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Right Livelihood – How Can We All $upport One Another?

The notion of Right Livelihood is an interesting subject and surprisingly, sometimes controversial.

by Carolyn Payne-Gemmell

So, what do I do with my time and how do I make a living? I am a permaculture designer and teacher, and I sell plants, seeds, produce and poultry.

I would like to make my living entirely from these things; I would like all the money I make to come to me through ethical work. Bill Mollison’s "making good while doing good" seems like a good aim to me.

However, there are people who don’t understand this concept very well yet, so I hope what I write here will help to move the idea forward.

If I were to analyse myself as far as inputs in my life, I would see that beside food and shelter, I also need money. I need money to function within my first world life. I need money to repay the mortgage I have for my house. I need to pay the bills such as power, water and gas. I need to buy the food I don’t produce, and I need money for transport, namely owning a vehicle and putting petrol in it.

I am working as hard and fast as I can to make my life less dependant on things such as banks, utility suppliers, external food sources and transport, but these aims all require a certain amount of hard currency — money.

So, how can I get the required cash? It seems there are people who want to make some sort of exception for permaculture, that permaculture is some sort of ‘sacred cow’ when it comes to making money.

The first obvious job which receives a backlash is people who make money from teaching. Others would like these teachers to teach for free. Trust me, as a permaculture teacher, I would dearly love to teach permaculture for free, but I don’t know how to explain that to the bank.

And permaculture consultations — most people would like one for free. I would love to do them all for free, but how can I explain that to the utility suppliers who want me to pay money for my share of the utilities I use.

Which brings me to the other things I sell; seeds, plants, produce and poultry. They all require inputs from me — my time and money in the form of things I have to buy, like pots, potting mix ingredients, ‘mother’ plants or seeds, fertile eggs, chicken feed, etc. I have to spend money to make money — all along this path the purchasing decisions I make are based in permaculture ethics.

So, this brings me to the difficult situation I find myself in sometimes. There is a current propensity, in backyard food production circles (and many of these have a somewhat incomplete understanding of the scope of permaculture design complexities) to frown upon the use of hard currency. What has become popular at the moment is the notion of the vegetable ‘swap’. They are at community gardens, garden groups and permaculture groups. The hidden catch is that when they say swap they mean swap. There is a current idea that no money is supposed to change hands, and no money will change hands, and if you suggest that you might like to receive cash for your items, or pay cash for someone else’s, then you are out!

For me this means I can’t participate in right livelihood within the very circles I want to participate in. It is important for me to receive some cash for my goods, and let’s face it, I produce a lot and I rarely need to take home what other people are offering up as their items for swap. I have most of my needs already met.

I also came to the conclusion that there is another whole group of people who, like me, are being accidentally excluded — that is people with nothing to offer except cash. They are not allowed to buy things, therefore they don’t come to ‘swaps’ and they miss all manner of opportunities for socialising, interacting and learning.

To illustrate this further I will offer a few scenarios, all based in fact, but products and names have been changed to obscure identities.

Scenario 1 — Susan

Susan works as a nurse full time in a country town hospital. She loves permaculture, living ethically and eating fresh veggies. Susan has two children at boarding school, so she takes all the hospital overtime offered. Her husband works their farm, sheep and cropping and he breeds rare and heritage poultry for a hobby. Susan has almost no spare time for the garden — as much as she would love to grow lots, she just can’t. She wants to learn more about food growing so she joined the local community garden as an associate member so she can catch the occasional workshop, and how lucky for her, they have a produce ‘swap’ once a month. So, imagine her embarrassment when she turned up to her first ‘swap’ with cash in her pocket, hoping to take her friends ‘excess’ off their hands! No, sorry, swap only — you’re out of luck Susan. Sadly for the other participants at the ‘swap’ they all brought the same thing — bucket loads of spinach — by the end of the day they were taking each other’s spinach home to compare flavours. Susan would have given her cash eagerly to her friends for their spinach as she is currently on the ‘green smoothy’ detox diet.

Scenario 2 — John

John is a pensioner. He gets by on his pension for basics and grows as much food as he can. He heard about a ‘food swap’ run by a group in the next large town, and anticipated being able to take his spare produce and get a few dollars for it, which would cover the cost of his petrol over there. He lives on his own and is looking forward to meeting some like-minded people. It might open up a whole new social life for him. Sadly for John, he makes the trek to the group to find to his embarrassment it’s swap only. Anyway he goes with the flow, swapping what he can, finding that most of what people have to offer he already has at home, but politely takes everyone’s excess greens. He can always give them to his chickens. A steep learning curve for John and unfortunately he won’t be going back — without covering his petrol money he can’t justify the drive.

