November 16, 2015

Teach kids about how people used to barter by helping them set up a trading post to exchange their homemade or homegrown wares.
Tessa Zundel

November is a perfect month to get together with friends and share the excess of the season’s harvest. Farm kids are also pretty handy and crafty and may have things they’d like to barter with friends and family in exchange for other goods, gifts or just fun stuff to own. This is also a natural time of year to reflect back on how the Pilgrims spent their first harvest seasons in their new home, planting and trading simply to stay alive.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of how to host a trading fair of your own, let’s first define trading and how it’s different from using money in an economy. A great picture book to read to get into the spirit of handcrafted items and homegrown produce to be sold or bartered is Ox Cart Man by Barbara Cooney.


What Is Trading?

The act of trading for goods and services pre-dates even the use of money. Basically defined, trading is swapping goods you have for goods you need that are of equal value. Let’s say one person has a chicken, and another person has five loaves of bread, and the first person wants the bread and the second person wants the chicken. They decide that the chicken is worth the five loaves of bread, so they trade each other their items and go away happy.


What Is Money?

Eventually, society will decide that the bread is worth five chickens or one piece of obsidian. Once the obsidian is assigned a value equal to five chickens, it becomes a form of currency. After money is developed, then people are able to buy the bread with the money instead of trading for it with chickens. Eventually, people will often abandon trade altogether in favor of money. (That’s a hugely simplified version of what is actually a complex economic process, but it’s sufficient for our activity.)


Can I Use Both?

As a homesteader, I use money, of course, but I’m a big fan of trading with other homesteaders the items I produce for items I need. For example, if I have 100 pumpkins by the end of harvest season but I only need 50, I can trade the extra 50 for something I need more. My neighbor may have four bushels of apples that I could really use, but she didn’t grow any pumpkins this year. How can she make pumpkin pie without my extra pumpkins?! How will I preserve all the apple pie filling I need for the year without her apples?! By trading, of course. She gets my pumpkins and I get her apples, and we don’t need money to get what we require.

Hosting Your Trading Fair

A fun way to gather your friends and neighbors to swap their excess goods is to host a trading fair at the end of the harvest season. Make it festive festive, decorating for fall with gourds, cornstalks and hay bales. Provide hot apple cider for your guests and a name tag for each participant. Be sure to have a play area set up for younger children, so they don’t feel left out.

Trading fairs are often fun to do outdoors, when possible. If you’d like to go beyond fall decorations, pick a time period that you’d like to represent with your decorations. Ancient Rome, the Renaissance and the time of the Pilgrims or pioneers would all be appropriate trading fair eras. Try to link your event with what your children are studying in history or literature class.

For an effective trading fair, invite at least 10 other kids and their parents. Have a meeting with a few of the older kids and adults to decide how the trading post will work. Assign jobs for set up and take down of tables, decorating and inviting participants.

Each participant will need to bring one item for every person participating. Don’t go too much over 10 kids the first time, so you don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t cheat and buy stuff to trade, either; make your items yourself or pull them from your personal stash of cool stuff. You can sculpt, bake, grow or otherwise craft your items. The items for trade don’t have to be big or fancy, just something you love and you think others will love, too. The most popular items at our past trading fairs have been food —hands down, sweet stuff goes first—and useful objects, like paracord bracelets.

Set up tables to display your items and decide beforehand in your meeting or individually how you’d like to market your items. Do you want to stand at your table and call out your wares? Do you want to make a creative sign to display to allure people to your table? Do you want to offer a free gift with each trade? Also decide how you will split up the trading and the tending of the stalls. The kids can’t go out to look for things to trade if they’re stuck behind their tables the whole time. We’ve found it helpful to either tend your stall with a buddy who can stay behind and conduct business on your behalf while you go out to trade, or split the group in half and have the first half go out to trade while the second half stays behind.

Don’t let the fair drag on if you notice that everyone is done and wandering off. Have the kids a break and go out to enjoy your items, eat your snacks and play a bit. Then, come together one last time before going home to have the children discuss what they learned from this experience. Here are some discussion questions to get you started:

  1. How easy or difficult was it to decide how much each item was worth in order to trade it? Did you always agree with the person you were trying to trade with?

  2. How many of you made your items? How long did they take you? How did that influence you when you assigned value to them as you traded with others?
  3. If you picked a time period, what items were people of your time typically trading each other? Did they also have money available?
  4. What are some reasons we might need or want to trade in our society?
  5. What are some of the drawbacks of trading? What are some of the benefits?

Even though this is an educational activity, it’s a fun, family-friendly way to teach farm kids the value of creating with their own hands and finding a way to share their talents with others. It’s also a worthwhile way to build community in your little corner of the world, establishing working relationships and friendships that will further add to your blessings. What a wonderful time of year!

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