Barter System Makes a Comeback

Bartering fosters a sense of community and encourages a healthy local economy. Get the know-how you need to confidently and successfully barter your own trades, all without exchanging a single penny.

| July/August 2018

"So," our new neighbor said somewhat hesitantly. "How much would it cost us to have you and Julie tend to our horses for a long weekend while we're out of town? It's not a ton of work. And we'll show you exactly what to do."

New neighbors. My wife, Julie, a native to the area, and I had recently returned to southwest Washington state following an 18-year stint in eastern Iowa. We'd just started to get to know the people around our small acre in the Elochoman Valley. John and Claudia were longtime locals — country folk who, like us, hunt, fish, heat with wood, grow a big garden, and rely on Mother Nature for a large percentage of their day-to-day dealings.

"Nothing," I told her. "Glad to do it. You just show us what needs done, and we'll tend to it." Claudia was quite obviously confused. "Nothing?" she asked. "Nope," I replied, grinning. "I'm sure we can work something out."

Such was the beginning of a newfound friendship. Since that first encounter, Julie and I have taken care of Pepper, Blue, Mariah, and Rosey many, many times, with never a dollar changing hands. But don't think for a moment the relationship hasn't been mutually beneficial. In exchange for our equine care, John and Claudia have been kind enough to grant me permission to hunt their acreage during deer, elk, and black bear seasons. I now have use of John's front-end loader, brush hog, and PTO-powered post hole digger. And both of them stop by frequently with fresh vegetables and blueberries from their enormous garden. It's a win-win for everyone involved, we've come to agree, and all because of that centuries-old system of acquiring what one needs, sans the almighty dollar: the barter system.

Typically, it's the same thing anytime I mention the barter system nowadays. "Antiquated," says one. "Archaic," says another. "Doesn't work except in the country," says a third. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's true that the barter system is an ancient method by which two parties obtain something desired without the formal exchange of currency. It's a safe bet that mankind has been practicing the barter system in one form or another since the appearance of human beings on the planet. Salmon for this. Beads for that. Flint arrowheads and cedar shafts for this and that. It's nothing new, this back-and-forth among humans. However, if it's so long in the tooth, how is the barter system still relevant today?

It's not only in rural areas across the country that this way of conducting commerce persists. If you've shoveled someone's sidewalk or driveway and been handed a tray of still-warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies when you've finished, you've bartered. If you've repaired someone's mountain bike in exchange for an afternoon twice a month on said bicycle, you've practiced the barter system. But these are, admittedly, somewhat unintentional acts of barter. What about bartering with a purpose?

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