Scenario 3 — Helen

Helen has a very productive set-up, making preserves, jams and relishes, and growing lots of unusual vegetables. She heard about a ‘swap’ that has started up nearby so she turns up with boxes of her preserves and rare vegetables. Coming in the door she realizes it’s a ‘swap only’, and then feels very stressed as some of her things are quite expensive and she has had to pay a bit of money for the quality jars her preserves are in, not to mention the sugar and sundry ingredients. She takes it in her stride as a learning experience, and she receives some very ‘ordinary’ vegetables as swaps for her ‘interesting and unusual’ things and soon realizes this will be a once only thing. Joan from across the hall comes over and admires her most expensive item. Helen would have put $8 on it if she had been selling it, and she goes over to Joan’s table to see if she can find something for an approximate value of $8. Sadly even if she took everything Joan had, it still wouldn’t cover it, and she doesn’t want to empty the table — that would look rude. So, Helen makes a big mistake and says to Joan “you haven’t really got anything I want, but I am happy to take cash, it’s $8”. Uh-oh, what did you say Helen? Did you mention that dirty word money! Taken aback, Joan, the would-be buyer of the large jar of Morello cherries in syrup, mutters, “that’s not the spirit”. Realizing she has said the wrong thing, Helen tries to make light of it with “money is just the ultimate bargaining tool anyway”. Oops, Helen, that didn’t help. Joan is now quite irate, “Helen, if your intention was to come here today to sell things for money then you should just go away and find a market to sell things at!” Ok, Helen got the message loud and clear. She won’t be back. She won’t be going to the markets either. People who frequent the traditional markets are just looking for bargains — they want things cheap, are not interested in integrity — it’s not the right circle for her produce. Lesson learned.

Scenario 4 — Lynda

Lynda came along to the ‘swap’ for a look. She works full time, rents a flat, has plenty of money, and gazes in wonder at all the great produce people have and confides in another bystander, “I wish I was allowed to buy something!” Sorry Lynda, swap only!

For anyone who hasn’t worked it out yet, ‘swap only’ does not work. Swap only is like an exclusive club. For the people who participate in them regularly, I think they do so believing they are supporting a particular ideal — that money is bad. They lack the understanding that money is a tool to be used like any other, in an appropriate manner.

If money were to be applied in each of the scenarios above we would see some very different potential outcomes.

If Susan were allowed to buy things it would contribute greatly to her health and well being. Her friends would get some handy useful cash, and she might even get the chance to tell everyone about her husband’s rare chickens. She might even bring a few to sell one day. And, speaking of her husband, it wouldn’t take much to talk him into sowing a couple of acres of biologically produced wheat, which he could direct sell it to anyone interested. Maybe there could also be a meat club start up and everyone could order a side of prime lamb… I guess we will never know.

And John, petrol is getting dearer all the time…. I guess he will just stay home. The lady from the ‘swap’ phoned him to find out why he didn’t come the next month — he was too embarrassed to say he couldn’t afford the petrol so he lied and said he wasn’t well: “That’s such a shame John, you had a lot of really good produce, get well soon”.

If John had been able to sell his vegetables for cash, he could afford the petrol to travel to the garden. He would have struck up some new friendships, diverted his loneliness and had less time to drink as much and vegetate in front of the TV. He could have shared his long lifetime of vegetable gardening experiences, and he still remembers how they ‘got by’ in the depression, when times really were tough — all valuable, and lost, experiences.

And Helen, if she had been able to sell her preserves and jams, might have made more and developed a large enough following to afford to upgrade her home kitchen. That would have given a job to the local kitchen joinery and she might even have ordered some new appliances from the local distributor. And as for the interactions she would have had with others… we will never know.

Lynda would have bought all the produce she could, and gone back to work and told her friends, and they would have come the next time, and they would have told their friends… and everyone selling things for cash would start growing things specifically for orders. More land in the community would be put into right livelihood production. That would have to be a great thing… but we will never know.

How do we change this mentality when it has been a hard enough challenge creating the behaviour change to begin with? As I get to writing on this very subject I am being told that I am the one who doesn’t understand the system.

We need to start up groups that are openly called ‘swap and sell’ and leave no doubt that anyone can come and buy.

