TO TRADE OR NOT TO TRADE?
by Little Owl
[photo via Wikimedia Commons]
[published: April 15, 2012 (2:35 AM NZST)]
For the last few years we have been producing a surplus of some things. It’s always by accident, never by design. One year we may have an excess of potatoes but a complete failure with tomatoes, and the following year, vice versa.
The question is what should we do with the surplus? The only answers we can come up with are:
- Sell it
- Trade / barter with it
- Feed it to our animals
- Let it rot and compost it
- Give it away
Over time we’ve tried it all. The trickiest is selling it. By the time we’ve packaged it or arranged a selling place (for us this is the local farmers market) we’ve already spent valuable time and resources (in the form of petrol, paper bags etc), and the money we get doesn’t cover those costs. It’s just not worth it for us for small amounts of produce. We don’t have the option of selling at our gate.
Some produce, like meat products or honey, I’m not allowed to sell legally anyway so that’s that.
I’ve tried trading but that’s quite hard unless you have something that the other person wants. I know that sounds obvious, but if I have eggs to spare and want wheat, but the man with the wheat wants apples, then there’s no trade.
A local trading scheme would be ideal, because then we would all be dealing in credits but there is no such scheme around here, and frankly there are too few people interested in home grown stuff to warrant such a scheme (but this will change when people are forced into home production by necessity).
I could feed our surplus to our animals, and I do with some of it but it seems a great waste to feed good food to animals but I’d rather do that than let it rot. Purposely leaving food to rot or just putting on the compost heap is not an option for us, it seems too wasteful and we can’t bear to do it.
To address some of the excess, we’ve recently bought our first two pigs. We’ve gone for a saddleback /wessex cross and have two pigs turning over my next vegetable area. These pigs are rooting out all the perennial weeds and are eating all our left overs and scraps. I have no problem feeding perfect, but surplus vegetables and fruits to them however, I would never feed honey to the pigs as not only is it too valuable but also it would attract wasps and robber bees to our farm, and they might bring diseases.
So now, whenever I have spare eggs or honey, I give it away to my friends and neighbours. I don’t make a big song and dance out of it. Normally I just leave a box of eggs or some honey comb in their letterbox. I don’t expect to get anything in return. I never give away veg or fruit (except a bit of rhubarb to someone I know who loves it) as I’m never sure if it’s actually eaten, or even wanted by the recipient. I once gave away some pumpkins to a friend who said she’d love them, only to see the very same ones on her compost heap a few months later.
I fully realize that I’m one of the few people around here that produces anything, and so all I’m hoping for in return is some good will. I’m hoping that by sharing the wealth, I’m building good will with my neighbours, that’s all. One of my close neighbours always puts a jar of preserves in my letterbox in return. She’s an excellent cook and even half a dozen eggs will be repaid with a bottle of ketchup. I’ve tried to explain that a preserve is worth way more than a few eggs, but if I give more to settle the balance, she instantly gives more and more in return.
I strongly feel that if you give something it should be with no strings attached. You shouldn’t be thinking “if I give 2 dozen eggs, she’ll give me some of her bacon” because you will end up being disappointed or resentful if nothing comes back in return.
What I have discovered is that if you can give freely without putting people in your debt then all sorts of things come back it you. It’s like a sort of flow of goodwill. I’ve had a couple of spectacular examples recently:
I recently gave a hive of bees to a friend. She bought a new empty wooden bee hive as a gift for her husband and I filled it with bees for her, tended it while it got established and then helped her husband on his first examination of the hive. I certainly didn’t expect to get anything back in return; I just did it because I could and because I like them. A short while later, over a cup of tea, we were talking about cows and I mentioned that I buy flaked barley in for my cow. It turns out that my friends have a small domestic size barley crusher in their barn that they never use and so have offered it to me on a permanent loan. How perfect! It’s just what I need and will save me money. I couldn’t be happier. Perhaps it was the beehive that prompted them to offer the barley crusher.
Last week my truck was due for its warrant of fitness. Unfortunately it failed and the garage quoted $470 to bring it up to pass standard. I agreed to the quote and left the truck at the garage for 2 days. Now I was worried how we would pay the bill, since at the time my checking account had only $28 in it. We keep a small stash of cash at home and I knew I could take money from there, but that stash is supposed to be for emergencies only and it’s a slippery slope once you start dipping in to the pot.
Well, I was trying to think of ways to get some cash while I was out and about the following morning. When I came home I walked into our house and to my amazement found $500 sitting on my desk along with a bottle of wine!
