Cottage Industry, and the 'new' EconomyMay 13th, 2008
Our Economy is highly specialized. People work at jobs to provide products and services for some small and often distant market. Most of what we buy has come great distances and is a part of International trade. We rely heavily on oil, but don't produce or refine enough for our own country. In tougher times, people had to go back to using what was locally produced. Centuries ago, any imported item was very expensive.
Mass production and trade have built huge Economies, bringing us modern conveniences, and paying for advances in science and medicine. I like the independence growing my own food brings to my family, but we can live even better when we barter with our neighbors for goods and services.
I am writing this to encourage EVERYONE to develop their own talents and skills, and set themselves up a miniature business, or better yet several. It doesn't have to be a trade you will work at regularly, but it could be. Many years ago we used to raise a dozen pigs each year. We only wanted two, but it takes little more time to feed twelve pigs twice a day, than it does to feed two. Grain bought by the ton, cost half as much as bagged grain. A ton of grain would spoil before two pigs could eat it. It's the same story on housing. Building a pen for a dozen pigs doesn't cost six times as much as a pen for two. Neither does a larger feeder or waterer.
Look around your 'neighborhood' and you will find many different things people are paying for which you could do. One of my daughters has a natural talent for cutting hair. A good friend of mine learned how to be a butcher. Set up your own small grain milling or meat grinding shop. I learned to be a skilled mid-wife for my herd of goats, and many times I went off to help new goat owner. To be able to save your own seed potatoes, they should be grown in different ground each year. Get four families to rotate growing all the potatoes at a different place each year. At harvest time, everyone can help dig them. If one of your hobbies is electronics, you can help out fixing radios or making power cords. A small engine mechanic will be in demand in any rural community. A shop which sharpens blades and cutting tools will be also. Beekeeping is a nice project. It will be even more valuable if the price of sugar keeps rising. Maple Syrup making can be a late Winter project in some areas. I am starting 18 chicks for a new flock. I could start 100 with little more work. Don't raise up livestock without taking deposits from buyers though. When neighbors rely on each other for common things it builds real community, and people will look out for each other more. Some services normally require government permission or inspection, such as food handling or a Barber Shop. When you choose those, you will be limited to simple bartering without a license. Apple trees are very common here in New England. Someone who learns how to prune and graft them will have useful work. In my area, many High Schools offer night classes for Adults who want to learn useful crafts, and so do public Trade Schools.
When negotiating with your neighbors, make sure everyone understands exactly what the deal is, BEFORE any work begins. If you find some one doesn't follow through, complete YOUR end of the bargain, and keep quiet about it. They will still be your neighbor. Next time, don't make a deal with them. There is an old saying, you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your relatives. In a small town, your neighbors will talk. They may still be nearby for many years to come. You need to EARN a good reputation. Don't ask high prices, just a modest profit so you both benefit. If you can't beat retail prices, you probably don't know enough about what you are doing yet.
These Cottage Industries will not pay much, but they will give you some type of income, and you will benefit from people specializing in things they are good at and enjoy. It is the same building blocks which make up our global economy, but much smaller and local. I'd say it is more human too!