Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Loss of Common Knowledge (Part 2)

So yesterday, after writing the first article on this topic, Kevin and I had a conversation. It was very revealing – one of those where you start thinking about things in a way you have not thought about them before. There is a second part to this topic. One just as important as the first. Homeschoolers… you are gonna like this!

When a person decides to plant a garden, or raise chickens, there is a good chance they won’t remember having done so with their parents. They’ll be completely groundless as to where to start. Perhaps they have a neighbor or friend to point them in the right direction. Or perhaps they go to books or the internet to find out how to do it.

Centuries ago, we learned gardening and animal husbandry from our parents, by being involved in those tasks throughout our childhood. We were taught by DOING, not by TELLING. Nobody knew the microscopic details of photosynthesis or the exact scientific processes of seed germination, or the genus and species and molecular and DNA lineage of their chickens. Those things did not matter. Results mattered. Getting the work done each day, in an efficient manner, so that the essentials were done, mattered.

The twentieth century changed all that. We went from a nation that DID things, to a nation that STUDIED things. We went from PRODUCERS, to CONSUMERS. Each person became a cog in the wheel, taking our place on the assembly-line of human production. We went from EDUCATORS, to BELIEVERS. We no longer taught our children ourselves, we let someone else teach them, and we began to lose our confidence in our own ability to make a choice without professional advice. Pediatricians began dispensing child rearing advice. Schools began overseeing parenting. Industrial ag became the “experts” on farming and food production. Science became a subject at school, where each thing was dissected and discussed, but where nothing was produced.

So now, you want to garden, and you realize that all you did in school, was plant a seed to study germination. You did not actually GROW anything. You did not follow it through to PRODUCE anything. Science in the schools is a disjointed thing with little connection to day to day activities and life around us. We are taught to observe, but not to DO. And when science gets involved in industrial agriculture, it then tries to scale those concepts down for the home grower, and they NEVER scale down, they just over-complicate the whole thing. The government is also involved in telling us how to do it, and they are the experts at overcomplicating, NOT the experts at actually DOING a thing well (after all, the government does not actually FARM… they just tell people HOW do to it… how backward is that?).

You may have had a pet when you grew up, but you never raised anything that gave something back to you. Raising an animal to produce something is an entirely different equation. Science and the government are again involved, and they have thoroughly mucked things up, making raising chickens sound like it requires a college course and a hefty budget, scientifically formulated feeds, and a veterinary on retainer! Your great-great grandmother knew better.

Chickens were economical then, gardens were grown to SAVE, not to SPEND,  and they can be now, if we can regain what great-great grandma knew.

The first thing you need to realize is that government produced information has infiltrated everything about your life. If you try to do anything “self-sufficient”, chances are there is a government pamphlet out there that the source you are using is relying on, either first or second hand. They have muddied the waters and injected false information in every area – raising animals, growing food, preserving food, cooking food, making clothes, building a barn, growing a mushroom, storing food, creating a 72 hour kit, etc. Somehow, we think that our government is the “final authority” on all of these topics! Our government whose goal is dependency, not independence, whose aims are of encouraging purchases not self-sufficiency, and who produces laws that stop us from doing the very things they are trying to tell us they know how to do better than we do.

Here’s the wake-up call – More than HALF of the information they produce on DOING things, is WRONG. Because they don’t DO things. Their information is completely disconnected from the reality of having to make things economically feasible, and manageable on a small scale (or even a large one). The people telling you how to create a growing bed in your garden have NEVER had to do that on a restricted budget, with two toddlers running around trying to eat dirt, a crock pot of stew simmering in the kitchen, and in a climate where only a few things grow well. They’ve NEVER done it! Are you honestly going to believe that they are the best source to tell YOU how to do it?

They are never going to tell you that if you just dig, manure, seed, and water, chances are, the things you planted will grow, and produce just as well as if you followed their instructions. They’ll never tell you that a few weeds in the garden are actually a helpful thing, or that planting things closer together helps them thrive. They’ll never tell you that there are ways to save time and cut the work by 75% or more, and still end up with the same, or even BETTER yields. You see, they don’t study home gardens. They study industrial ag.

We live in a world of “experts” who all want us to believe that they ARE the expert. This means they can NEVER really empower you – if they do, they are no longer the authority, everyone shares the knowledge. In order to perpetuate their elevated status, they must diminish YOUR status. We’ve been accepting that so long we are now a nation of people who do not trust their own ability to make logical and reasoned decisions about anything! As a consequence, we are being lead where someone else wants us to go, without us even realizing we are being lead – we think we are being given “scientific” or “valid” information, when in fact, we are not. We are living in a world where much of what we accept as “fact”, is in fact, fallacy.

