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How To Barter For Food

By James  Stout, former writer for BarterNews

Food was a form of money in some earlier societies. People traded tobacco, salt, grain, fish, rice, olive oil, tea, and other edible goods. But commodities like hot tea were replaced by cold cash. Now some people are hungering for those old days. When I worked for a non-profit barter club, approximately half of our trades involved food; for example, someone would swap away some surplus home-grown vegetables for an auto repair.

We can barter for food in many ways.

  1. We can barter for someone's garden produce. Many gardeners have surplus fruits and vegetables which they are willing to trade.
  2. We can barter with small food stores. A supermarket is unlikely to trade with us, but we might set up a deal at a small store; for example, we could build shelves in exchange for groceries.
  3. We can barter with farmers. We might find farmers at a "farmers' market," or a road-side stand, or at their home. Like the rest of us, they have many needs which can be fulfilled by bartering.
  4. We barter whenever we use a food co-op; we work a few hours per month at the co-op in exchange for a lower price on food. (Refer to the chapter regarding co-ops.)
  5. We can barter for food-related goods. These items include a food processor, a popcorn popper, a refrigerator and freezer, a stove, pots and pans, silverware, a meat-smoker, a juicer, cookbooks, etc.
  6. We can barter for food-related services. We might trade for the services of a butcher, a cake decorator, a canner, a caterer, a nutritionist, a cook, etc.
  7. We can barter for goods and services for our vegetable garden. We can get fertilizer, a water-hose, irrigation pipes, a fence to protect the garden, a greenhouse, young plants from a nursery, a gardening consultant -- and a gardener, so that we don't need to do the work ourselves. (We could also barter for a sharecropper; refer to the section regarding sharecropping.)
  8. We can barter with restaurants. In a barter club, we are likely to find members who own restaurants; we will pay for our meal with barter-club units. We can also make one-to-one deals; for example, a restaurant might need our carpet-laying service, or some advertising in our newspaper, or our calligraphy for the menus, or the fresh strawberries from our garden.
  9. We can barter for the animals which we will eat. The animals might include rabbits, a cow, chickens, etc.
    • We can barter for miscellaneous goods and services to care for these animals. These items might include feed, cages, fences, veterinarian's services, and advice regarding animal care.
    • We can barter for the use of land. At one barter club, a person offered one of his goats, in exchange for some pasture-land where the other goats could graze. (Refer to the chapter regarding bartering for real estate.)
    • We can barter when we are hunting or fishing for food. We might trade for a shotgun, a room at a fishing lodge, a fishing-boat rental, or permission to hunt on someone's property.
  10. We can barter for tutoring in food-related subjects. The subjects can include cooking, wine-making, gardening, vegetarianism, herbology, foraging for edible plants -- and dieting (if we are too successful in bartering for food).
  11. We can barter for "just-haul-it-away" food. Someone else's nuisance might be our next dinner. For example, a man called our barter club to find someone to harvest an acre of hay; he said, "Just take it away for free," because it was a fire hazard for him, but the person who harvested it probably used it to feed some livestock. Other land-owners might be happy to let us take their apples and walnuts and other foods which would otherwise rot and have to be cleaned up. We are bartering our labor for the food which the land-owner doesn't want anyway.
  12. We can barter for rental items. For example, if we don't want to trade for the ownership of an apple press, we can barter to use one for a single day. We might also rent a food dehydrator, a tractor, a rototiller, a meat smoker, a ladder for fruit-picking, a fishing pole, or another device used for acquiring or processing food.

We can do some sharecropping. Sharecropping is not a wilted relic from the United States' post-Civil War era. It's in full bloom in communities where people are making this type of deal: a landowner allows someone to grow vegetables on the property, in exchange for some of the produce. It is a good deal for the landowner (who is now gaining some value from the property) and for the sharecropper (who might be an apartment-dweller who likes gardening and wants to reap some inexpensive food). The information in this chapter can be used by people who want to get a sharecropper, and those who want to be one.

  1. Finding the sharecropper.
    • We can call a non-profit barter club. When I worked for a non-profit barter club, more than 30 spaces were available for sharecropping; one site was a small garden, but another was a five-acre parcel. (A business-oriented barter club is less likely to be have opportunities for sharecropping.)
    • We might find suitable people in the phone book's yellow pages. The opportunity might interest someone who is listed under Gardening, Lawn Care, or Landscaping.
    • We might find suitable people through a classified ad. The ad could say, "Wanted: gardener to work in my garden plot in exchange for a share of produce."
    • We can put a notice onto a bulletin board.
  2. The agreement. Our agreement can cover these issues:
    • The percentage of the harvest. Perhaps we will split the harvest 50-50; or maybe we will give 30 percent to the landowner and 70 percent to the sharecropper.
    • The expenses. We will determine who is to pay for the seeds, fertilizer, water, etc. Other possible expenses include the rental of a rototiller, or the purchase of tools such as shovels, rakes, and hoses. (We might be able to barter with a third party to get those items.)
    • Liability. We need to consider liability, in case the sharecropper is injured while gardening.
    • The use of tools. Will the sharecropper be permitted to use the landowner's tools? Who will pay for the repair of tools?
    • A larger commitment. In some parts of the world, a sharecropper is not merely a part-time gardener; instead, the person lives on the property in a house which has been provided by the land-owner.
  3. Variations in sharecropping the land. The concept of sharecropping is to use someone else's land in exchange for a portion of whatever we take from it. We can develop these variations on that concept:
    • Allow someone to cut up the old trees on your properly for firewood, in exchange for some of the wood.
    • Allow someone to tap your maple trees, in exchange for some of the syrup.
    • Allow someone to hunt or fish on your property, in exchange for some of the meat.
    • Allow someone to pan for gold, in exchange for a portion of it. (This is a common practice in southern Oregon, for example.)
    • Allow someone to forage for wild food (e.g., rice or mushrooms), in exchange for a share.
    • Allow someone to pick your fruit, in exchange for some of it.
  4. Sharecropping with items other than land. When we sharecrop our land, we permit someone to use the land in a trade for a portion of the bounty. If we expand this idea of "sharing," we discover that we can barter other items besides land. For example, we could share our lawnmower with a neighbor; in exchange, he or she will mow our lawn occasionally. Or we could let someone use our snowmobile during the winter; in exchange, the person will store the snowmobile during the summer (if we have no place to store it).

 



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