When Jasmine Schmidt retired from the Army National Guard three years ago and sought to pursue a more deliberate and self sufficient way of life for herself and her family, she faced a big financial adjustment in losing her steady source of income.
Needing supplies, but not being in a financial position to buy them, other homesteaders recommended that she try trading spare goods she had for items she needed.
“We have a lot of friends in our community who kind of live the same lifestyle as us and they suggested if you need these things but don’t have the cash, maybe you have something that someone else out there might need and could exchange, rather than all of these expenses coming out of pocket,” Schmidt said. “We’re very fortunate that we’ve made the relationships we have because things might have turned out quite a bit more negatively when I was trying to find what I would be doing with my life after the Army.”
Bartering is Maine tradition — think Uncle Henry’s or the pile of free stuff at the end of driveways come spring. But among homesteading and farming circles this tradition of accepting a trade instead of financial reimbursement is another tool to making ends meet.
At her Belfast homestead, Schmidt and her fiance raise a variety of animals for meat, along with milking goats, laying hens as well as a garden where they grow their own vegetables. In terms of bartering, the family’s chickens have provided very useful. In the springtime Schmidt will trade hatching eggs or chicks for maple syrup. In instances where she is in need of larger items, such as tools, Schmidt will trade a breeding pair of a full grown hen and a rooster.
When trying to find items that they are in need of, Schmidt says it pays to just be vulnerable and put yourself out there within your community.
“[Bartering] has brought a lot of people into our life. It’s not just saving money it’s making new connections with people that make the same lifestyle that we do,” Schmidt said. “I find that people who live this lifestyle are really generous and really just care about how other people might be doing.”
Down the coast from Schmidt, Lauren Dehlinger of Cushing says the local fishing community also helps infuse an acceptance of bartering in the area. Dehlinger, who raises chickens and taps trees for maple syrup on her small hobby farm, has a monthly trade going with a local fisherman to barter four dozen eggs for a pound of fresh crabmeat. The trade, Dehlinger said, is mutually beneficial given both items retail for about $20.
On top of her monthly crabmeat for eggs trade, Dehlinger had also traded baked goods and item she’s canned for labor. Dehlinger said that just by meeting people in her community, trades like these can be easily found.
“Just meeting other local farmers, say your friends are looking for something, and you meet people who have that something, you can share these resources,” Dehlinger said. “Just by chatting with people in the grocery store line or at Tractor Supply, you find out all these things you have in common.”
The advent of social media has also aided in linking together homesteaders or farmers who are looking to barter goods. Several Facebook groups have popped up on the topic of swapping and selling, Schmidt and Dehlinger said, which has broadened the likelihood that someone is looking to trade just the item you might be looking for.
The topics of the Facebook groups range from generalized like Maine Farm Swap and Sell, to more specific groups like the Maine Poultry Connection, where folks not only post listings for hens and chicks but also for advice on an issue they might be having.
But whether it’s an online community, or the one just outside your door, bartering is just one aspect of homesteading life that proves it helps to have a support system to rely on.
“This entire lifestyle is such, it’s almost impossible to do it just on our own, you really have to rely on the people in your community,” Schmidt said.