I have some good marketable skills – I can edit (fiction and non-fiction), proofread, conduct ecological surveys, provide advice on land management and habitat creation, I can teach (ecology, conservation, permaculture, statistics), and I can make things (knitted snails, crochet bacteria, felt camera cases). So really, I don’t have a great problem earning a living. But I have this niggling desire to try to do some of my work for payment that isn’t financial… for things that I need or want rather than for money to buy things that I need or want. But, is it possible?

Our LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) died a death some time ago. These systems allow you to avoid direct exchanges, but instead earn some sort of credits that can be used to ‘buy’ from another member. Apparently, in our area, everyone wanted carpenters and plumbers, but most of the offers were for jars of jam and back massages… I over-simplify, but you get the idea. So LETS is not an option here. We already make use of Freecycle, but this is really only useful for physical items and anyway, has nothing to do with exchanges.

No use offering me eggs for barter - I have plenty of those!

Eggs are good for small swaps…

In a small way, we already exchange goods and services – eggs for chicken care, house watching when neighbours are away, swapping seeds and so on, but I want to do something more. The problem is most challenging with big things. The skill that I have that is in greatest demand is (perhaps surprisingly) my expertise as an ecologist. I know lots of people who want advice about managing their land: from enhancing biodiversity to improving their soil; from understanding the vegetation they have growing on their plot to planning a management strategy; from identifying a plant to creating a species-rich meadow; I get asked about all sorts of things. In general, I like to help out, but since this work forms part of my livelihood, I can’t do it for nothing… a girl has to eat (and feed her hens).

... but what is my teaching worth?

… but what is my teaching worth?

So, what constitutes a fair exchange? And what happens if the person who wants my services does not have something I want? As has been pointed out to me, this is where money comes in – it’s a way of keeping score, and something that I can exchange for those things in life that I do need. So, whilst I’d rather you gave me half a lamb for the freezer, hand-spun yarn, or a sack of corn to feed my hens, maybe I will just have to accept that sometimes I have to take a cheque or a bank transfer.

Anyway, I have decided to make a start by compiling two lists: one of what I can offer and one of what I want. This way, next time someone asks for some work from me, we will at least have a starting point for negotiating a fair exchange.

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  1. Great concept. I’d be really interested to know how it goes.

  2. You have a skill I will need from next August… Let me know what is on your wants list… 🙂

  3. My hubby and I used to do this when we went through our living off the land stage.
    I’d bake a ton of bread and rolls, and exchange them with neighbours for such things as goats milk, root veg, or other food products we weren’t raising ourselves. Sometimes even cash would change hands if there was nothing to barter with, but we always preferred to do the exchange thing, and it worked very well, unless we needed something major – but there were times we’d even get over that, by offering our physical skills in exchange for whatever was needed. As hubby was a tree surgeon, we’d normally find a good exchange 🙂
    I do miss those years, I have to admit 🙂

  4. What about if we make apples into an alternative currency 🙂

  5. Ann Owen

     /  October 9, 2013

    Great way to create local resilience. Bartering is one of those skills that should be part of the “upskilling” package. We’ve been swapping our veg boxes for osteopathy sessions, herbal medicine, eggs, tipi repair, a shed and a sink and pedestal. Also the charcoal we make, we swapped for freshly caught mackerel and now I’m paying for my art lessons with wood chopping and gardening. I love it! We’re still money poor, but yet I have that feeling of abundance.

  6. A great idea and if it helps revive the LETS I’m all for it. I’ll be looking out for the lists.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • I think we all need to make lists of what we can offer… because (1) I can’t possibly think of all the things I need and want and (2) I might be inspired by something someone else has to offer that I would never have thought of.
      You are right about LETS – it would be good to see it revived.

  7. Thanks for such a great post! Having spent several months working on building a community platform that will enable people to share their ‘offers’ gifts, skills, talents – as well as products and services, in exchange for a complementary currency, which can then be spent on ‘wants’, reading your post and all the positive comments makes my heart sing!

    With new technology and digital accounting, we have been able to provide a fantastic platform for sharing, trading and collaborating – without using money! Here’s a link to the site http://www.thebusinessbarternetwork.com – I look forward to the possibility of trading with you.

    • That looks really interesting, Leesa…. I’ve only glanced at the web site so far but will spend some more time there soon. Thanks you for the link!

      • Thanks for your kind comments. I just had to let you know that what you wanted actually exists. I would appreciate your feedback, when you’ve had time to look at it. Many thanks.

  8. I was part of such a scheme years ago. My main earning was for lifts, and I ended up with hours of unused baby sitting hours!

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