I am also totally aware that there are often local laws restricting ‘sales’. Come on, we are resourceful — we know all the ways around these things.

Mankind learned many millennia ago that straight bartering does not work. I remember learning as a young child a fable about a man who needed a pin but only had elephants to swap with.

We have had money — hard currency, cash, the tokens to enable fair trading — for thousands of years. I thought this was a lesson we had already learned. Why do we have to learn this one again?

I have a question for all those who insist on “swap only”: please tell me, what would you have me do to make a living?

The society we would need for us all to live ‘money free’ does not exist, and never will. I hope we can all face that reality and get on with the work that needs to be done.


  1. We were very keen backyard producers once, (we have ended up going commercial by putting together a CSA). We went to vegie swaps with all sorts of cool stuff and got cleaned out, obligingly swapping our carrots, celery, leeks etc. for stuff we didn’t need, and stuff that seemed out of place there like native seedlings. It wasn’t worth it for us but we did it to be community minded and to show what could be produced locally, hopefully helping the movement. We found that the loudest advocates had the least stuff.
    I have to laugh here, and it’s a bit OT, but we received lots of finger wagging from people in the transition movement who told us we must stay in our postcode (they had no food to swap by the way). I found it difficult to explain that we were still only a bike ride away and even some of our bigger bulk processing projects involved driving 20 km round trip, but feeding lots of people with stuff that wasn’t produced by supermarkets (if one divided the calories by the kilometres, we were way ahead). Some people we worked with were just around the corner, but alas, in a different postcode. We were quite successful producers and collaborators (particularly with people from diverse cultural backgrounds who had no idea of the newly contrived taboos) and we learned a lot. I still support transition towns, but in that situation we had a lot to contribute but nobody we met in the movement was open, they were distinctly separate from the grass roots stuff happening all around them. I hope this was isolated, as this was my only experience with transition towns.
    We have found the CSA to work well, it took a long time for critical mass to build, lots of people liked the idea, but in practice it was too inconvenient, soon tho, those that really wanted this kind of thing came out of the woodwork and now we have dedicated supporters and lovely people to work with. They are very happy to part with their cash, and are very proud the duopoly didn’t get it – after all, that is their only major alternative (apart from overpriced high food miles and not so fresh certified organic food at other retail outlets).

    1. Thanks scott, your experiences are great to read. The people most offended by my article are the ones who live in my region, they think I am having a go at them, when I am trying to highlight the inherent problem in general terms. There are many things we can do and there are many niches to be found as you have with your CSA.
      The tricky thing too is that a lot of people have already had to go to quite an effort to set up these swaps, believing they are the be-all and end-all alternative to the current system. When in truth there is so much more we could be doing to engage people in local food, we haven’t even scratched the surface.

  2. There is an irony amongst my local swapping purists. They are as staunch as you describe–“swap only”, “no cash”. Yet, they arrive at the local park in a rather well-equipped and affluent area, antique shops and organic cafes just around the corner, in their Subaru and BMW SUVs, insistent that they had too much produce to move to cycle or use public transport (most, I am convinced, would have never stepped foot on a bus). They speak of quince and heirloom tomatoes and roasted pheasant. We could be in a scene carefully choreographed by Maggie Beer herself. These folk love Maggie.

    Fact is, money dominates their life. They are the green capitalists. They are more likely to buy Green Living Magazine–glossy and full of ads–than the so-down-to-earth-you’re-covered-in-mud Grass Roots. They’re also great aestheticists. How something looks is just as, if not more important than how ethically it was produced.

    This weekend swap-meet is a quasi-escape for these folk. They are guilty consumerists. Swapping some spinach for some more spinach gives them just enough respite to not feel too bad about picking up a takeaway organic latte on the way home.

    1. Yes Paul, I know of the character you mention, greenwash all the way.
      It reminds me of people who think their homes would be better cooled by air conditioners run on solar panels, than apply excellent passive solar design principles.
      The challenge for us, how do we skew these faulty but partially functioning systems into the local food/ ethical food systems that we aspire to be part of?

