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In Praise of Bartering

Some of the offerings at our first Potluck in the Park

Some of the offerings at our first Potluck in the Park

One of my childhood high points was the day my father loaded a scrubbed out old galvanized garbage can with our harvest of bitter wine grapes and drove off to a local barter fair at Island Center Community Hall. He returned a few hours later, the garbage can tipped on its side in the back of our Volvo, the lid wedged on, locking some mysterious scuffling thing inside. He called us over, lifted the can carefully from the way-back, and popped the lid off: Out hissed a beautiful white gander with a bumpy orange beak, his snaky neck held parallel with the ground, followed by his two lovely lady geese.

I couldn’t believe our good fortune! Geese for grapes! My father was a master sorcerer of provision, turning our sour grapes into these amazing birds who proceeded to rule our yard for years. They honked a running commentary on everything, attacked all visitors, laid eggs that my mother used in her famous cheesecakes, and fertilized the lawn a little too abundantly. All that for the grapes none of us liked to eat, but that someone else was thrilled to ferment while also freeing their family from the goose trio.

Along with the geese, we bartered every year for raspberries, trading the use of some of our sunny land to a farmer named Sam for all the berries we could eat. We ate a lot, but Sam still had plenty to take to the local cannery for cash. Sam had a voice just like a character in our recording of The Little Prince (the Lamplighter, I think it was), and I must have annoyed him with my questions asked solely so I could revel in the sound of his answers. Our parents’ sharing of the rocky land in return for raspberries brought us summers filled with fruit and the sweet, musical voice of Sam, two things my sister and I truly loved.

Bartering in action: Picking Sam’s raspberries

This is just the sort of magic I’m hoping to give my kids a taste of when we participate in the next Potluck in the Park with Bainbridge Barter. Not in every detail – Our yard isn’t big enough for feisty geese and now we grow enough raspberries to share – But that same cash-free thrill of turning backyard bounty into treasure.

This coming Saturday, we’ll wake up earlier than usual for Shabbat morning and head to our local Waterfront Park to see what we can turn the last of our French sorrel and some freshly mixed kimchi into. A friend is hoping to barter with her amazing freshly baked challah and burger buns, our Pioneering the Simple Life friends will bring organic eggs, home-cultured yogurt, and more. I’m hoping someone will have kale or other greens we didn’t plant this spring. Whatever shows up, it will be exciting to trade with neighbors, to even out the first harvest of summer so we get a fuller taste of our island’s offerings than what we can grow ourselves, and to enjoy a morning of Good Old Fashioned cash-free local economy.

One comment on “In Praise of Bartering

  1. Ah, I miss the west coast….the barter fair idea has not totally caught on over where I am.

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