For Barter or Worse: Share Tompkins Facilitates Mutual-Aid in Our Region

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Tompkins Weekly – August 30, 2010
By Shira Golding

Bring what you can, take what you need. It’s a simple but powerful concept that inspired the formation of Share Tompkins in May 2009. Since then, the volunteer-run group has been organizing monthly events that enable people to share and barter goods and services from foraged mushrooms to massage and everything in between.

Community Swap Meets have been hosted in people’s homes and public spaces around Tompkins County including Ithaca, Newfield, Trumansburg and Lansing. Open to anyone and everyone, the swaps are fun, social happenings that often include potluck food and live music.

After putting out their offerings into “for barter” and “for free” areas, participants go around in a circle so that each individual or family can express what they have to offer and what they need. This is an opportunity to let people know about services like photography and gardening as well as goods that might be too big or inconvenient to bring like lumber for a wood stove.

At one swap, three different people expressed that they needed help moving in the coming weeks. They arranged a three-way trade in which they all helped one another on moving day. Another person at the event offered free use of his truck in exchange for a hand-knitted hat from Teresa Porri, one of the movers.

“Everyone involved seemed pleased and excited about how well this system worked. I have no idea how we would have managed our last-minute move if not for Share Tompkins,” reflects Porri.

At the group’s first annual Holiday Swap, hosted by the Southside Community Center last December, a creative trade between two families ended up bringing them together in ways they never could have expected.

Danielle Klock of Wishing Well Magazine swapped a cello with McKenzie Jones-Rounds, a cellist who’d been looking for a new instrument, in exchange for a year of guitar lessons for Danielle’s son. McKenzie’s husband Jamie, who is providing the lessons, is passionate about the benefits of this kind of sharing.

He put it this way: “Share Tompkins strives to bring Tompkins County an alternative to the normal monetary capitalism that has made our current economy so difficult to thrive in. The real heart of this project is to demonstrate to ourselves that we are each wealthier than we realized, even if we don’t have the money to buy all the brand new objects and services we want and need.” Ever since their musical swap, the two families have become close friends and the weekly guitar lessons provide a welcome excuse to get together.

Building on the success of Community Swap Meets, the group decided to take the sharing spirit to another level by organizing a series of Really Really Free Markets (RRFMs), a concept that was created by G8 protestors in 2001 and which has been duplicated by like-minded groups around the country.

In the tradition of the Diggers of San Francisco who opened Free Stores in the late 60s, everything is free at a RRFM, providing an alternative to consumerism and helping to redistribute surpluses. Share Tompkins has held three RRFMs to date including one as part of the Southside Community Center’s weekly Congo Square Market and another in partnership with the North Star Market, a new farmers’ market that takes place Saturdays in Fall Creek.

Organizer Ari Moore is one of the first faces you see at a Share Tompkins RRFM, sitting at the welcome table. “I love explaining to people that ‘Yes, everything is free!’ Their faces light up and they immediately feel included. In so many forms of activism you are trying to get people to do something. It feels great to be able to offer something to the community with no strings attached.”

While participants in events are encouraged to take back home with them any goods that aren’t scooped up, there are inevitably leftovers and Share Tompkins volunteers make sure they are delivered to charitable organizations and sustainability-focused groups like the ReUse Center.

One of the group’s goals is to point people to other resources that they might now know about. They have invited groups including Ithaca Carshare, Birthnet of the Finger Lakes, Ithaca Health Alliance and Free Clinic, SewGreen, IthaCan and Alternatives Federal Credit Union to table at events, helping them to reach even more people in a context of sharing.

Many of the Share Tompkins organizers are also very involved with the Ithaca Freeskool, an all-ages, anti-hierarchical educational initiative that invites anyone to teach classes on topics that foster self-reliance and creative expression. Freeskool calendars are always on offer at Share Tompkins events.

In addition to in-person gatherings, the group is very active online using Facebook, Twitter, email lists and its own blog to let people know about opportunities for sharing. Members of the group’s listserv regularly post haves and wants and get rapid responses from others in the community.

Share Tompkins’ website ( features a directory with over one hundred and thirty resources organized by categories like Food and Housing. The list includes local groups like the Ithaca Crop Mob and Ithaca Hours as well as national platforms like NeighborGoods and CouchSurfing that enable people to trade and share online.

In May 2010, Share Tompkins celebrated its one-year anniversary and is looking forward to many more years full of sharing. They invite anyone in Tompkins County to get in touch with them about hosting an event at their home or community space.

Shira Golding is a filmmaker, musician and designer and a Co-Founder of Share Tompkins.

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