Monday, March 26, 2012

Fair Trades

ust when I think it can’t get any weirder, something comes along that makes me shake my head and check my ticket for a stop at Silly Town.  Today it was a column in the local paper by Reg Henry, a columnist known for his political rants.  But there was nothing political about it.  He was so taken aback by what he had seen that he wandered off the beaten path and into the realm of “Is This the New Normal”.

What he’d seen and shared was an AP report about a drug bust in the outskirts of Washington, DC.  The cops had been sure they’d find drugs on the premises, and they did.  Cocaine, they found, and lots of it.  But alongside the coke was a stash of 20 or so large jugs of Tide liquid detergent.  In a drug dealer’s house.  In plain sight.

I will admit to a fleeting, gleeful image of drugged-up fun seekers, speeding their butts off and washing everything in sight...but, I digress.

The story, it seems, is that Tide liquid, at about $20 a jug, is the current cash equivalent of Grandma’s diamond ring.  It’s fair trade for drugs.  Druggies are stealing the stuff and trading it for cocaine and other goodies.  The drug dealers turn around and resell the detergent to locals for less than the going rate would be at convenience stores, and everyone goes home happy and clean.

That got me thinking about the current Horse World economy and how we can make use of the concept of bartering goods and services we have for goods and services we want.  It made me think about the neighbor who, in exchange for a load of firewood, brought me a garden’s worth of flowering plants with more to come.  She didn’t steal them.  They came from her garden.  The rest of my payback will follow during appropriate dividing-and-planting season.

This same neighbor gets delirious over bucketfuls of composted manure (“the gut schtuff”, she declares in a thick German accent), and I started thinking about how it might be possible for down-on-their-luck horse owners to come by (legally) the stuff they need to bring their luck back into line with their desire to own a horse.  

Cliff and Zip dig up...uh...treasure in the pasture.
Guess we all have to dig in together on this issue!

What do we have that we can trade?

Manure is a biggie.  It’s hard to imagine that it’s regulated, but to a certain extent it is, so you have to check your local jurisdiction if you intend to sell it in bulk and advertise the fact publicly.  New Jersey has laws (figures, right?) that prohibit farmers from selling it as a farm product (where the hell else does it come from?) and begs the question of what constitutes composting.  A whole industry has evolved from this in my fork of the twigs.  But if you keep it on the down low, you can harvest and distribute your brown gold to friends and neighbors in exchange for….what?

Farm help, for one thing.  I give you my poop; you come help me put back the fence that keeps my horses from making home deliveries to your front lawn.  Garden-grown produce, for another.  I’ll happily take those Amazonian zucchini off your hands in exchange for five gallons of natural fertilizer.

What else do we have to offer?  Try talking an artsy friend into weaving jewelry out of horse hair from your rare-but-efficient grooming efforts.  If you can get her to share the profit, you can feed your horse for a day or so, gratis.  Used baler twine turns out to be perfect in length for bundling cardboard and newspapers for recycling.  If you can’t get anything in trade for the twine, maybe you can get the barn kids to go door-to-door and bundle up neighbor’s stuff for a small price or a head of lettuce.

How about photo ops?  Kid next door is turning six?  Offer to let the whole party stand next to your horse for pics and petting, and charge a nominal fee.  

Of course we could go over to the dark side and hit the blackmail angle.  I could promise to keep my horses off your begonias if you bring me whatever you’ve got on the table for dinner.  Not pretty, but in a pinch….

The most obvious, of course, is the use of your farm equipment and your know-how.   My neighbors are fond of having their overgrown weedy patches mowed down with my big, blue Ford tractor and it’s clanging and clattering flail mower.  And boy, do they love to see me coming with the front-end loader when they’ve had a delivery of something too heavy to shovel and in the wrong spot in the yard.  A few minutes’ time, and I can easily make the price of a bag of grain or four bales of hay.

Think about it.  There must be better ideas than mine floating around out there.  Maybe we need to stop wondering and start bartering.  

Meanwhile, here's a little something to think about.  Can't get any stranger, huh?  Try this:  The Earth is FULL!

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