GREAT BARRINGTON -- There's a place you can go to get goods and services in Berkshire County where it doesn't matter what's in your wallet.
About a year ago, Michelle Kaplan and her partner Ted Okun, both new to Great Barrington, got to talking about how they could meet and interact with new people.
Kaplan and Okun enjoy homesteading, and being producers of their own foods through organic gardening and cooking, fermentation and home-brewing, and also enjoy the outdoors.
"We would talk about experimenting with what is possible when we collaborate through exchange and play with ways that we can meet needs and wants primarily without the use of money," said Kaplan.
The premise became the seed of what is now known as Berkshire Barter, a Facebook-based community that also includes live monthly barter markets. The next market, billed as a "Post-Holiday Barter Market," will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., this Saturday at Mason Library in Great Barrington.
The first couple of markets were piloted at the home of Kaplan and Okun, and promoted by posting handmade fliers and by word-of-mouth. Since then, attendance has ranged between a dozen and 30 people.
"I've seen exchanges from a snow tire for help making a website, to homemade jams for garden books," Kaplan said. "I think we've been able to reach a lot of people in a year. It's slowly starting to get a little more credibility. It's just a matter of the people who are involved getting out there and telling their friends."
Kaplan, 23, who grew up in the suburbs of Boston and graduated from Canton public schools, has been exploring the country and building her knowledge of grassroots and community-building initiatives since 2008. She's done work-trades on different organic farms through a program called Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF).
"When I was living in the Pioneer Valley I attended a ‘Free Workshops and Local Food Barter Fair' at Greenfield Winter Farmers' Market, which inspired me" to do something in the Berkshires, Kaplan said.
"We have all experienced some form of this [type of exchange] in our lives: a neighbor who needs a hand carrying in the groceries or to borrow a lawnmower. We do not all need to buy our own lawnmower if we can offer something to our neighbor in exchange," she said.
Pittsfield resident, artist, educator and homebrewer Michael Vincent Bushy, 33, heard a friend mention Berkshire Barter, found the Facebook group and asked if he could tag along.
"I am a small-scale producer. Any chance I have to get something from or have an interaction with some other producers is great," said Bushy.
He said the mustard and beer he makes, for example, "is not enough to be selling, but it's enough for swapping."
For his maiden barter market excursion, he brought a box from his stock of hand-bound and hand-printed books and journals and headed to Kaplan's home to make trades. He returned to Pittsfield with art by Gabrielle Senza and "tons of foodstuffs" ranging from homemade jams and jars of pickles to eggs, homebrewed beer and dandelion wine.
Since bartering has been a form of commerce and trade from practically the dawn of humans -- corn for eggs, bread for soup -- there are no formal regulations for barter markets. In the Berkshires, a Facebook search will yield other local groups of people bartering goods online.
However, when you get into bigger barters -- a 2009 Forbes magazine article uses the example of a $1,000 worth of dental work for gardening services -- the IRS, may expect a cut from it. (Visit the IRS Bartering Tax Center here: http://1.usa.gov/1lPEUMY)
Kaplan, however, is aiming to promote a more sustainable, green exchange of surplus stock, be it extra carrots from a farm share, a shirt that's never been worn, prints that have been sitting in stacks in an artist's studio.
"The barter markets are a way to celebrate this break away from capitalism and focus on the abundance that exists when we come together and share our resources as opposed to hoarding them for ourselves; Celebrating direct democracy and resistance to corporate rule," she said. Kaplan said there's a growing interest in alternative currency, noting the development and use of BerkShares (berkshares.org) in the region.
"I want to free myself from relying so heavily on money, which I think is profoundly revolutionary," said Kaplan. "I like taking money out of the picture and seeing what is possible and deciding the value of a product or service. I've met a lot of new cool people too."
Bushy, who moved four years ago from Cape Cod to the Berkshires with his wife, Rebecca Marie Strout, said living in a community that supports local business and cultural commerce is a reason they continue to live here.
"The first barter market I went to, I knew one person there. I've made a lot of connections, both personally and professionally," he said, an opportunity he said he couldn't find out on the Cape.
"I think there's an interest in this county in a return to real things in a sense of being able to trace things you buy back to a source you know," Bushy said.
"I really want the barter market to become an alternative to going out and buying things," said Kaplan. "The event allows people to come together and move forward towards changing the system. I'm hoping that Berkshire Barter will expand and together we can redefine wealth, worth and value, and live in a community that supports and values sustainability, health, well-being, human potential, care, children and generations, creativity and empowerment, success and achievement There is enough for everyone and anyone can contribute. Sharing is more fulfilling than owning."
Tips for success and what to expect at Berkshire Barter
1. Make a list of what you'll bring and let people know in advance via the group's Facebook page.
2. Each market starts by putting people in a circle to go around and make introductions about who they are and what they brought to share. Then, people are left to mingle and trade.
3. No cash allowed. Only goods and services.
4. Handmade goods tend to be valued more.
5. Barters are made when two people agree to an equally valued exchange of goods.
6. Haggling skills do come in handy, especially when two or more people are vying for the same goods.
7. Bring extra tote bags or a box to carry home your traded goods.
8. Have fun and make friends from your own Berkshire backyard.
If you go
What: Post-Holiday Barter Market presented by Berkshire Barter. The event is free and open to the public.
When: Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Mason Library, 231 Main St., Great Barrington.
Details: No cash allowed. Just bring items to barter and trade with. Suggested items include: Homemade canned goods, arts and crafts, books, clothes, jewelry, eggs, veggies, seeds, plants, mushrooms, herbal tinctures, ferments, CDs, service, etc.