Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I love bartering. Exchanging goods and services is an economy I understand. In fact, a definition of economy is the careful management of available resources. Bartering invites me to be mindful of my resources and how to best utilize them. 

I am constantly seeking bartering opportunities. Bartering invites creativity because it levels the playing field if you're cash poor but have other resources with which to pay. 

Because the cost of a babysitter and a night out can be discouraging, our family participated in a babysitting co-op with two other families. The kids had others to play with while two couples got a date night. Sometimes we just came home to the tranquility of a kid-free zone for a few hours.

In exchange for capoeira classes, I watched our instructors’ toddler for a summer. They got free childcare and we got free classes. A wonderful byproduct of this exchange has been the developing friendship between our families.

Bartering also invites relationship and open-handedness because each party has to trust the other to participate in the exchange fairly.

I started exchanging goods when my 11-year-old was born. My sister-in-law sent her oldest daughter’s outgrown clothes for our oldest and we’d send them back for her second then get them back for our second. We also exchanged books, cloth diapers and toys. It was a delight to receive a box in the mail and be reacquainted with forgotten clothes. It was equally fun to hide special toys in our boxes for the cousins. Whatever new stuff acquired along the way got tossed in the boxes too.

It was around this time my front yard was torn up for a water pipe. My neighbor had gardening experience but no space while I had just the opposite-space and no experience. She and I built and installed five raised beds in my front yard. I learned how to garden from her and we both got veggies.

So often when you start something you have no idea what will evolve out of it. This garden has become a bartering resource. Since the Midwest has three growing seasons I have a variety of veggies April through November. The girls’ gracious music teacher allows me to pay for lessons with a biweekly bag of veggies for several months through the year. And if you read my poop post, you know I trade garden scraps and veggies for poopy straw and duck eggs.

Gardening has led to a growing commitment to local, seasonal food. So our family takes advantage of u-pick farms every summer. Picking strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines and apples is an enjoyable outing that supports small nearby farms while providing us with ripe, local fruit we can freeze and preserve for our use and to exchange.

With a friend who raises chickens, fishes and hunts, I trade canned goods and homemade yogurt for venison, trout, chicken eggs and killer hot sauce. With friends who grow and can different veggies than me, we exchange goods to vary both our pantries.

Not everyone is open to bartering though and sometimes things go awry. Another sister-in-law sold all the clothes when she entered our loop rather than sending them on, thereby ending our exchange. 

My long time masseuse either didn’t want or wasn’t financially able to barter. But I asked an acquaintance and he agreed. I’ve exchanged fresh veggies, salsa, jam, applesauce, pickled beets and homemade yogurt for blissful 90-minute sessions. Win-win, indeed. 

Now if I could just pay my mortgage with apple butter…