How to Barter Gardening Expertise for Home Repairs and Soup

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Timebanks are being created all across the U.S. so that people can help members of their community in whatever way they can, and get help in return, though probably not from the person they helped. Hours spent helping are banked, and all skills are treated the same.

Timebanks are a bit subversive that way, treating driving neighbors to doctor appointments the same as preparing their taxes or fixing their plumbing. Most subversive of all is that no payment is involved. All that, and you get to know your neighbors, too. It’s bartering, with the help of the Internet.

I joined the timebank in my town about a year ago, offering the garden-consulting services that I used to charge $80/hour for. Now when people ask for my help I tell them it’s free, but only through the timebank. My offer is listed in the “garden/yard” category with offers like the following:

  • I can help plant flowers, shrubs and trees. Just planted 200 trees with 35 volunteers in one morning.
  • I’m glad to pull ’em up – and to learn about what you’re growing!
  • Lifetime organic gardener. Let’s make it beautiful.
  • Will weed (& mulch) small areas.
  • I can rake, weed beds, do general cleanup, planting under supervision.
  • Willing to weed, mulch and plant. Really enjoy native plant gardens that attract wildlife.
  • I will weed your ornamental or food gardens. Good knowledge of weed recognition and handling.
  • I am available to help other people weed their gardens. We can work together or I can do it on my own.
  • Gardening for wildlife, water conservation and nature is my specialty.

And from someone offering compost help: “Started composting before it was fashionable. Was featured on First Edition tv show in the 1980’s.”

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Garden/yard help is one of many categories of offers, shown above with the number of offers in each. All this from our 90 active members.

So far, my garden-coaching has gotten me some home cooking, especially delicious soups, plus a bunch of banked hours available for me to “spend” for things I need – like some minor home repairs I can think of.

It took months of research and testing of online timebanking programs before our organizers chose hOurworld, and it’s working well for us. The home page for our group is butt ugly but who cares?

Anyone else have a way to barter gardening skills and know-how for other services?

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Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).
  • Also in Greenbelt, MD, writing the e-newsletter and serving on the Board of Directors for the cooperatively-owned music and arts venue and restaurant called the NEW DEAL CAFE.

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.

14 COMMENTS

    • Feels Uber-y to me, a means of circumventing regulations, OSHA, taxes, and unions. A nice idea that ultimately harms the least financially secure among us.

  1. I’m sure that there are flaws in this system, like any other. However, I also think it’s a wonderful system. I think people are beginning to realize that if we don’t start looking out for each other, we’re doomed. The government sure as hell isn’t going to look out for us. We’ve got to take care of each other.

    • I totally agree Susan! I am so glad you published this resource, I am going to check it out in my area. I did try offering my services for landscaping under the ‘barter’ section of Craig’s List and got all kinds of weird phone calls. Very creepy. Needless to say, probably was not the best idea. I was glad to see your post!

  2. The folks who participate in this process do so willingly because they see value in it. They respect the value of other people’s time and skills. And, very importantly, are uninterested in making a value judgement about them, ie: my skill/time is more important/valuable than yours. For people who prefer not to make cash transactions the center of their life when they do not have to, this system is as benign as any other. There are always issues to work out between two parties who enact a transaction of any kind. Putting one’s faith in centralized governing authorities unquestioningly is as foolish as doing so in any other instance. This process seems unusual because we are used to the go-between of coins, paper money, credit cards. All of these are stand ins for the actual transaction. Bartering is much more familiar to people in other countries and would have been more familiar to people in other time periods.