  3. I was recently at a “swap” at Lota (Brisbane southside) which allowed either swap or “donation” of cash… you basically wandered around the tables and took what you wanted, leaving a donation of what you thought the item was worth or what you could afford. This worked fine for swapping of items as it was all excess goods, so you could take what you like from the other tables regardless of what you’d contributed, however no one really knew how to judge the “worth” of each person’s production of an item in cash value… which meant that some received less than their item was worth and some received more. There needs to be more education in “production value” or “currency” as opposed to “cash value”. Where there was only goods to be swapped, this initiative could have worked much better had people been willing or able to offer their time, services, expert advice, or a promise of help in return for other services or tangible goods they needed. The reality is that this only works within a close knit community or group where everyone knows everyone else, where diversity in goods and services exist and a balance can be found with distribution of all goods and services within that group. I would love to become part of a group that not only sells/swaps surplus goods but also offers to educate its members to become part of a balanced give and take. Thoughts?

    1. Yes Jules, that is often the model for ‘swaps’ and you have hit the nail on the head with all accounts. I was attempting to say that these sorts of ‘swaps’ are a type of closed system, like you suggest they needed a close knit community and understanding of item worth. However if you asked what their aim was they would often say they are trying to spread and promote issues around food security etc.
      My thoughts are that these types of events accidentally exclude people, and my hope is that by raising this issue people begin to expand what is possible, not close systems down and shut people out.
      We could go so much further, as you suggest, with swap/sales and even exploring alternative currency and promissory notes. The thing is while people insist on ‘swap only’ the movement in this direction becomes hamstrung and opinions very polarized.

  4. We have tp turn our lifestyles around by small steps and keep on setting an exaple. Don’t give up, Carolyn, you are doing the right thing… we have our electric bill down to abour $20/month… yea, but we are still buying vehicle fuel, shoes, some groceries… Every time I go out, I run across someone who is making the turn around… we are the poiooneers.

    1. Thanks Rosalind, yes, baby steps and one person at a time, sometimes its hard to be patient when you just want all the systems in place and everything to run smoothly. Trying to bring about change is what gets me out of bed every morning.

    2. It’s surprising how far one can travel by taking small steps. Over the space of a few months, as you describe, you might reduce your electricity bill to $60/quarter. You might plant a few more annual crops, reducing your food bill by 25%. These small, seemingly trivial changes, can all be measured in cash money. Which can ultimately be measured in hours.

      From what I use to spend to what I spend now–I could get away with working 2 days per week. Problem is (1) finding such part-time work is difficult and (2) I am using this full-time wage as a way of saving to build my straw bale house–it’s an example of producing a surplus.

  5. I sell my vegetables commercially and I also go out of my way to support all the local swaps. It has nothing to do with hating the concept of money, it is so much more that I cannot explain it in a comment. If anyone doesn’t like the idea of a swap there are plenty of markets to sell produce at.

      1. Yes Rowan and Paul, there are lots of opportunity right here where I am, plenty of market opportunities, thats not a problem. I hope my article gets people thinking about just what their aims are when the have a ‘swap only’. The article has some hypothetical (based in some fact) proposals. My point is that we can go so much further with these concepts but there is such a polarization in opinion the subject can hardly get off the starting block.

  6. Carolyn, The notion of swapping, as opposed to buying & selling, creates equality for those participating, because there is no money involved. Pensioners also grow veg, produce eggs, bake & preserve things. I regularly attend these events, whether I have anything to swap or not. For me it is a means of meeting up with old & new friends, learning about veggie growing, and generally enjoy the vibe. The BCG swap has a donations table where participants put excess items and people can buy them for a modest donation, which means that the BCG gets a little something back for the use of their premises. That swap, in particular, has helped to build very strong, mutually beneficial relationships between the local permaculture guild and the community garden people. Leaving money out of the equation, opens things up for ‘community’ to flourish. For those who wish to buy and sell, there are farmer’s markets, websites, facebook and so on.

    1. Karen, I am just proposing people think beyond their own circle. And as you are just an hour or so from me you are one of the people who wishes to show me the error of my thinking, so thanks for that.
      I am well aware I think differently to the status-quo, I am well known locally for only opening my mouth to change feet. I am writing from my base in Ararat, where I have seen the swap concept flop without a whimper, and I have also seen swaps that are so clunky they support no-one and encourage nothing.
      I will be doing everything I can in my community to create a supportive/educating system, in context, using permaculture design.

      1. Carolyn, It was not my intention to “show you the error of your ways” at all. I just wanted to point out that there’s room for many different models and the local swaps are not wrong, they are just different to what you would like to see. Further, I’d like to say that when someone disagrees with what you say, that’s NOT a personal attack, it’s merely holding a different point of view. I go to farmer’s markets and other such sources of fresh, organic foods as well as attending swaps. I believe it is good to have variety. By attending ‘swap only’ arrangements I am not indicating, in any way, that money/commerce is bad. You make a LOT of assumptions about people who don’t think exactly the way you do, which I think is why some people respond negatively to your posts.

