The Milkweed Diaries

Friday, October 2, 2009

On the Gift Economy

Gift pears

Two things happened this week that made me pause in gratitude for my circle of friends and community.

I remember when I first heard of the concept of a "gift economy," and secretly thought to myself as I listened to the radical feminist explaining the idea: "Well, that's a bit far fetched. It's a nice idea in theory, but it would never really work in this society."

I was so very wrong! I feel so grateful to have spent the past ten years in a community--the city of Asheville--where generosity is alive and well, and the gift economy is everywhere you look.

So here are the two things that happened that reminded me to notice and be grateful for generosity.

One: I posted a request on Facebook for advice on where to buy an "EZ-up" canopy tent locally. We need a canopy tent for our booth at the West Asheville tailgate market, and I was having a hard time finding one to buy. Within two hours, I had received two offers of long-term loaner canopy tents from friends. Thanks Melissa and Marin! The same day, various folks offered loans and gifts of all kinds of things we need for our booth, thwarting our plans to buy things. Hurrah!

Gift quinces

Two: CF and I were running errands in town today, and in the course of our travels around West Asheville and downtown, we gleaned and were given all kinds of free food.

We happened to be passing by Shane's, so we made a quick stop to say hello. We left with unexpected gifts in the form of pattypan squash and perennials in need of homes.

At Paul and Jude's, we dropped off some (gift) bottles of elderberry mead and were invited to pick some Asian pears, which we did.

Then we stopped to say hey to Tim and Gecko and see if we could get some eggs from their chickens. They weren't home but had invited us earlier to pick our fill of quince fruit from their backyard, and the quinces were ripe, so we did. We left there with a box full of quince, after a short visit with the new baby chicks and broody hen.

On the way home, we stopped at the honor-system based Haw Creek Honey stand and bought a couple of gallons of honey for mead-making. Not quite the gift economy, but a delightfully trust-based element of the local economy here.

Gift pattypan.

I realized, reflecting on the gifts I received today, that the gift economy is a big part of my economic life. I shop at the Free Store at Warren Wilson College. Our house is built with all manner of salvaged materials, many of which were offered to us by people renovating or tearing down buildings. We have heated our home for the past few years with firewood and scrap wood given to us by various people we know. When I look around me at the things I own -- furniture, clothing, dishes, art, houseplants -- the vast majority came to me as gifts from friends and family. I give spontaneously with great frequency, and am given things spontaneously even more frequently.

Of course, I still pay for plenty of things with old-fashioned paper and plastic money, and barter a fair bit. One of our errands in town today was dropping off potatoes and garlic at Rain and Shannon's house as part of a trade for farm work that they did earlier this spring. But my dream economy is one based on spontaneous generosity. And I can see evidence of this economy all around me.

So here's to generosity, sharing, and the mundane daily process of creating the world we want to live in.


silver said...

yay for the gift economy! rev silver

Dana said...

I love the gift economy. It seems so natural, like "no duh" to me. I think having generous parents has taught me to be generous and in turn to be able to graciously receive generosity. I have been gifting paw paws lately and I have been gifted some raw milk, some smoked trout and some chocolate- oh, and today I was gifted a lieb-kuchen-hertz (Austrian ginger bread heart). I am dedicated to keeping the gift economy alive and healthy in my world. Cheers!

Aimee said...

What a beautiful post, and what a beautiful idea. I have been working for two years on my trade network, and have been proud of my success - a small but happy, well fed group of people trading eggs for cheese for tomatoes for honey for mushrooms...etc. But to take it to the next level and make them into gifts is absolutely splendid. You've made my day. (that's a gift!)

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

I'm on our county's advisory board for solid waste (trash, recycling, etc.) and one of the things that we moved too a few years ago has turned into a similar 'gift economy' example. We have an open shed at each of our fifteen drop off sites, where people can leave things that they no longer want, but that are too good to be thrown away (books, clothes, toys, etc). Any county resident can take them, no questions asked. Except for abuse by the professional 'yard sale' operators, it's turned out great.