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Eggs in a nest

The Value of Barter

(A four minute read)

We sell ourselves short by only relying on money for economic power.

During much of history, and even back into pre-history, there has been coinage, giving the holder purchasing power. But coinage was and is for the elite. Yet, living in an affluent society it’s hard to imagine life without money.

Money is power, but it is not the only type of economic power.

When I was a farmer, I learned a different view of economic clout. Many of us, especially small acreage farmers, have to do whatever we can to meet expenses, pay our taxes, feed all our hungry mouths, and keep the home fires burning.

The vast majority of us have the ‘town job’ to anchor our financial situation. But there are other methods of reaching a healthy bottom line.

One of the best is barter.

I typically had an ongoing surplus of duck eggs. But I had a friend in the coffee business. He only wanted to bake using duck eggs. I craved his Bolivian roast.

So we would trade. Just as someone somewhere can calculate my assets and deficits and figuring out my net worth and purchasing power, Herb and I would calculate the ostensible value of our barter items. But it was not cut and dried as an accountant might like it.

Our parameters would occasionally change. What was the fair trade market price of his raw beans this month? Were my girls laying robustly, or was a moult coming on? Could I still fulfill the orders of my restaurant customers whose hard cash was important for my bottom line? Herb and I would discuss these things and over time, we had a continuing economic conversation.

It was a relationship, not just a transaction.

I had another neighbor who needed help putting up hay each summer. Being an old Midwestern farm boy, I’m just crazy enough to love putting up hay. I would measure my fitness by how high I can fling a bale. Three rows up? Four? Or five?

Anyway, Chuck could use the help, and I, not owning any machinery, got free tractor work in trade. Or sometimes got paid in bales.

One summer found me getting a great deal on purchased hay for my flock. Since I had a few extra dollars at the time, I overbought. Later, an unemployed friend was hard pressed to feed his goats. So he took fodder in exchange for handyman work to be performed later. We talked it all through over coffee.

We had a relationship.

Barter is more than an economic necessity. It creates a sense of community. It harkens back to the post-WWII farming of my parents. One or two farmers in the neighborhood had a baler, another a picker-sheller, the third a combine.

When the calendar dictated, all would get together and make the rounds from farm to farm until the work was done. The men would work, the women would cook, and the children would play. It created bonds among very diverse individuals, who, as the years went by, came to rely on one another for not only physical, but also spiritual needs.

These relationships prove the connection between communication, communion and community. And it underscores their importance.

If you have only lived in an urban jungle, you may not have any first-hand experience with the value of barter. But believe me, it is a powerful thing. It pays dividends well beyond the things that fit in your pocketbook.

Relationship trumps transaction every time. I encourage you to find an opportunity to try it. I guarantee you’ll get more out of it than you invest.

“What cannot be achieved in one lifetime will happen when one lifetime is joined to another.” – Harold Kushner

Image by Wilfredor  via Wikimedia Commons