December 7, 2009 | last updated May 26, 2012 9:22 am

A Green Twist On Bartering

Imani Zito, at left, founder of Hartford's Growing Green Co-Op, Wendy Girl, center, co-op member and founder of a holistic-focused marketing business, and Cathy Barber, right, co-op member and founder of a health education coaching business, have each bartered their products and services as a way to help grow their companies without having to shell out cash.
The Growing Green Co-Op, at 197 New Britain Ave. in Hartford, opened in 2008 and works with more than 100 eco-conscious small businesses.

There's a movement sweeping through many of the businesses in Hartford's Growing Green Co-Op and it has nothing to do with dollars.

Over half of the 100 small organizations that belong to the co-op are catching a green bartering fever, says co-op founder Imani Zito. These eco-conscious folks are determined to grow their businesses in the crippled economy and they're realizing that bartering with each other offers a way for them to gain products or services without having to shell out cash.

"Many of these businesses wouldn't be around if they didn't barter," said Zito, who founded the co-op, which she calls the state's "green chamber of commerce," in the fall of 2008.

Zito stands in front of a chalkboard bursting with colorful catch phrases like "sustainable living" and "grow the local economy." She says she will barter "almost anything and everything" for the sake of green business growth.

While businesses have often developed trade agreements with other businesses, a focus on trading services among green enterprises adds a new twist to an old model.

For example, Zito recalls bartering with two people who walked into the co-op announcing that they were starting a nonprofit wilderness program. They offered to grow food in exchange for help with finding a place to stay. Zito jumped at the chance to work with them. She plans to use some of the food for the co-op's raw food dining establishment, Alchemy, which Zito describes as a "barter restaurant." She says it's not uncommon for her to let someone walk into the restaurant and wash dishes in exchange for food.

For Zito, bartering rests deep in her soul. One of Zito's first barters happened when she met her husband.

"I gifted him a massage and in return he bought some groceries for my family (single mom with three little ones at the time). It was a very sweet gesture. We have been bartering every day since," she said smiling.

She also has many long-running barter agreements. For the past 15 years, Zito has known co-op member Wendy Girl, who runs a small Wethersfield business that focuses on a niche market helping holistic practitioners become more adept at promoting themselves. Girl recently helped design flyers and postcards for Zito in exchange for admission to a raw food class offered at Alchemy.

The barter greatly benefited Girl. In addition to being personally interested in a raw food diet, she used the class as a chance to gain inside knowledge about the holistic health market, which her business targets.

For Zito, the barter resulted in sharply designed marketing material and strategic coaching for the co-op. She said the barter had a tremendous long-term value and was more than worth the price she normally charges for a raw food class.

Looking towards the future, Zito's hope is simple. She believes that like-minded business owners must continue to help each other sustain growth and stay afloat during these trying economic times. Zito wants to eventually establish her own "barter economy" with co-op members.

Editors Note: Joanna Smiley, a freelance writer from Collinsville, will periodically serve as a guest columnist for the Hartford Business Journal.

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