Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bartering and Crop Swaps

Kate, over on Living the Frugal Life, recently wrote a nice piece on bartering, which prompted me to review some "crop swap" information I had downloaded earlier.

Barter Theater, photo courtesy of Southern Foodways Alliance

Bartering achieved some notoriety around here locally (in the next county south of me) in 1933 when the price of admission to the  Barter Theater  was 40 cents OR an equivalent amount of produce. Four out of five Depression-era theater-goers there paid their way with vegetables, dairy products and livestock. (It's still an active live theater today, but I don't think they barter for admission anymore.)

So Bartering and/or Crop Swapping is nothing new, but perhaps our ideas about it deserve another look in the light of the current economy. The USDA now reports that storable foods costs have risen by 60% in the last year. Many vegetable crops are easily stored: cabbages, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, parsnips, beets, rutabagas, turnips, and more. Those should all be pretty easy to grow, store and/or barter. 

It might be harder to barter for sugar, salt, flour, or toilet paper unless you live near a processing facility and know one of the workers who may be able to get "seconds" which are generally packaging defects, not product defects. On the other hand, a surplus of those staples might be quite valuable as trade items if those things really get scarce.

I'd be interested in starting a trial crop swap group on a small scale here where I live... but I don't know enough people who might participate for it to be worthwhile. That's sad, actually. I threw away about 400 pounds of winter squash the first year I had a garden here; the food banks couldn't take them, and I didn't know any of my neighbors or any other place to put them to good use.
Sarah Henry, over on the shareable network blog, has written a few posts on how to set up crop swapping, including one directed at some of the legal aspects. I also know there is a barter section on Craigslist; unfortunately none of them are near enough to me to be to be economically viable. I did trade some cheese I made from goat milk to the farmer who supplied the milk, but it cost me $10-$12 in gas every time I went to pick up just 2 gallons of milk. So it wasn't the best good win-win situation; had he been closer it would have been wonderful.

I'd barter cheese or something else in a heartbeat for frozen free-range duck, even it it meant postage (which is still cheaper than gas). Actually I'd consider bartering lots of things, duck just came to mind because no one local has free-range duck to sell.

Anyone have suggestions or experience with bartering?

Edited the day after Thanksgiving to post a link from a friend on Barter Sites.


  1. I'd like to participate in a barter in my area, too, but as what I have to offer--fresh produce--is so seasonal, & it seems there's little value put on so much of it (it's my extra, right?), what I get in return is pretty poor.

    Did manage to trade some homegrown pork I'd bought from one friend w/another who'd bought half a side of range-fed beef, for a little variation in the meat department. =0) That's my friend in the big city, where fresh organic produce is a little more highly prized.

    It's a process...

  2. I'm hoping there may be more opportunities as our economy tightens.

    You are right about how folks value "extra" produce, though.

  3. Here's a link to a list of Barter sites. It's geared towards students, but still a good list of links!

  4. Value fluctuates as it is based on perception of need/ want. We had a crop swap this summer. Seems I was one of the few with tomato plants that survived freak weather. It just sort of happened as we met and talked to people around here.

    We didn't exactly assign values either, so I suppose it was less of a swap as it was more of a free exchange of surplus in a community.

    We had gotten a bunch of pumpkins post Halloween.. which we are now sharing eggs to those who gave us them. We gave a few chickens to another neighbor and he brought us over more venison and mushrooms.

    You can trade for an assortment of things, but the key is who needs what. In CO we were in a rather tightly packed suburb.. I cooked for a neighbor and shared fresh herbs he gave us tiles.

    Just keep an eye out for those that haven't figured out the courtesy of reciprocating. It is a rather foreign to many now a days.

    With your wine and cheese making skills Darius... I wonder how many friends would help extend the garden in a bring your own shovel party. Vino for vines.. May as well make a party of it. ;) lol Tapas and transplants..

    Just a thought.

  5. Great comments, Anne, and hooray for your successful bartering in CO, and now. I agree, a lot depends on needs.

    I can see it now... Tapas and transplants! (Too bad my friends are all an overnight trip away.)

  6. Here in New England, we do a lot of barter. The most common is bartering our extra meat for work help. We also barter with the local mechanic for tools or small jobs (DH does most all our mechanical work).

    We barter helping at a local farm doing chicken processing for the ability to use their equipment (scalder and plucker) to do our own.

    We did a processing day for ours and people came (some brought 3 or 5 chickens of their own to do) and helped and learned how to do it. We'll be doing another in mid October and have had lots of interest in that one.

    Bartering is one of our survival techniques. :)


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