Bartering, one of the oldest forms of business, seems to be finding its way back in the East Valley as local businesses use the time-worn exchange of goods and services for locally grown food.
Edible Exchange is a division of The Barter Group, a three-decades-old Scottsdale family-owned business that operates a dollar-for-dollar exchange among member businesses.
While Edible Exchange has been open just three months, the idea is taking off, said Lori Baker, the owner of both The Barter Group and Edible Exchange.
“It’s a platform for education and creating a holistic community,” Baker said. “Many people in the community don’t know there’s a working dairy farm in the community.”
And while barter is not a new idea, it traditionally has been retail to retail, Baker said. That said, preconceived notions haven’t stopped the growth of Edible Exchange.
“This program has just exploded,” Baker said. It now includes 27 members who offer a number of local food options. From farmers offering fresh produce and dairy products to artisan chefs who operate out of food trucks, the options abound.
“It makes sense to connect local chefs and restaurants to local growers to provide them with produce,” Baker said.
And it also makes sense to introduce owners of small businesses to the idea of shopping at a farmer’s market, Baker said. There, members can exchange their barter currency for organic produce, eggs laid a day or two before and fresh milk.
It also encourages small business owners to shop locally and to learn where their food comes from.
“We want you to meet the people who make your food, to ask them questions and to be engaged,” said Casey Stechnij, an owner of Superstition Farm in Mesa.
Dan Lewis, the owner of Sassy Glasses, a Phoenix optical boutique, had periodically gone to farmers markets to buy groceries, but with the introduction of Edible Exchange, he has gone nearly every weekend for the last three months.
“I usually stock up for the week,” Lewis said about his shopping now. “I don’t find myself going to Bashas’ very often and it’s usually to grab just one or two little things. When my family from Nebraska came to visit, I bought steaks from the farmer’s market and I bought a better quality than I would normally get.”
Lewis lives in northeast Phoenix, but now makes a 45-minute drive to Mesa for milk, ice cream and eggs from Superstition Farm.
For Stechnij, the bartering system means they can introduce themselves to others and works as a marketing tool.
“We’ve found that we have a lot more things in common,” Stechnij said.
Most of the people who have used barter currency have been really positive, small business and entrepreneurial-minded, Stechnij said.
And while it allows some people to get closer to their food, it also connects farmers to other businesses that they need in a high-tech world.
“It’s a different world,” Baker said. “Farmers need the same advertising, heating and plumbing and other things as any other business. Now, they don’t have to pay cash for that.”
Edible Exchange connected Stechnij with a local company that installs cooling misters. He said that while they have used some of the bartering currency to pay for an electrician and plumber, they plan to save up their currency to buy misters to place around the visiting center on the farm.
In the three months as members, they’ve sold about $2,000 worth of their dairy products and eggs, Stechnij said.
“Every time you buy something you’re voting,” Stechnij said. “Are you voting for a large corporation or are you voting for a small business?”
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