Haircuts in exchange for pet vaccinations. Personal training for nutritional therapy. Hazelnuts for home-canned tuna.
In Salem’s off-the-grid cashless economy, professionals exchange services and families fill their freezers, all without wallets or debit cards.
Food swaps, clothing exchanges and freezer dinner clubs are all modern versions of an ancient currency system: bartering for goods and services. In an age where one can buy anything one needs fairly cheaply without even leaving the house, members of Salem’s bartering subculture prefer the personal connection they get from sharing with others.
They cite varied motivations for trading: getting a good bargain, keeping stuff out of landfills and making services accessible to people of all incomes.
“Money doesn’t mean everything to me, and neither do things,” said Salem hairstylist Brandi Smith, 38, who frequently trades haircuts for goods and services. “If I have something I don’t want, and you want it, why not trade?”
Social media has amplified the bartering phenomenon, allowing trades to expand beyond one’s immediate neighborhood or social circle, connecting people with similar interests and fostering community.
Technology enables the exchange of everything from “cars to skills to stuff in ways and on a scale never possible before,” wrote author Rachel Botsman on her website promoting “What’s Mine Is Yours: the Rise of Collaborative Consumption,” a book about the economic possibilities of sharing assets.
The concept was innovative enough to catch the attention of Time Magazine, which in 2011 named “collaborative consumption” one of “10 Ideas That Will Change the World,” saying, “Sharing things — even with strangers we’ve just met online — allows us to make meaningful connections.”
A quick online search reveals Salem’s virtual bartering scene. The Facebook group Salem Bartering Exchange has about 450 members who trade goods and services — infant clothing for toddler clothing, kite surfing equipment for a children’s play structure, babysitting for housecleaning.
Craigslist has a “Barter” listing where folks can trade for lawnmowers, PlayStations and even cars. Informally, food clubs and clothing swaps are also popular.
Smith barters for anything she can: school clothes for her daughters, chiropractic treatments, dental care, camping gear, pet vaccinations — even peanut butter. Soon she’ll get a computer in exchange for a two-color highlight job.
If I have something I don’t want, and you want it, why not trade?
She still remembers her first exchange, a haircut for diapers when her two daughters were babies and she found herself in a financial bind. “It was amazing,” she said. “It saved the day.”
More recently, she gained nearly $1,500 worth of designer clothes, jewelry, purses and other gifts for her daughters, now college-bound teenagers. In exchange, she provided 18 months of haircut and color services.
Smith finds trades through websites such as Salem Bartering Exchange, Marion County Freecycle and Craigslist. But mostly, she relies on word of mouth.
She considers herself an environmentalist — reusing what’s already in circulation. Plus, bartering helps her to avoid one of her least favorite chores. “I hate shopping,” she said. “I’d rather be fishing.”
Salem nutritional therapist Janine Martinhorst, 34, trades nutritional counseling for various services, including website editing, massage and personal training. Her trades are informal, typically through acquaintances and friends.
“Some things I don’t have the cash for, so trading allows me to do something I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford,” she said.
But the rewards also come in helping others who can benefit from dietary coaching. “I want to make my services affordable and accessible,” she said.
The Facebook group Cherry City Food Swappers offers another kind of bartering: the exchange of homemade food items and surplus homegrown veggies. The group’s new facilitators — friends and Salem Hospital coworkers Barb Barker, 52, and Laurice Riddell, 49 — hosted their first food event in June.
They used to travel to McMinnville to participate in the Yamhill Valley Heritage Project Food Swap, but they believed Salem could support its own organization.
A Facebook search led them to Cherry City Food Swappers, which began in November 2011. The group had been on hiatus since November 2012 because the previous coordinator could no longer manage it, so Barker and Riddell took over.
“I enjoy meeting other foodies, people who are creative with their food and want to try new foods,” Riddell said. “If you have a specialty and you tend to make too much, it’s a great way to swap with someone else who has a specialty.”
Similar groups are popping up throughout the U.S. and Europe, according to the Food Swap Network, which helps communities organize and host food exchanges. The current trend began in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2010, led by Kate Payne, author of “The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking” book and blog.
The rules are simple: bring 10 to 20 homemade, homegrown or foraged food items valued $5-$10 each. Participants can bring all of the same items, or a variety. The first half of the two-hour swap is spent mingling, sampling and writing up trade offers on notecards. A bid might read, “one jar of tuna fish for one bunch of radishes.” The second half of the swap is devoted to trading, and everyone typically walks away with a bushel of goodies.
Melody and Jim Rudenko of Salem were delighted with their haul at the June event: homemade strawberry jam, two dozen fresh eggs, home-canned tuna, fresh-picked veggies, long-simmered beef stock, fresh pork sausage and more. All this in exchange for an assortment of jellies, fruit butters, yogurt, sourdough starter and other items that they brought for trade.
“I love it,” Melody Rudenko, 32, said. “You make so much of the same thing, you get sick of it. We enjoy the variety.”
If you have a specialty and you tend to make too much, it’s a great way to swap with someone else who has a specialty.
Barker, who brought the canned tuna, described the three-day canning process. She drove to the coast on a Friday to select the freshest fish possible, then she and a friend spent the next two days canning 160 jars.
“Making your own food is a commitment,” and the equipment and ingredients can be pricy, she said. But people don’t exchange food to save money, she added.
“More and more people are feeling like they want to participate in the process of creating what they’re eating and knowing where their food is coming from,” she said.
That’s certainly true for the Rudenkos. Jim Rudenko, 36, said the family tries to make everything from scratch, including fermented vegetables and yogurt several times a week. That’s a complete change from how he grew up, when many of the foods his family ate came from a box.
And he has fully embraced the lifestyle adjustment, learning from his wife, who grew up canning with her mother.
“The big thing is knowing how to make your own food,” he said. “It’s a dying art. People just aren’t cooking anymore.”
Dan Barker of Silverton, Barb Barker’s son, cites political reasons for raising his own food and participating in nontraditional economies such as the food swap.
“I have a lot of distrust in the food industry,” said Barker, 30.
That distrust led him and his wife to be as self-sufficient as they can on their 40-acre farm, where they raise and sell pigs, goats, turkeys and chickens. Not surprisingly, his food swap contribution was pork sausage and eggs, along with vegetables from his garden.
“There’s something to be said for raising something start to finish,” he said. “It’s very gratifying.”
Cherry City’s June swap only had about seven contributors. But Barker and Riddell hope to recruit more participants and host regular events — and continue spreading the idea of fostering community by bartering with other like-minded folks.
Said Riddell: “We just want to keep growing it to the point where there’s more variety and get the word out about how fun food swaps are.”
Attend a Food Swap
The next meeting of the Cherry City Food Swappers is Sunday, Aug. 18, from 3 to 5 p.m. in the LifeSource Natural Foods Community Room at Candalaria Terrace, one building south of LifeSource (2649 Commercial St. SE), across Culver Lane S. For information, visit the group’s Facebook page.
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