The only way we can ever relearn truth, is by DOING. We can’t just talk about it, pontificate, study and watch. We have to DO. We have to go out and dig a hole and stick something in it and see if it grows, because someone else telling you that it will or will not is NOT truth! What happens when you do it is truth. We have to mix our ingredients, and see if it tastes good, because it does not matter if someone else likes it, what matters is if YOU like it. We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work and produce things for ourselves. Miracles happen when we do!

Homeschoolers have an advantage. They can help their children learn by doing. Even they must realize though, that a lot of what they are teaching comes straight from the government in one form or another, and learn to question, and trust their own judgment.

This is what I’d like people to know…

When you are trying to learn how to do something, and all you can think is, “There’s gotta be an easier way than this!”, trust that thought! It is RIGHT! Twentieth century instructions are NOT what allowed humans to survive for thousands of years! Before that, it was MUCH simpler. It was WORK, but it was not COMPLICATED work.

When things just do not sound logical, trust that feeling! Dig a little deeper. Try it another way! Have the courage to resist being herded into a box that does not fit, and will never fit, because it was constructed wrong in every respect right from the start! Build your own container and make it any shape you like!

If we are to throw off the yolk of bondage, we must learn to do things ourselves, and to develop our own expertise in enough things to be an asset to others who are trying to do the same thing. Thankfully, the internet not only brings us the party line, it also brings us the radicals – Back to Eden gardening, Hugelkultur, Crowded Gardening, Feeding Chickens and Rabbits on things you grow, and other work saving and health enhancing techniques which the government is completely silent about.

You don’t have to pick up arms to start a revolution. You just have to dig in the dirt a little, and make something grow!

The Loss of Common Knowledge

I’ve been writing about mushrooms lately. Ok, so you’ve probably noticed that, and you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking, “Not mushrooms AGAIN!”, but I’ve noticed something in the research that is applicable to many areas of life, including farming, childrearing, home medical care, backyard mechanics, harvesting and use of wild herbs, etc.

When you start investigating wild mushrooms, if you live in Oklahoma, you notice something weird. Oklahoma seems, at first glance, to be devoid of edible mushrooms! That isn’t actually true, but information available online is very discouraging. While the state of Missouri (and many others) publish guides on mushroom hunting, giving some easy to recognize types and showing you how to tell them from similar inedible varieties, the state of Oklahoma simply says, “Don’t do it! It is too dangerous!”. Statistically, the number of people who become ill from eating mushrooms each year in Oklahoma are around 1. Huge risk, right? You might get a belly ache. Numbers in states that encourage it are similarly low.

So why is Oklahoma so paranoid when the states around are not? I believe it has to do with the Native American relocations. This is a people who handed down traditional gathering skills, generation to generation, for hundreds of years. They knew the area they lived in, and the edibles there. They were taught to harvest and recognize them from an early age.

When they were dislocated, all of that but a small amount was lost. It was NOT a “relocation”, it was a “dislocation”, because they could not just pick up as they had been living and continue on, the climate and land here is totally different than the land back east.

Oklahoma seems to be fine with Morel hunting, but not much else. I think that the dislocation of the people lost their collective body of knowledge in that area (and with herbs, but to a lesser extent because herbs are generally easier to identify). When other people moved in, they came from other countries in large concentrations as well, and their knowledge did not translate well to Oklahoma either.

Mushrooms are very difficult to identify if you do not look at every part of them – each feature means something. Color, shading of color, texture of each bit, centers of caps, edges of caps, type of spore dispersion (gills, pores, tubes, false gills, etc), spacement and size and shape of spore dispersal mechanisms, stem length, width, color, shape, texture, gradiations of colors, and microscopic differences in spore shape, structure, color, size, etc.

This means you can’t get careless about identifying mushrooms. One thing is different, and it could be something very different – or a different species of the same genus, a different variety of the same species. There are only a few groupings of mushrooms where all of the mushrooms within the genus are edible, or at least not harmful. The more popular edibles all come from groups where some are edible, some are not. Most will just give you a belly ache. A few are deadly. But only a few. Death being a permanent state though, it isn’t a risk you want to take trying to decide whether this Amanita is a choice edible, or a deadly dose that will leave you writhing in agony through a protracted death for which there is no cure!

Ok, drama aside… When you grow up distinguishing a young Volvariella from a young Amanita, you know the one or two differences between them that REALLY mean you have the right one. When trying to tell the difference between two, there may be 5 or 6 differences between them, but 3-4 of those 5 may be ambiguous – difficult to tell at certain growth stages, in certain lighting, or when growing in unusual situations. But one or two is usually a true distinguishing factor – for example, a Chanterelle has false gills, and one of the deadly mushrooms that looks similar has true gills. Now, their color and shape is also slightly different, but those could be mistaken in certain lighting, or lacking two comparative samples. But the gills – those are unmistakeable. That kind of knowledge is precisely what a mother teaches her children when she works with them in the garden, or in the woods, gathering food together. And that kind of common knowledge is precisely what has been lost. The practical day to day knowledge that takes a complex subject and simplifies it to make it usable in day to day life, in a way that makes life better.

