The Barter System - What Gives?

Shortly after I started dating R during the summer of 2009, I offered to help his mother out by working the cash register at the sweet corn stand. About an hour into my inaugural shift, a woman approached the stand carrying a tray of cookies.

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"I'll take one dozen Bodacious, please..." she said, motioning towards our best selling variety of the day. "And these are for Deb," she added.

"Oh how nice, Deb will love them," I said, setting aside the treats for R's mother. "Good news, it's a bakers dozen!" I smiled, and quoted her the price.

"No honey, the cookies. They're for Deb," the woman replied. And then she took her bag of corn, turned, and drove off in her station wagon.

I was distraught! My first day working the corn stand, and I'd been hustled! When R's mom returned later that afternoon, I confessed my failure.

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"No, no," she laughed. "That's just Nancy. She likes to barter."

Thus began my initiation into the barter culture, a this-for-that means of commerce still alive and well here in rural America.

"But how did Nancy know you'd want the cookies?" I asked incredulously.

"Well, as long as it's a fair trade, we usually accept," Deb told me.

I imagined myself at the shoe store, holding a winter coat I no longer wanted: "I'll take the pink pumps for this down jacket...they're worth about the same." No way would that fly! As a teen, I bartered with my parents: "I got an A in Social Studies! I think it's about time you extend my curfew!" I bartered on a daily basis with my alarm clock: "Just ten more minutes, and then I'll get out of bed." But this was for real!

The more I thought about it, the more I was flabbergasted by the concept. It seemed so primitive and bygone...explorers bartered...Pilgrims and Native Americans bartered...cavemen bartered, trading woolly mamouth pelts for fire sticks. But this...Astonishing!

A picture of me, in warmer weather, at the farm stand
As the days and weeks rolled on, I began to get the hang of bartering. Hunks of homemade cheese, cartons of eggs, and fresh picked flowers were exchanged for the corn variety of the day. The trades were surprisingly pleasant, even for a novice like me, and felt oddly empowering.

In time, the etiquette of bartering began to make sense to me: it's OK to refuse, but try to meet people where they're coming from. Believe in your product or service and stand behind its value, but don't be boastful. Be flexible. Be generous. It all comes back around.

As with most of the country traditions I've come to understand over the past two years, bartering now feels natural to me. I'd even say I enjoy it!

Ones of these days, I just may figure out a way to barter a bit more successfully with that old alarm clock.

Leah @ Beyer Beware (February 23, 2011 at 10:40 AM)  

Glad you are getting the hang of bartering. I barter out my very handy husband when I need babysitting. So glad you came on over and found my blog. I love meeting fellow farm wives. Can't wait to get to know you more!

Alison (February 25, 2011 at 11:31 AM)  

Leah, that sounds wonderful! Although handy husbands are hard to part with, even momentarily! Thanks for checking in!

Courtney (February 27, 2011 at 9:52 AM)  

I love this idea but I think I love any idea that involves cookies. This post makes me excited for shopping the farmers market. Thank goodness warmer weather is just around the corner!

nicole @ our three reasons (March 7, 2011 at 10:25 AM)  

how funny you posted this .. i just email bartered with our landscaper this morning. i'm photographing his family in exchange for finishing out the sod in our back yard this spring. :) i never even thought about bartering for something like that!

Alison (March 11, 2011 at 10:44 AM)  

Courtney...I agree. Cookies are the ultimate currency. Nicole...I love the idea of bartering professional services!

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