Thursday, January 27, 2011

bringing back the barter

I've been greatly missing this friend I have with whom I used to work. She's my local chicken mentor and biggest writing cheerleader and, although we certainly keep in touch, it is admittedly not the same since we don't occupy the same physical space on a regular basis. In addition to her sharp wit, depth of knowledge, humor and voluminous compassion, one of my favorite things about our friendship is the sharing of ourselves and the variety of forms it would take. For the sake of her privacy, I won't share her name, but my hope for you is that you'll recognize her as someone you have in your life too.

One of the distinct downfalls of being a creative type and a homesteader at the same time (or blessings, depending on your perspective) is that your dreams and dollars don't typically equal out. That is to say, at least for me, I have a constant stream of ideas, of things I want to do or try and very limited resources for making them happen. Couple that with my inner environmentalist rallying against unnecessary consumption and it makes for a bit of frustration, to say the least. And I'm thrifty. Due to previous experiences I want to learn from rather than repeat, I (try to) sock cash away like it's going out of style, in case I need it for something my DIY self knows would not be a good idea for me to try (like plumbing and electrical work). I often find myself with a lack of constructive things to do and, when this happens and it is cold outside, I either write or bake.

My small family of three can only freeze so much bread without a chest freezer, so I used to bake loaves three at a time: one to eat, one to freeze, and one to give away. My "chicken friend" often ended up on the receiving end of my boredom baking, and I am deeply grateful for both her and her husband's patience and kindness as they became involuntary test subjects in my experiments with flour and yeast. After a while, she started paying me for my baked madness with the coolest of country currency, fresh organic eggs. Of course, this only served to encourage my disorder and I have since evolved into creating muffins and quick breads too.

I don't see my friend very much anymore, now that we don't share the same office and the weather has been frigid and surly. I miss not only her friendship and the intelligent conversation we used to have, but I also miss the little bit of commerce that spontaneously sprung up between us. As more of my money these days goes out just to stay warm and I struggle to market myself as a writer without Facebook, I find myself pining for that exchange again and dreaming of an economy built on relationships rather than greed.

Ultimately, all I want out of my little homestead and my freelance business is the joy that comes with knowing what it takes to sustain my little family unit and more actively participating in making that happen. There's something way more satisfying and tangible in this kind of work. It's more vibrant and real to me. In the traditional system, invisible dollars move into my bank account once a week and I promptly move them out to corporations I can't see for things that often seem intangible themselves. I never even really see the money which has the huge prospect of making me lose the appreciation for what it took to earn it. I find regular economics leaves me vaguely unfulfilled. It seems hollow, just moving the numbers from one column to another without really experiencing anything. Bartering replaces that. It has more substance to it and gives us greater closure when we give of ourselves.

During the Great Depression when there wasn't much money, a lot of this type of commerce went on. I think our communities were stronger for it too. We helped each other and more intimately knew our neighbors, what each had to offer and what each of them, in turn, needed help to get. I want this for my family, for my friends and for society at large. Here in America, as the President said, we do Big Things. My hope is that the biggest among them will be bringing back bartering, to build our communities and encourage appreciation for what we have. It makes the dreams that take longer to achieve much more meaningful when they are finally realized. Life returns from frustration and want to wonder and dreams.

We've all got so much to do to make life better for everyone that our ideas are bigger than our wallets. How do you and your families barter to build your community?

Image by artist Jing Wei from her blog here.

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