Let’s get something straight.
Barter is not a quick and efficient way of doing business.
It takes time to find someone willing to part with what you want and even longer to find something of equal value in return.
But that’s just fine for hundreds of locals who have joined Petaluma Trading Post, a Facebook group committed to the ancient form of payment.
Started last month by Heidi Margocsy, a 39-year-old Petaluma photographer, the group has grown to more than 300 members, who have traded homegrown veggies, baby clothes, books and many other items with fellow Petalumans.
“We all have stuff in our house and garage that we don’t need and a lot of it ends up in landfills,” says Margocsy, who was inspired by a similar group called Sonoma Hitch & Barter. “So why don’t we try to get rid of some of it and in turn get something we may actually need?”
Margocsy, who was born in Australia, says bartering is not about finding a good deal or even about supply and demand. It’s more about using the Internet to build connections and then getting out and meeting your neighbors.
“There is something cool about the community coming together,” she says. “Perfect strangers are able to gather on a page that’s safer than Craigslist.”
(The group encourages trades to be made at local businesses and not private homes.)
A big part of the Petaluma Trading Post’s ethos is reducing waste and being frugal while still procuring all the things you need to live well.
On a recent day, Petaluma Trading Post member Michael Longerbeam, who works in the wine industry, posted that he had extra bottles of wine. Those were promptly picked up by Cinnabar Theater in exchange for some tickets.
Another member by the name of Allison Hill announced that she had a stack of books she no longer wanted, and soon heard from Gemini Garcia who offered up homemade strawberry fig jam.
Browsing the site one night, Christina Cook Connelly’s offer of a glass punch bowl in a Star of David pattern caught my eye. But Connelly, a new mom, was seeking toddler clothing, handmade goods, plants or classes, none of which I had.
Herein the dilemma of barter.
Margocsy agrees that it can take a while to find the right match. But that’s part of the experience.
“Half the fun is thinking outside the box with your trade,” she says. “It’s about meeting your neighbors and offering something and seeing if you can come to an agreement.”
I dug around for what I was willing to donate that would roughly equal the value of a quirky Jewish-themed punch bowl. Women’s clothing, gently used? A pair of purple sunglasses picked up on recent trip?
No takers yet.
Sometimes, members use the site to just give a heads up about something they want to get rid of without tossing in the garbage. Margocsy tells the story of a woman who messaged the group saying she had a box of iris bulbs she didn't need. She left the coordinates of a street corner and all day long members stopped by and grabbed bulbs to plant in their own yard.
The woman didn’t get anything in return except the knowledge that her irises would soon adorn dozens of local gardens.
And that was good enough.