It turns out a friend of mine had popped round and finding me out, had left them there as a thank you. What a thank you! Last month I had recommended her for a job, and on my recommendation she had got it, made the sale and earned a good commission. I hadn’t expected any come back from it, so was delighted with the money. Not only was I able to pay for the truck repairs later that day, but I also bought a book I’d wanted for some time and that evening Bill and I enjoyed the wine.
Call it karma if you will, but it seems that what goes around comes around. I am fortunate that I don’t have to go out to do paid work, and that because of this I can produce things at home. We don’t have a lot that we can offer people except our friendship and hospitality. What I’m hoping we are doing is creating community relations. I’m not trying to buy friendship, I only give to people I like or people that I’m going to visit. I’m hoping that when things start getting hard that the dozen or so families closest to me will be able to come together and support each other.
Of course the only reason I can afford to give stuff away is because I have too much of it. I still remember worrying about the price of organic eggs before we had chickens. Strange though it sounds now, when organic eggs were $6 for a ½ dozen a meal of quiche or omelets was an expensive meal for us. Now when we have boiled eggs for tea, I’ll soft boil 12 or 14 eggs and it doesn’t matter if we don’t eat them all or just eat the yolks because we get 10 a day from our chooks.
Since I last wrote I’ve been very busy. I’ve finally succumbed and bought a 2nd hand milking machine. When both my cows are in milk I think it will be too much to hand milk them, so the machine will be a real godsend. I fully intend to get into cheese making in a big way. We love cheese and eat a lot of it, and with two cows there should be plenty of milk to keep us in all dairy products, including cheese.
I’m particularly worried about the developments in Syria / Iran. I’m sure that war is imminent and with this in mind I’ve been reviewing our lists and making new ones. The trouble is that our requirements have changed so much since we moved here, things that I once thought important are no longer priorities and other things have taken their place, so I still feel as if I have a lot still to do. I’m in the process of putting things in priority.
If anything, I’m storing much less food than ever before, but I’m producing much more. I’m also moving away from preserving so much, and moving more in the direction of seasonal eating combined with trying to extend the seasons in my garden. At the moment we are enjoying a second crop of strawberries and raspberries and I’m glad we’ve decided to eat them fresh rather than bottle or jam them.
I’ve treated my hives for varroa mites and done their winter checks. I’ve harvested somewhere around 100kg of honey from them this year, and have left a full super of honey on each hive for their winter stores. I’m concentrating harder on substituting honey for sugar in our cooking and have decided to not buy sugar again. I’ll keep what’s left for visitors to put in their coffee.
Yesterday I made the full transition of using honey in our breakfast pancakes and instead of our normal maple syrup (at $10 for 250ml when on special!!!!) we had pure honey as the topping. I’ve been doing half and half for a while and on that last batch my children didn’t notice the switch which is great as they love maple syrup. We have actually planted 50 sugar maples on our land but the soil isn’t ideal and about half have died. The rest are looking fine and in 15-20 years we should have our own crop, but that’s some way off!
I’m reading Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions at the moment and am making notes as I go (because it’s a vast book and I don’t want to have to read it a 2nd time). I’m aiming to really step up a notch on healthy eating. I was very concerned to read that scientists have combined the lethal H5N1 virus (which is passed from animal to person) with a flu virus (that spreads very easily from person to person). I can’t help but feel that this will escape the lab in Holland and spread like wildfire. I’m hoping to improve our health (which is generally very good) and hopefully make us more resilient to bugs and the flu. Of course, it might make no difference in a pandemic situation, but it can’t hurt to try.
I’ve plucked 15 chickens in the last couple of weeks and they are sitting in the freezer ready for the winter. There will be another 12 or so ready in about 6 weeks’ time. My time has improved and I can now pluck a chicken in 12 minutes which I think is quite fast.
And that’s me. I will try to write again next week, I know I’ve been a bit slack recently but what with my holiday and so much else happening, the weeks have just flown by. I’ve been really enjoying MadamOh’s articles on building a rocket stove. This is just the sort of practical information that we all need, so I’ll try and write about something useful next time.
I still wish there was a forum on Collapsenet, as I would really like to hear your thoughts and opinions on the current events and on your own preparations. I have this niggling little feeling at the back of my mind that I’ve forgotten something important. The trouble is, I don’t know what. Perhaps we all feel like this. As ever, I wish you well.