  7. True we do need to make adjustments for this sort of culture feathers are ruffled on many levels at the moment.All the best and thankyou for sharing what is important to you and all of us(world beings.

    1. Thanks Joanne, it is really hard not to ruffle feathers with this one and at the local level I am being shot as the messenger, which is hard, especially when we are all on roughly the same page and have the same types of aims.

  8. Hi Carolyn, I feel like I am Helen in your article! I don’t go to any swaps however. What I do do is try and sell excess produce and preserves via a Facebook page a friend and I set up. It has moderate success and to be honest I don’t know if I get true value for my stuff. I want to go to markets but my (for eg) tomatoes are ripe on Monday and the markets aren’t til Saturday!! I don’t have a cold room to store anything either.
    I wouldn’t mind a roadside stall but I live on acreage and a no through road!! Lol. I do swap with a friend who gets me things I want (like bunya pines and a few other native food trees).
    Last of all I even try giving some away in the hope that I get a customer in the future. That has bitten me in the bum however!!
    We shall work it out in the end.

    1. I want to create diversity in my income when I move out bush–I have a business that will be my primary source of income, I intend to also do some freelancer work, maybe publish an eBook, and sell some of my surplus.

      There are no markets near my property, and as somebody that continues to live car-free, I want to try and keep my business interests as close to home as possible. That’s why I intend to approach the local hotel, general store, and some small supermarkets in the region and ask whether they might want to take on some of my produce. Alternatively, I may be able to do something with the football crowd that descends on the town on a Saturday. Perhaps rather than sell whole produce, I could produce an appropriate value-add–perhaps homemade, wood oven meat pies? Perhaps I could run a small stall at the market? Perhaps I could run a wood oven pizza night in partnership with the pub? Perhaps I could come up with a CSA, targeting the towns people. Perhaps I could try on a few of these ideas?

      1. There is another way, the roadside vendor, with this I mean setting up a stall on the roadside and staying there selling, like a market stall. I have experimented with this and it works. It also draws a much wider demographic that would not normally go to activist based models. There is an old skool cultural pattern here, people have always stopped at roadside stalls over years and get really excited about fresh local stuff. Over the years these stalls have dwindled, but when I turned up with one on the Gold Coast people were really into it, and like I said, those one wouldn’t see at other places, it seems to reach back to the times people remember before the supermarket dominance, where there was a pride in taking home some pumpkins, melons, pineapples etc. and saying “check this stuff out, proper fresh local!” Old skool Aussies, Diverse cultural backgrounds etc. They all had that same look in their eyes and the same smile, like this is proper, like it once was when things were better. Milkwood posted this and I intend to make one, like a mobile food safe, as I have found refrigeration to be unnecessary for a lot of items when they’re fresh. We will pack from the garden straight into it and head down the road. It’s all experimental for now, but I have discovered latent interest.

    2. Yes Bernadette, I already use facebook to sell my things, its great, and free. And I have found there are plenty of foodie type places around that are starting to understand having local ingredients on their menu, and everyone I have found so far is understanding of how irregular the supply can be, they just love having some local produce whenever its available. Giving your produce away is a tricky one too, often the recipient doesn’t value the amount of time you put into it and only sees your gardening/cooking as a hobby. Direct selling to people who value your work is the way to go.

    3. Hi Bernadette,
      I once worked as a field hand for a farmer, who would sell stuff directly to the local small independent grocer. Have you tried this, maybe for a store credit? I think we all have to think outside the box, but we all still have to look in the box to see what is there. Small local grocers and milk bars and even garages can all be sources for us to get a few extra things, think of offering to take store credit.

  9. It’s a good article and the examples you outline are a shame. But in my opinion, based on my experience of the swap at our community garden, is that this one works so well because it is swap only. The environment it has created I think is a good one to encourage and nurture people who are finding their feet. If all a person has is a few wilted looking borage plants (that would be me!), I still feel comfortable going. I wouldn’t expect to swap it for a jar of jam. But, also, if I have nothing I can just turn up and have a chat.
    Once money is allowed to change hands the tone changes and someone who doesn’t have the skills or experience yet to turn up with more valuable goods is left on the sidelines.
    I totally agree that we need a model that works to suit the people you are talking about. Something in between a commercial Farmers Market and a Produce Swap. A co-op perhaps?
    I think the swap only Produce Swaps work really well in catering to one important set of needs. I think the answer is not to attack that model, but to find another model that fits the kind of needs that you are wanting to address for people who want to sell their goods.

