Nova Scotia·Video

Trades school? Bartering the only way into these N.S. workshops

For two years, the Dartmouth-based Life.School.House. has been operating organized folk schools where people can pick up new skills by exchanging goods. On Saturday, that skill happened to be making scrunchies.

Life.School.House. began in Dartmouth home of Jenn and Scott DeCoste in 2018

Bartering the only way into these N.S. workshops

2 years ago
Duration 0:37
For two years, the Dartmouth-based Life.School.House. has been operating organized folk schools where people can pick up new skills by exchanging goods. On Saturday, that skill happened to be making scrunchies.

On a quiet Saturday afternoon over a long weekend, four women met up to learn how to make scrunchies at a workshop in north-end Halifax.

But instead of paying for the class with money, they exchanged goods instead. In this case, the instructor requested earthy-coloured thread, unscented lotion or any healthy food item.

"It's always great to learn a new skill, but I really enjoy the social aspect of it, just getting out and meeting people with similar interests," said Jenn Prager, who brought honey and thread as her means of payment.

The workshop was facilitated through an organization called Life.School.House, a co-operative non-profit.

Jenn Prager has attended several Life.School.House. workshops. She said it's an economical way to get out and meet people with similar interests. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

It was started by Jenn and Scott DeCoste in their Dartmouth, N.S., living room in 2018. In the first year, they held 60 classes.

"It's a network of barter-based folk schools that are running across Nova Scotia, offering space for people from the community to come and offer programs on any number of topics to other members of their community with no monetary exchange," Jenn DeCoste said.

She said the space is made available at no charge and the people who instruct are local.

"They'll come in and teach anything from weaving to sewing to carpentry to car maintenance to leather work, anything that people have learned to do," she said.

A scrunchie-making workshop was held at Jodene Dunleavy's home on Saturday. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

DeCoste said she and her husband wanted to create a community space in their home.

The first year was a big hit, DeCoste said, with classes filling up minutes after being advertised. They found more people to host classes across the province who were willing to use the model.

The bartering aspect of the classes made them accessible to more people, she said.

"The act of giving is so well-received by our facilitators, they feel so rewarded by that it's really different than exchanging a $10 bill ... It's been really quite lovely," she said.

It doesn't cost any money to participate in the workshops, making them available to more people. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

The scrunchie-making workshop on Saturday was hosted at Jodene Dunleavy's house and led by a sewing instructor.

In the past, Dunleavy, has opened her home so classes can be held on topics including time management and bullet journal organizing, cooking, photography and macramé.

"Anybody can come to these classes." Dunleavy said. "It doesn't matter what resources you have because you can just pick up anything that the person wants for a barter item. You don't need money.

"Today, it didn't cost a penny for anybody to come. The barter allows more people to come. It takes away any kind of dynamic between teacher and student because everybody's exchanging something for their time and knowledge."

Life.School.House events and workshops are listed on their Eventbrite page. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

DeCoste said swaps are hosted on a monthly basis, where people can exchange things they've made.

"People come and they bring whatever they have and they take whatever they need," she said.

"You can knit three or four scarves and go home with sourdough bread and go home with homemade soap and go home with all kinds of lovely things you'd see at a farmer's market."

DeCoste said the program has reached newcomers to Canada. On Sunday, she said a woman from India has been offering cooking classes to share her family's recipes.

"Because it's offered on a barter basis, it allows people to really connect in with her on a different level and really get deeper knowing of Indian culture and that sense community that's built around those gatherings," she said.

Life.School.House events and workshops are listed on their website.



Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.


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