Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hillbilly Ingenuity: The Barter System

The barter system is not new. Trade has always been trade: the exchange of something of value for something else of equal value. This thing called "cash" is convenient for those who have it, and certainly simplifies things when you start talking about international trade or even a trip to the grocery store. Between neighbors, craftsmen, and specialty folk in general, however, the barter system still makes a lot of sense- especially when you have more of something than you need- and so does your neighbor.

The Rules

Value is in the eye of the buyer- and the seller. What impacts value? If you are trading food items for food items, you are on fairly level ground: One meal's worth of venison is worth one meal's worth of pork, if both of you have only one or the other. The same is true of vegetables for vegetables (if your neighbors happen to be badly off enough to need something in trade for vegetables, which is sad), and even milk/eggs/other unprocessed goods for cheese/bread/other processed goods. Things start to get interesting when you are trading skills or equipment for food. That's when you have to remember...

Be generous- what goes around comes around. What is the value of a large, walk-in refrigerator? Ask the hunter/butcher who does not have one, and must field dress, haul home, and immediately butcher and pack a large animal in the kitchen immediately after spending many hours in the freezing cold to track said animal. He would surely rather let it hang and age (ask any butcher how important this is to flavor), and come back in a day or two, well rested, and complete the job instead. If this same hunter lives off the land primarily, then the value of his neighbor's meat grinder and pork scraps for sausage so he doesn't have to hear "Chili, AGAIN!?!?!" from the kids is high value as well. So, in these cases, it isn't that he could not feed his family without the barter, but he couldn't feed them as well. Therefore, he not going to compensate the owner of the equipment with an equal amount of venison for the pork he used in his sausage, or a single meal worth of venison for use of the fridge: he is going to give several meals worth of meat, and have the family over for a big dinner near the holidays.

Give it away if you can spare it- this is called "marketing" in the real world. How about an example this time? While visiting his brother the other day, Mr. Farmer chatted with another Stealth-Farming neighbor of his brother's who happened to be a bee-keeper. He had just finished a run of 60 pounds of honey, so naturally when Mr. Farmer mentioned that I LOVE honey, he was given a little half-pint to take home to me, along with the information that $3 will get us a whole pound of it. Naturally, this is the darkest, most amazing smelling honey I have ever seen, and it is cheaper than the grocery store's personality-free honey. This automatically makes it worth buying when honey is usually something I consider as a "treat" not a "staple" like white & brown sugar or molasses. So I'm hooked. There is a customer for life gained for the sake of a 50 cent mason jar and a quarter cup of honey.

More Examples

  • The use of our butcher knife set has resulted in us receiving the best cut of a lovely deer.
  • The payment for smoking a dozen salmon fillets was 6 fillets.
  • A summer of bringing the homemade pickles to BBQ's and parties was repaid in the fall with a full meal of lamb, potatoes and corn (when a very large roast was found in the back of the freezer by our friend up the road).
  • Smoking a single turkey (gratis) for a friend of ours whose wife loves smoked turkey has resulted in not one, but TWO job offers this month to smoke chickens and turkeys for specialty meat markets.

The return of this old-timey way of doing things has saved me a lot of cash, and formed a lot of bonds with neighbors and friends. It also reinforced some friendships that were getting a little tense. We have a variety of food, plenty of diversion, and some of the best local goods available thanks to our willingness to trade. Life is good!

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