Cash out: Colorado Springs nonprofit hopes locals will grow bartering network

By Debbie Kelley Published: December 26, 2013 | 2:40 pm 0

Kids get the whole barter/trade system.

They have no problem swapping peanut butter and jelly for bologna and cheese at lunch, or giving a friend a toy truck in exchange for a Superman figure.

Adults are so used to handing over paper bills or plastic cards that they have a harder time with having no money changing hands.

"Our biggest challenge is to get people to actually trade," said Steve Saint, who helped create a local barter program called the Justice Exchange Network.

The concept sounds great in theory, Saint said.

"But people are just accustomed to the cash system and don't think about checking regularly to find services they need or browse new 'wants' other people have posted," he said.

The idea of trading labor and talent for goods and services seems to go against the norm, even though that's how early settlers conducted business, using Wampum beads, spices, teas, silks and other valuables as currency.

"A nice way to exchange work and business," is how Scott Olson, a local carpenter, describes the setup. Olson, who owns Dolphin Smile, has rebuilt fences, installed doors in homes and done other carpentry jobs for people in the network. He's accumulated "points," or dollar values, to apply toward obtaining work he desires - but he's still waiting to find accounting, house cleaning and legal services.

"It's not very popular yet, but I think it's just a matter of time as people realize they can benefit from it," he said. "Bartering for services you feel are worthwhile has a place in society today, just like money does."

The Justice Exchange Network launched in June 2012 as a program of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, a nonprofit that has been around since 1978 and promotes nonviolence, lifestyle sustainability and social justice.

Bartering and trading seemed to fit the organization's goals of creating community, said Saint, who recently stepped down as its executive director but continues to work as the associate director for media. Becky Elder has embraced the system. A gardening expert known for her work in permaculture, an approach to agriculture that emphasizes using renewable natural resources, Elder has exchanged her professional knowledge for several services.

"It only makes sense in this uncertain economy, if I can get my dog a three-year rabies shot or plumbing services by trading my expertise," she said.

The most popular services offered through the network are website design, handyman services and counseling, Saint said. But there are others, such as companionship, pet sitting, baby sitting, hauling, writing, jewelry making and cooking.

A similar type of network, called the Hour4Hour Time Bank, also is available through the organization, involving swapping equal increments of time instead of dollar values.

Unlike Craigslist, an online classified advertising site that has a barter/trade category, people who join the Justice Exchange Network aren't strangers, Saint said.

"Exchangers are not anonymous names, which gives a degree of security and quality control," he said.

Elder and Olson look forward to the network growing.

"You can't barter with Chase Bank, but you can barter with a house painter," Elder said. "We need to conserve our money for those things that can only be paid with money - the rent, utilities - while using our own talents as money. It's a brilliant little step to changing our ways and valuing people and their skills over valuing income levels. Many folks feel they don't have the skills to offer, but everyone has skills - from low tech to high tech - that can be used in trade."

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