  3. So we all like things for cheap or free; we all like the idea of meeting and helping our neighbors. But what happens when Gardener Larry does the same job as Gardener Mary, only twice as fast? He gets half as many hours in his account as Mary for the same work, and whoever “paid” Gardener Mary uses up twice as many hours as they would have if they had used Gardener Larry for the same job…..and what happens if something goes wrong as a result of that job later, or Gardener Larry falls off a ladder and breaks his arm while doing a job? How does Gardener Jim, the guy you used to pay (some of which pay goes to his health insurance, social security, and taxes that support community works) to maintain your yard, feel when you tell him you no longer need his services because you can now get it for free? Do we take Soupmaker Sally’s word for it that it took her 3 hours to make her fantastic soup? Perhaps she needed 3 hours’ worth of weeding and mowing, and hey, who’s gonna know? I’m playing a very cynical devil’s advocate here obviously, but these are questions I would have. I noticed all the legal disclaimers on the site for the site itself, but none of them can hold anyone harmless from being sued by another member.
    I’m not against the idea of barter; I do it myself in small ways, with varying results. But it seems to me that this system is just substituting time for money (it’s even called a bank), and taking money out of the pockets of some who might really need it. Why not just get to know your neighbors anyway, and help each other as you can?
    As for the government comments….I still consider our government to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, to the extent that we choose to participate in it, even though it’s sometimes very frustrating (and we should always question!). I’d be willing to bet that some of the same people who decry “big government” and regulation are also fighting for more oversight in food labeling, keeping social security in place, etc.
    As for value judgments, I can think of many reasons why one person’s skill set might be valued more than another person’s, if they had special training or education or experience. And I would happily pay more for some people’s expertise than other people’s–that doesn’t mean I would value that person or their efforts more than the other.
    Thank you for allowing me to rant! I’m sure I will be raked over the coals for it!

    • There’s a timebank in my area, but it covers many towns, and it doesn’t have many active members close by. In practice, I rarely find a nearby match for needs/offers. When I did use it once or twice, I didn’t know any friends or neighbors who offered the service I needed.

      I haven’t heard of lawsuits, but I think this kind of thing doesn’t appeal to litigious people anyway. Most of the needs/offers are for only an hour or two. So if you felt cheated, you could do the same thing you do with a service you paid for: post a lukewarm or negative review, or don’t do another barter with that person.

      In addition, based on the people I know who have expressed an interest in timebanks, these are in fact the same people who habitually do favors for friends and neighbors. The timebank is simply a way to extend (or find) your “tribe” rather than a way to capitalize on free/cheap. The very few who take advantage of it are probably the same ones who are less than honest in their dealings with society in general.

      I’ve found Freecycle, local free markets, and various neighborhood (online) groups to be much more helpful when I have things to give away.

    • I don’t think all the reason you state for why this might be problematic put me off of trying it. I am curious, and will sign up with my local time bank – but not for garden services (I design gardens). I think it would be more fitting and appropriate for me to do something that I enjoy and want to spend time sharing with others. Sometimes you may need help and you don’t want to bother friends, or you want a clean, no strings attached transaction that isn’t money based. If I want to share soup, I am happy to make a video of me making that soup if someone questions. And someone being the BEST at doing their share isn’t really the point. I think you might be looking at this through too much of a capitalist lens.

      • Hmmm, I’m actually pretty far over to the socialist side. My barter experiences have been mostly successful, although I’ve had a few experiences where the other person seems to think it’s a game to win, not a sharing experience. I think the problem I have with barter promotions is the pie-in-the-sky belief in going back to a non-existent time where everyone got along and the skies were sunny all day (I’m exaggerating to make a point). I think the sharing/barter economy has a lot to work out. For example, take Airbnb and Uber; a few guys at the top are making beaucoup bucks by providing “sharing” services that may be taking jobs out of the area. And if there are any problems, the customers will have to work it out, not the guys at the top. It reminds me a little of self-checkouts; make the customer do more work, while fewer checkers are hired and the corporation makes more money. i know self-checkouts are not the same as barter, but they appeal to the same do-it-yourself, independence of spirit. Meanwhile, we don’t chat with the checker anymore.

        I think what people may really like about barter and sharing is the face to face interaction with others, the sense of community, something we might feel is slipping away from us in these days of high mobility and the internet. If that’s so, then it’s a good thing, although it might be worth exploring why we need websites to do that. I guess the databases are very helpful.
        Sorry, I’ve ranted again!

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