Reviving the Long Lost Art of Barter

A Facebook group started by a Petaluma resident wants to reduce waste, cut down on spending and form connections between neighbors


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.

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Tbaxter February 25, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Wow, tax evasion is the last thing I'm thinking about when I offer up something I have sitting in my garage for free or for a small, modest trade. Fun and groovy? Not as much as trying to pair down and offer someone something they may need and I don't. I'd rather recycle an old table or desk than buy something cheaply made in an unethical environment. Like you've never ever traded anything or been given anything? Please.
Heidi Baxagocsy February 25, 2013 at 07:01 PM
George, as the admin of the group I must point out that trading an item with a neighbor, be it big or small has been going on for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. And honestly, there's really nothing that underhanded/calculated or "run from the tax man" about it. It's merely a community building effort to reduce waste and offer help to others who may not necessarily be able to purchase something new. Surely you can see how this is good for the community? I think you've no doubt at some point in your life bought or sold something on Ebay or Craigslist. Yes? *smiles* I rest my case. Besides, it's a joyful and fun page to be on, I think you should check it out.
George Barich February 26, 2013 at 12:48 AM
I don't care who you are. Do we have to get personal? Fact is, bartering has long been a way to avoid some taxes. I am not accusing anyone of wrongdoing here, so curb your dogma for a moment. Hate to break it to you like this. From the building trades, auto repair trade, housekeeping services, to to dog sitting, bartering is popular and a way to keep reportable income to a minimum. Do the research and ask your accountant if you don't believe it. Bartering is definitely subject to tax. If you are not paying the tax on what you trade, you may be cheating the government. Sorry, I didn't mean to rain on anyone's parade. My comments are being taken wrong. Used items are sold on Craig's list, eBay, and in the classified sections... Fact is, how many people report these transactions as income? Ask the guy who runs the local flea market how many people turn in their sales tax forms he hands out to the vendors. I'm not knocking bartering, just understand it's history as one way to cheat the tax man if one so chooses to because often there is no paper trail. Barter on... I will...
boethius February 26, 2013 at 05:21 AM
Brings back memories from years ago of a barter company called ITEX (who is apparently still around). It was very, very hard to barter with their "ITEX cash." People and businesses, it turns out, almost always prefer actual cash in hand to bartering. And, yes, I understand this is just a bunch of locals looking to trade goods and services, not a formal business that is facilitating barters.
Lisa John November 04, 2013 at 09:04 AM
@Boethius ITEX is still around and it's now 31 years young and publicly traded with 10 years of profitable growth. Some ITEX franchisees are better than others, so it's important to work with a great ITEX Broker and franchise, like in Toronto, they win lots of awards and I spend my ITEX easily. Here is the website, itex.com.


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