhubarb from their backyard as well as wild oyster mushrooms that they had gathered in the woods. I had so much lettuce at one point that I was desperately giving it to friends, neighbors, and even a stranger.
I have not only been trading my goods, but I've also been trading my services. I have been 'volunteering' about five hours a week at a local, organic CSA farm. In exchange for my labor out in the fields, I get to take whatever produce is available to pick. So far, I've brought home lettuce, tarragon, pea shoots, spinach, swiss chard, bok choi, and asparagus. It has been a fun experience to learn more about organic gardening and to see how larger-scale agriculture operates. Plus, I've met some great people and had interesting conversations about food politics.
After my successful Craigslist lettuce trading experiences, I decided to respond to an ad stating, "Trade Pottery for Veggies." The ad had a link to the potter's Etsy site so I could check out her pottery first. I absolutely love her style of pottery. In fact, I've always wished to have a full set of handmade, earthy dishes like she makes. I called her up and turns out, she only lives two blocks up the street from me. Jennie and I have been meeting weekly and I've given her excess lettuce, parsley, beet greens, and kale from my garden. We've found out that we actually have a lot in common and have been hanging out some; she's an alternative gal that's about my age and also from New England. She made four beautiful bowls especially for me, which I received yesterday. She has also generously given me a kombucha baby, fingerling seed potatoes, and soil (from her work place) that I've been dumping in my potato box.
Yesterday, Jennie and I went strawberry picking together at a local farm. She heard from a friend that the farm offered a work/trade deal where you can pick in exchange for free fruit and veggies. I knew that local strawberries are very expensive, so I called the farm first to make sure that they did, in fact, offer such a deal. They said they did, so we drove over there in the evening and each picked 10 pounds of strawberries. We met the super friendly farmer who kept 10 pounds for himself. Jennie and I each came home with 5 free pounds of fresh, local berries. What a great deal! Otherwise, 5 lbs of berries would have cost $18. The farmer invited us to come back again, so we have tentative plans to pick free strawberries again next Tuesday.
Jennie is a very resourceful gal and a bartering pro. After the strawberry picking, we drove down the street to the local Food Bank. I'm on a tight budget, but thankfully I haven't resorted yet to food stamps or taking handouts from the Food Bank. Jennie assured me, however, that the food bank workers encourage anyone to stop by and pick up certain excess foods. The excess foods being, unfortunately, the fresh, healthy foods. I have heard before from people that have worked at different Food Banks (back in Maine and here in Montana) that they literally can't give away fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods to the low-income families. This could be a topic of an entirely different blog post, but most needy folks will only take the easy to prepare, processed (and rather unhealthy) foods.
Anyway, Jennie and I each took from the Food Bank four loaves of fresh, locally baked bread made from organic Montana wheat flour. This bread was apparently a little bit too old for the local bakeries to sell, so they donated to the Food Bank. It wasn't too old for Mark and I; the sourdough, ciabatta, and challah taste soft and fresh. This is high-quality bread that I usually can't afford to buy myself. Jennie said that she was told that the Food Bank has such a hard time giving away excess bread and produce, that some people take it to feed to their chickens and livestock. Since there is no shame in taking good food that might otherwise go to waste, I'll certainly be stopping by the Food Bank again.
One of the coolest things about my bartering experiences so far is that they have lead to other cool opportunities. It has gotten me to think more creatively about what other goods and services I could offer in exchange for things that I regularly need. I am also learning to not be shy to ask questions or offer up a deal. Have you ever bartered?