  10. I have no experience with food swaps, but as I read this article and the comments I wonder if part of the point of the food swaps is to not have equal exchange of value….(?) I am thinking back to the first time I talked to my neighbors. I wanted to start a mulch pile in the backyard so I asked them if I could rake up their fall leaves and keep them. They had a lot of leaves and it took me about 3 hours of work. If they were to have paid a professional to do that it would have cost quite a bit of money. The commercial value of the labor I donated to them was far greater than the commercial value of the compostable material I got out of it. But I didn’t mind because it just felt like the right way to get organic material for myself. A few days later my neighbor approached me in my yard and just gave me a butternut squash she had picked. We didn’t even mention the work I had done raking her yard though I am sure she was thinking about it. It was more about having mutual good will toward each other than anyone getting a fare deal on anything. I wonder if that is the feeling people are going for when they try to orchestrate swap-only sorts of meetings…

    1. You hit the nail right on head Ryan – the goodwill and connections made are very important part of swap only days

    2. Yes Ryan D, that is exactly what food swaps are all about. Nothing more sinister than that. Keep it ‘local’ and help out people in your locality and they will return the favour the best way they can. Make connections and all the other good things will follow. I for one am disabled to a degree, can not drive, am not so young and etc. and I do not feel excluded. I don’t think food swaps are THE place to make money. There are other venues for that. Maybe the author needs to make sure her produce is up to scratch, hone her business skills a bit or get some help with that and then find the correct venue.

  11. I find this article to be completely off base of what a food and good swap is intended to stand for. If you’re not interested in swapping at a swap… no one is there to force you and if you’re ininformed about what a swap is before going into the event… then shame on you for not reading event details. There are swaps, and there are markets… two completely different and individually useful situations for trades and cash flow. Ultimately it’s up to the individual to decide what situations are best for them. Don’t bash the swap… it’s a fantastic opportunity to build a sense of all-inclusive community.

  12. I don’t think this is a helpful criticism. It seems completely off-base. What Carolyn is arguing for here, is a reconsideration of what swaps are and what swaps could be? By not building a dialogue around it, swappers could forever be blissfully ignorant to improvements. I’m sure Carolyn isn’t the only swapper that feels this way. Perhaps it is a common sentiment among those that are sick of spinach trades. Perhaps something new can come out of this dialogue.

    1. Swaps are closed systems, but not to the people in them. My article, no matter how badly written or ill conceived is just to get people thinking about a lot of these currency and money issues.
      Some people are closed out, ACCIDENTALLY of course.
      Yes I know all the alternatives for selling things, on-line, markets, roadsides, etc. What I do find is that there are some people who are very passionately against money, which is interesting seeing as everyone needs it.
      I could hypothesis for everyone who says ‘go to a market’. They are around $15 to $20 for a table and any backyarder with a surplus has already come to the conclusion they can only produce about $20 worth of goods, so its a waste of time going.
      Now it seems the Swap has filled the niche, all be it in a clunky way. And what will the people who develop “swap and sells” be thought of by those already ‘swapping’, competition, interfering, wrong?
      There are bigger issues at play of course, which no one is looking at, which is that small markets with anyone selling anything, are illegal. Originally as far as I know (in Australia) the Swap was introduces as a way of circumnavigating this legal hitch, call it a swap to avoid attracting attention but everyone sells their produce, and by the end of the day it sort of looks like you all swapped your goods around, much the same as the ‘Swap Meet’ that car enthusiasts hold. The thing is with a ‘swap and sell’ items are not just traded to each other, but to external interested parties, which is my point about this system being closed, it is tit for tat, you take this -I take that.
      In open systems with money where items have a designated value means that surpluses and deficits get balanced out without anyone being excessively advantaged, or unfortunately disadvantaged, via that thing called currency, which is one of the more simple and convenient ways to store surplus time and energy for later use.
      Bartering, which I am obviously against requires what Economists call the Coincidence of Wants, that is that two people who have the same value of item both want what each other have at exactly the same moment in time. Bartering is inherently ‘Indivisible’, the items up for barter can not be divided easily so no change can be given, this is where I see the inequity.

