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New Trust-Based Currency: Bartering, Swapping, Loaning, Gifting

by Barbara Hockabout, Lodestar Gardens Learning Center

Okay, we all had a wake-up call after the elections. Out of the unprecedented display of contention came one clear affirmation upon which we all can agree—U. S. citizens hold widely divergent perceptions of how our country should function. Once again we saw the maps of states with their contrasting colors. While daunting, it is a good time to discover new ways to work together.

The economy is one of the most controversial topics because approaches are confused by special interests, convoluted tax laws, and a long history of disinformation. In order to remediate the system, we need to distill the issue to the lowest common denominator.

There are two values most of us share—the desire for equality in our social and legal relations with each other and equity in the exchange of goods and services. Certainly, we can agree on these things, and the likelihood is great that if we improve one, we will improve the other.  As  long-time growers in this area, we focus on the latter.

So how do we go about establishing a healthier atmosphere? Let’s turn to some successful models and possible applications:

In order to unravel the economic tensions, we must discover new currencies of exchange that will increase our capacity to obtain necessary resources, increase our efficiency and therein foster more quality time in our lives.  The prerequisite to any successful or satisfying agreement is communication—listening to each other—and trust. These are the lowest common denominators in a functional and dynamic community; these are our greatest cultural hurdles and shortcomings. But there is no getting around it. We must learn to do a better job of both, or we will crack wide open like a broken egg. If it breaks, of course, we must rebuild and perhaps that is what it is going to take, but at this point we still have the option of meeting this challenge with creative solutions. In this season of giving, helping, appreciating our family and friends, let’s consider some of the creative options we might start to implement in the new year…

Let’s make it as simple as possible, if I know my neighbor is trustworthy and fair, I am comfortable making agreements with that individual. If I have a surplus of anything, I am more inclined to share it or give it away. On the other hand, If I don’t know or trust my neighbor and/ or my resources are limited, I am more apt to withdraw from my community until that time when need over takes me and my family. The quiet desperation that accompanies lack or anticipation of it, is responsible for much of the stress our citizens currently feel.

A good, workable illustration of how trust currency works occurred this past summer when the Concho Community Farmer’s Market hosted Veggie Swaps. Trading our surplus beets for someone else’s surplus apples expanded our diet and strengthened our nutrition. Equally important, the exchange also strengthened communication among neighbors.

Another form of equal exchange has been practiced at Lodestar Gardens for the past four years in the form of a food co-op wherein members of five to six households eat fresh food year-round in a harvest-for-for-labor agreement.

Other forms of bartering and exchanging have proven very successful: community gardens, work parties (in the old fashion barn-raising mode), clothes swap parties (friends have fun sifting through a pile of clothes for a quick wardrobe boost), buying clubs, service for service exchanges, thrift shops, free stuff websites, and even entire communities who have established micro economies (www.transitionus.org/transition-towns) This ancient practice is also alive and well in services that facilitate bartering and companies that swap favors.

If you feel you may be breaking tax laws by participating in bartering, you can consult the official IRS website for more information. According to the IRS (www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/barter-exchanges), “The term [bartering] does not include arrangements that provide solely for the informal exchange of similar services on a noncommercial basis.”

For more information about the process of bartering there are sites such as howstuffworks.com. Sites such as tradeaway.com or swap.com are also worth investigating. May we all be inspired to explore ways we can share resources and fortify our trust in each other.

Clark and Barbara Hockabout, of Lodestar Gardens Learning Center, are hosting a 2017 Saturday Winter Farmers Market Jan 21-April 29, featuring fresh produce, free noon-time presentations, lunch, and free tours. Request to sign up for their free weekly newsletter Lodestar Happenings! by sending an email to bhockabout@gmail.com or calling (928) 587-1660.