Yeah, the economy sucks. Money’s tight. You don’t have to tell me twice, since I’m looking at overdue medical bills and have a mower being held hostage at the repair shop, and a destroyed stretch of fence that must be mended ASAP. It stinks. Before, I might’ve turned to Craigslist or Ebay in an attempt to sell outgrown kids’ clothes, no-longer-used horse tack, Hubby’s hunting gear (shhhh), or anything that isn’t nailed down, for extra cash. But what do you do when no one else has any money, either? They can’t buy your stuff if they don’t have any more cash than you do.
Well, as I am learning right now, one thing you can do is return to your historical roots, and try bartering. It may sound archaic at first, but really, it’s something that’s intuitive and natural…so much so that you’re almost certainly already doing it, to some extent, without even realizing it. We all keep a mental “scorecard” of sorts (though we’d never be so crass as to call it, or even think of it, in those terms, probably) of favors we owe and kindnesses given us, and tend to repay them in kind. When you pick up the check at lunch with a friend, you probably do so knowing that your buddy’ll get it next time. It’s a kind of tacit give and take that we enjoy in a civilized society, and it’s not much of a stretch to extrapolate that experience into something broader and more literal, with tangible rewards.
This all came home to me recently thanks to an exchange that began, as so many these days do, on Craigslist. (Let me just pause here a moment and say how grateful I am that Arkansans are finally coming around to realizing the enormous usefulness of Craigslist. It’s about time!) I had placed an ad to sell a few of our surplus Narragansett turkeys, and while there I of course had to look around and see what was up for grabs near me. It’s easy to fall down the Craigslist rabbit-hole, even without visiting the fantastically entertaining “missed connections” listings.
There was an ad for established strawberry plants, at a real honey of a price, and they could be picked up just a mile or so from my home! I’ve wanted strawberries for the longest time, so I responded to that ad straightaway, and asked the very nice gentleman who’d placed the ad some basic questions about their care, and made arrangements to pick up my new plants. When I went to meet the strawberry seller at a local gas-mart, I took along a dozen fresh eggs, which is something I tend to do when I’m feeling sociable–everyone likes fresh eggs, right? At this point, because it is just about to become relevant, I should show you what a sampling of fresh eggs from our place looks like.
The eggs on the bottom are from Orpington hens, and represent the shade of your typical “brown” grocery store eggs. Those others? Those beautiful things are from a fairly rare (in this country) French breed of hen called the Marans. The breed is prized for these eggs, and if the hen does not lay a dark enough egg, according to a numbered color-grading scale, then that bird may not even rightly be called “Marans.” These terra-cotta-colored eggs have American chicken-keepers enthralled right now, and rightly so. They’re fabulous birds.
So, I got the strawberries loaded into my vehicle, and passed the gentleman my payment for them, along with a carton of eggs. He looked at them, and said, “WOW. Are these Marans eggs?” which surprised me, because I haven’t run into many folks locally who are familiar with the breed. I told him that they were, at which point he told me that his wife also raised Marans, though a different color variety, and that her hens weren’t laying eggs this dark. He asked me if I’d sell them some hatching eggs, and I just said, “Feel free to hatch those; they’re fertile.” We chatted a little more, and when I mentioned the turkeys, he asked me a question that couldn’t have sounded any sweeter if it’d been scripted: “Do you have any Toms for sale?” I nearly wept for joy.
Arrangements were quickly made to transfer ownership of two big, gorgeous, and completely obnoxious Tom turkeys, and between then and the time of the pickup, several more exchanges were arranged. It all happened very organically, I think with both of us feeling a genuine willingness to help out a kindred spirit…I’ve found that people who are trying to live as close to the source of their food as possible tend to be giving and helpful in nature.
By the time all was said and done, I’d sold two turkeys, and given some roosters and ten pounds of organic Yukon Gold seed potatoes (we’ve gone low-carb for health reasons at Ninjapoodles Homestead) to my new friend. He’d given me three gallons of the most beautiful fresh raw milk you ever saw, from Guernsey cows, which are currently chilling in my freezer (the gallons of milk, not the Guernsey cows), waiting to become delicious cheese and yogurt. Of course, that must legally be called a “gift,” since our state legislature, in its wisdom, has seen fit to make fresh raw cow’s milk (unlike goat’s milk) illegal to sell or buy in Arkansas.
I’m hoping that this turns out to be a long-term acquaintence, because these folks do a whole lot more vegetable gardening than I’m able to do, and I’d like to avail myself of their produce prowess. We made arrangements to provide his wife with a couple dozen of my Marans hatching eggs in April, and though I quoted him a cash price for the eggs, I’d just as soon take payment in fresh milk with a 4-inch-deep creamline. Who wouldn’t?
What would you barter for? What would you offer in exchange for what you want? Would you consider exchanging services for goods? I’m telling you right now, I would happily set someone up with a ready-made flock of young laying hens or farm-fresh eggs for the rest of the year, if that someone would just come out here and help me assemble my daughter’s swingset!