  13. Carolyn – first of all BRILLIANT and insightful article. You’ve eloquently stated something so many of us struggle with.
    Permaculture occurs as a really wonderful way to fulfill our needs and heal the planet at the same time. Many people interpret that to mean that we should therefore eschew things they see as leading to the downfall of the planet – money, technology and so on. But is there really anyone reading this right now who survives 100% on barter? Probably not. So why expect it of someone else?
    One of the main principles of permaculture is to “obtain a yield”. Yields from permaculture can be come in the form of cost savings on utilities, food and health care through implementing well-constructed, holistic systems where one element’s waste is an input for another. Yields can also come from products and skills that you sell to the greater community.
    Right now we live in a world where we use pieces of paper with images of dead presidents (or royalty) on them as an agreed upon tool of exchange. This makes things easy for us because we don’t have to spend great quantities of time and energy (in permaculture we call this “work”) trying to find just the right swapping opportunity. Currency gives us choices and saves time. It is a way to streamline the energy flow of work. Currency is a tool. Used consciously, it can slow and spread true wealth into things that matter. Things like permaculture.
    Now we come to another important point. Why do we, as a movement, undervalue ourselves and our work? Why do we expect the very people doing great things to heal the planet to live in poverty while the rest of us blissfully pay high fees to cell phone companies and oil companies? In essence we are “voting with our dollars” to keep the toxic status quo healthy and quash grassroots efforts at making a living doing something which can feed us both physically and spiritually.
    I find this mindset to be the ultimate paradox. If people want to volunteer or swap, that’s fine – but don’t vilify the people who also want to make permaculture a viable career choice. Each person who runs a permaculture farm, teaches permaculture classes, writes permaculture books, songs, produces videos, has a consulting business, provides products, etc. is a step in the right direction. I want to support THESE people. Why? Because they are working with the energy flow of “currency”; experimenting and creating tangible projects that we can all experience and build on. And this is EXACTLY what we need more of. I say vote with your dollars and support people doing the good work. You don’t live in utopia and neither do they.

  14. Brilliant and insightful reply, Jennifer.

    Your explanation of how money fits into the permaculture paradigm is, well, on the money.

    I do worry, though, that some of the enterprises given rise to from permaculture (e.g. Permaculture Design Course) mightn’t be offered with the right spirit. It seems more and more are coming onto the market, and less and less experienced teachers. Is this a fair criticism, do you think?

    1. Hi Paul:
      Thanks for the kind words.
      As far as more and more people teaching PDCs and their qualifications – I think PRI is trying to address quality by offering a PRI PDC Instructor option. However, teaching a PDC has always required only that the instructor have a PDC under their belt. It was designed this way to allow PDC to spread organically. And many of those teaching PDCs are doing so in areas they may not have had access to a PDC before. Most teachers do tend to improve over time and with experience. I am in the process of teaching my first PDC (on the road to becoming PRI certified). I can only draw on my permaculture experiences from the past 6 years. However I am far ahead of most of the local folks in understanding how to implement solutions for the dryland urban environment in which I find myself.

      I think the good instructors will continue to attract students as they get better and better and the not-so-great ones will fade away.

      1. Imho the P D. C is designed to exclude and in and of itself has become a money making venture. The cost and perceived benefits of a PDC do not appear to me to appeal to those who most need it…..the poor and disadvantaged. I am a University lecturer retired and can see the benefits of Permaculture but not of A PDC that is apparently designed to appeal to high / middleclass income earners. The cost of PDC puts it outside the financial ability of over 50% of the population, at least. swaps allow those people to continue to grow ….and that must be a good thing…yes?

  15. Thanks for your article – I fit the pensioner profile. I grow most of my food, but have excess eggs and poultry. I do give these to neighbours as I drive past to collect mail etc. But I also would welcome some extra cash – it seems no one has much spare where I live. And I would love a permie designer to come and give me some help – food provided and would pay for fuel. I am in south central Queensland – semi-arid area, and drought affected now. The white ants kindly ate all my Permaculture books a couple of years ago when I went travelling.

