Lemons for Yeast for Flour: The Bartering Economy Explodes on Nextdoor

Nextdoor suddenly looks like Oregon Trail 2.0

Katie Reid
OneZero
Published in
4 min readMar 30, 2020

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Michael Brill of San Francisco needed lemons.

He was going to pick up some 15-year-old sourdough starter that a neighbor had offered on Nextdoor, and he wanted to bring something in return. The lemons from another neighbor’s lemon tree might work, he thought, but then he’d need to offer that neighbor something, too. He came up with a plan: He’d give his neighbor some of the finished bread in exchange for the lemons in exchange for the sourdough starter.

Only one problem — he was out of flour.

Long story short, he traded a drip irrigation hose for some flour so he could make the bread to exchange for the lemons, which he had exchanged for the 15-year-old sourdough starter he’d wanted in the first place.

A simple trade, really.

“Like a week ago, even, I would go up to the grocery store and now I’m just making decisions to not do it,” he said. “I would say the past week or so — I’m now making conscious decisions to not go.”

Brill is part of a social media trend becoming increasingly common during the coronavirus outbreak that has forced millions into isolation: bartering.

Sugar for hand sanitizer. Toilet paper for russet potatoes. Kids’ activity books for frozen vegetables. Clorox wipes for a whole ham. Across the country, residents like Brill must find creative ways to procure the items they need or risk exposure to the virus that is tearing through communities at an alarming rate. Faced with that choice, many are turning to their friends and neighbors online to exchange items directly, limiting contact and using goods instead of money.

Nextdoor, an app that connects users within the same neighborhood, is a natural platform for this practice. While people bartered on the app before the pandemic, some users are noticing a large increase of trade requests on the site…

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