Barter for Change: October Urban Farm Challenge

Think about all of the food projects that you would like to do throughout the year, and then think about how many you can get around to doing. If you are being honest its going to be some sort of fraction. What if you could do just a few really well, but reap the rewards of nearly all of them?? You can! It’s called bartering.

Annette Cottrell over at Sustainable Eats has kindly asked us to do this article on Bartering for the year-long Urban Farm Handbook Challenge. We ourselves have only recently discovered what bartering can truly mean for a family like ours and we are eager to share the wealth!

Though, when I make my best-laid plans for urban sustainability through permaculture ideals, I ponder idealistically over the fiscal rewards which I am unlikely to see for many years if ever, I have found bartering to be a whole new game! You can actually save resources and eat REALLY well with a good barter network in place.

Let’s say you make 40 quarts of pickles, 60 ½ pints of jam and 30 pints of whole-peeled tomatoes for the year. Okay maybe 50 pints of tomatoes if you’re us. Well if you put those all in a pot together, they won’t taste very good. So don’t! First, take 4 pints of tomatoes over to your neighbor with the goats and trade them for some yogurt. Then take 3 quarts of pickles and 2 jars of jam and trade them for a quart of chicken stock and 3 quarts of canned beets from that nutter down the street (that’s us) with the pressure canner. Now take your pickles, tomatoes and beets, add a few fresh carrots and an onion from CityGrown and make a delicious Russian soup topped with yogurt to feed 30.

It’s that easy! Well, not really. The real work is building that network of people you trust who preserve or grow their own food. Canning is an exact science for good reason, so you want to make sure those folks know what they’re doing.

We have been lucky enough this year to meet a few folks who are like-minded and want to expand their larder with neighborhood treats, but we can always do with a few more friends. Are you ready??

Here is the challenge:

Part 1: Make 5 one-time barter arrangements with whoever you can find. You don’t have to barter edibles, but make sure that you and the other party are both happy with what you get. If you feel like the other person may not be happy, or you wouldn’t be happy in their place, throw something in for good measure! Starting the relationship is the most important part: make a good impression.

Part 2: After your barters have taken place, consider what it would take to get yourself to provide 25% of your edibles from bartering. What would you need to do? What staples would you need to procure?

Now write a blog entry and tell everyone how it went. If you weren’t able to make 5 arrangements, let the world know why and then do part 2 anyhow! You, too, may win a handsome collector’s edition of The Urban Farm Handbook or The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking (as if homemaking was for girls…) For these great prizes, go to Sustainable Eats at the end of the month and link up your blog post to be chosen!

When bartering for edibles you can offer a variety of home services, food items, hand-crafted goods or even home-entertainment, if you have a band or a banjo. If you try it and achieve these little goals, you may be able to make not only a huge change for your own family, but be putting a solid dent in the problems inherent in our not-so-sustainable industrial food supply. Need a last minute bartering idea? Check out Rachel’s earlier post on how to make vinegar.

Join us at the 2nd Annual Wallyhood Foodswap on October 27th if you already have some edible items in mind. If there are no spaces left, you can plan your own barter event or we might even be able to host one more in November if the interest is there.

Call us if you have questions or if you would like one of your barter arrangements to be with us, and have fun! I look forward to reading about everyone’s bartering debuts.


  1. Pingback: September UFH Challenge Round 3 and 4: Engage in Barter, Plan for Next Year’s Bartering | Sustainable Eats & the Dancing Goat Gardens Communal Project

  2. c.

    I don’t blog anymore for various reasons so no public update to offer.

    However, local barter tally:

    I’ll start with my girlfriend who has quiet office space in my home in exchange for her husband helping mine on a few heavy three people needed house projects.

    She’s also the one who bartered her extra spinning wheel for a CSA share (her husband was very happy with this one).

    I bartered my whole lawn mower to the owner of the rental house next door. He will mow the bit of lawn I haven’t converted to yard in exchange for the mower. It is an “in perpetuity” kind of arrangement where we’ll renegotiate if he sells or something changes.

    I barter some of my fruit butters for eggs from a friend but she’s two or three miles from me which is a bit farther than either of us like for a proper trade.

    I’m in a very urban area and try to keep my trades very local as I see it as building relationships more than anything else and if I’m to build, I want it within walk/bike distance.

    • Aaron

      Hey c. – Sounds like some great arrangements! Thanks for your response. My question is, do you refer to these exchanges as barters? I know a big part of why it is hard to get a barter network going is that people are unaware that they are already participating :) If I know that I am already a part of something, it makes it so much easier to get more involved.

  3. Aaron

    I realized that I didn’t mention my current barter arrangements. We have several standing and available barter arrangements that we manage to keep alive:

    Standing Arrangements
    2 loaves bread for 1/2 gallon milk and pint of yogurt
    pork and coffee for honey
    pork for vegetables and rabbit

    Sewing services (Alterations & Home Decor)
    Coffee (fresh roasted Ethiopian)
    Pork products (smoked and fresh)
    Various vegetables (squash and sunchokes)
    Pickles and Preserves (fermented, vinegared, jams, applesauce, syruped, chicken stock)
    Baked items

    Anyone else have some standing arrangements?

  4. Julia

    The whole bartering thing has me so frustrated. I have 2 friends who can and neither will trade. I have asked and asked to start a food swap and noone is interested. I contacted local farms and even my local extension office. There are no food swaps. I checked at the local farmers markets too.
    If anyone from western pa is here and wants to do a food swap I’m game

    • Aaron

      I went through nearly the SAME experience. It sounds like mine wasn’t quite so frustrating as yours, but I think and hope it will work out the same. When you feel like there is just no-one around to trade with someone will pop-up and offer a barter. Keep the feelers out and if you are in Seattle, bring a can of your best for a little one-time action at Wallingfarm :)

  5. Pingback: September Barter Challenge – Show Us Your Stuff | Sustainable Eats & the Dancing Goat Gardens Communal Project

  6. Why yes, we do have a standing trade! A lovely young couple agreed to bake bread for us in exchange for goat milk and yogurt. They (you) have completely sold us on the wonders of bartering!!

    • Aaron

      Hahaha, I especially like the young bit :) I also like how our whole arrangement is thanks to your craigslist ad! Thanks for the wonderful dairy products ♥

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