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.

A fair exchange

Following on from my last post, I have had several discussions this week about bartering and how we can make a ‘living’ from our various activities.

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

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

I really like the idea of bartering, but if this happens directly, then both parties need to have something that the other wants. It’s no use me being able to knit you socks if the only thing you have to offer is eggs, since I already have an abundance of these; or a hair-cut, since I have long hair. This is where the LETS scheme has the potential to work well, since the exchange does not need to be direct: you get credits and these can be exchanged for any services in the scheme. I have never been part of  a LETS scheme, but I understand that they often break down because, for example, lots of people are offering massages (which few people want) and few people are offering plumbing services (which many people want).

I don’t want to be in a position where I can’t do some work for someone because they don’t have something I want right now… perhaps an IOU would be in order in such a case. It was during a discussion about this when it was pointed out to me that something that I do need is money; and that this is the thing that some people actually have! Indeed, money is a great way of storing up ‘credit’ to get services or goods you need in the future! So, I shouldn’t be too squeamish about accepting money as payment, if that’s what works. In fact, that’s what money was for in the first place – a way of keeping tally; it’s a shame it’s become something completely different to many people now.

So, my business plan is starting to take shape. The services that I can provide are craft-related and ecological advice (perhaps a strange combination, but there you go!). I plan to compile a ‘wants and needs’ list, so that people who want my services can look at that to decide whether they have something they can barter, and if they don’t I will be prepared to accept money. Of course deciding on the ‘value’ of things is a challenge – eggs have little value to me, but old hand-knitted acrylic jumpers do! Selling at craft fairs and on etsy will necessarily involve money and I’m happy with that. So, now I have to concentrate on my needs and wants and focus on how to determine an exchange rate…

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