    There is a plugin being developed for RetroShare to allow for exchange of value in basically anything – hours, kw, gold, silver, cryptocurrencies, fiat currencies etc

  16. Best of both worlds! Yes, it is possible as shown at the Ballarat Community Gardens produce swap. I went along the first time with nothing to swap but cash in pocket. The first part of the 2 hour event is swap only but once that’s finsihed then yes you can purchase goods. It still keeps the swap only aspect alive but also provides for those who have nothing to swap but want to learn. I had nothing but sourdough starter to swap the next month (and someone else was swapping it too) but I was keen to return. I haven’t been able to return since but not for any other reason than it’s 30 minutes drive from me and I don’t like the carbon cost of driving there but having the swap only 1.5 hours or however long it is before finsihing off with a payment per worth system allows for all to be involved. It may not work for those who wish to make a little money from their goods but I guess you could easily incorporate a small market that starts up as the swap is coming to an end. No reason not to have both aspects running at overlapping times. :)

  17. For anyone interested who might still be following this thread.
    I attended a food security forum today, it had an interesting lineup of guest speakers from many different aspects of the food security chain. During discussion/question time at least three people addressed a similar angle of the problems with access to food via farmers markets. Highlighting that farmers markets in this part of the country are about the ‘Chardonnay and Cheese’ set. That they were exclusive and expensive and pitched at the tourist trade, and that while some ‘exclusive’ produce was in fact local, the local farmers markets are not ‘for the locals by the locals’.
    It seems there are small scale (micro) growers who would like to be able to sell their produce regularly and locally, to locals, and make a small monetary gain, to enhance their financial standing, which in my local socio-economic bracket is generally low.
    The statistics for ‘food insecurity’ (food embarrassment, or running out of money to buy food) in my local government area, the statistics are at 12%, which equates to 1200 people who don’t always have access to food, or the money to purchase it.
    In discussions with others I posed the term ‘Backyarders Market’ a forum for small scale backyard growers to sell their produce to locals. We discussed the issues of local laws, insurance and various obstacles and we are going to look at ways to make this ‘Backyarders Market’ idea into a working model.
    I discussed many of the aspects of my article above and everyone I talked with understood the inequity issue, it seems the lower the socio-economic scale of the region the easier it is to understand what life is like for those who live close to the edge of their finances. I discovered today that there are many people who have a deep understanding of what makes people ‘food insecure’ and it was great to be surrounded by people who really want to work at creating systems for equitable food security and all the attendant sustainability and environmental issues as well, all up a very inspiring and positive day.

  18. I just stumbled upon this thread and enjoyed the dialogue.
    As a permaculture teacher and consultant working within Carolyn’s region I can understand her frustrations and I appreciate her raising the question of obtaining a yield and a fair days pay for a fair days work. I also appreciate the value of building community and that sometimes a straight swap works but sometimes it doesn’t. Let’s value diversity and be flexible in our thinking to encompass that there are many forms of currency.
    I appreciate Melissa’s point of view but also think Carolyne raises some very valid points.

  19. I’m not sure there is an inherent issue with any individual swap per se, but maybe the types of people mentioned need to find or create a different outlet that better suits their needs. We are only just seeing the diversity needed in my town to tackle many issues of food security and community connection. We have the Community Garden for those that do not have the area to grow themselves, and that is set up with priority access for disadvantaged people in our community. We have a seed swap station where people can ‘take, leave, whatevas’ as is the motto of There is a veg swap once you have something growing, and if you don’t there are many people willing to give away seeds to get you started and talk your ear off with advice on growing and using produce. The excess of the swap itself goes to a kitchen that provides meals for homeless people in the community. Then we have a farmers market where you can sell your produce if serious, and for our permaculture group we have negotiated a community table for a much reduced fee where we can sell backyard excess as a stall at the market. Then there’s ‘Ripe Near Me’ online – you could advertise produce for sale on there perhaps? I’m not sure. Anyway, my point is diversity – if a current outlet doesn’t suit your needs, talk to the organisers and if they aren’t open to it then that’s ok, they fill their niche – go and create what you want to see alongside them. Chances are that others are interested too and will join in :)

  20. I’d like to lay my cards on the table straight away by stating that I am a food swap coordinator and am adamant that no money should change hands. The whole point of food swaps is that they are free and rely on goodwill. And it’s not ‘my apples for your oranges’ — everything gets laid out at the swap I organise and people take what they want. It’s about hyper-localisation, generosity and abundance. If you want to sell produce there are plenty of ways to do it — markets; Ripe Near Me etc — but not food swaps.

    Another point, I organise the food swap in my own time for free. I do it because I believe in the concept and I love the event. If the food was for sale then why wouldn’t I charge for my time by charging either the buyers or sellers or both? You lose more by bringing money into the picture than you gain IMHO.

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