It isn’t only the natives to whom this has happened. In recent years, we’ve become an entire society of dislocated people. We are now disconnected with the land, and disconnected with the place we grew up in most cases. We don’t know a helpful herb from a harmful one, or a tasty mushroom from a nasty one. And there is no one to teach us – our mothers are not bringing us with them while they gather herbs, berries, mushrooms, roots, and leaves anymore. We are in school, and our mothers are at work, and the woods are only a distant thought now and again on a hot day when we wish for the cool shade and mossy groves of the forest.

This has lead to a change in society. This change has affected many things beyond just our relationship with nature. Many areas of what used to be common knowledge, passed down from generation to generation, have become specialties, studied only by a few. The knowledge in these fields is now concentrated with a small group of elites who take it further and further from practical use by non-professionals. What used to be simple enough for anyone to grasp through progressive training, has now become a specialty which is “too dangerous” for the average person to indulge in.

We are now locked into commercial food, commercial medicine, and commercial education. They decide what we need to eat, how we need to heal our bodies, and what we need to learn – and they all have motive for not truly empowering us to make our own choices, but to make the choices THEY want us to make instead. We don’t grow anything ourselves, animals have become cute little luxuries to fawn over instead of useful members of a functioning livelihood, and nature is something to look at in pictures from our office cubical or city apartment.

I don’t know that there is any way to get back what we have lost – not completely anyway. Once lost, there is no mother who KNOWS it, to teach it to her child. And the specialists generally WON’T. I do think there is  away to get back a piece of it though, and a way to own a bit of it.

If we identify herbs, berries, roots, and mushrooms that we can use and enjoy, even if we have to have the initial verification done by a professional, and then intentionally cultivate them, they again become available for use. Each person who cultivates a single item, or two or three specialty items, then has those to share with their neighbors, who may be cultivating something different. The benefits and uses come back into play – in a different way than originally. We cultivate them ourselves rather than gathering from the wild, but through cooperative sharing and cultivating, we regain the body of useful elements that have been lost.

Over time, we may even begin to regain some of the lost collective knowledge. Once you cultivate a plant, you recognize it even when it is next to a lookalike. You notice the small differences. You learn to see how it is different than imposters because you have to weed it and care for it. You become the expert on the thing you grew. Your neighbor becomes an expert on the thing he grew. You share the expertise – you help him identify which is weed and which is herb, he helps you eliminate the inedible white fungus from your garden and replace it with something delicious instead. Your children play at your feet and ask what you are doing, and learn to help with the weeding and with the propagation of the new fungus, and they grow up with the knowledge of both things.

If we CAN get it back, this may be the only way. If we are to become reconnected with nature, we must take the piece of earth that we have – whether that piece of earth is an acre, a city lot, an apartment balcony with a tray or pot, or a tray of wheatgrass on our kitchen counter – and we must cultivate that earth, keep chickens or rabbits, and bring forth food in cooperation with Mother Nature. We must pray over our crops and fields, and practice daily goodness so the Lord can bless us with abundance. We need to reconnect with the forces of life in an elemental way.

We cannot depend upon the “experts” for specialized knowledge, without losing independence. When we no longer understand enough to know whether they are telling us the truth or not, we become manipulated, and we are gradually taken into bondage. We need that knowledge of growing things, preserving things, raising animals and being part of the stewardship over growing, living things. We need to see God’s hand in it, and experience His blessings in the effort.

All it takes is for each person to pick one little thing (one herb, one mushroom, one vegetable, one fruit, one animal to raise, etc) that they can develop their own expertise in growing, and be willing to share and help others. It isn’t too complicated – the “experts” want you to think it is, so they can sell you their class, their supplement, their version, their method. But it is much simpler than that. Keep it simple, and just do it. Learn all you can about how to do it – not just what you are told, but experiment and see if they are right or not. Learn what they DON’T tell you.

We can break free, and come back to the rightful partnership with God and Nature that people are supposed to have. And we can have a whole lot of fun doing it!

Go On to Part 2 of The Loss of Common Knowledge

Honestly Losing the Sale

What would you rather have: A person to whom you never sold anything, speaking well of you, or a person to whom you DID sell something speaking badly of you?

Today a prospective customer emailed wanting kefir grains. He said he thought the best option would be some fresh grains and some dried grains. He then said he was in Germany, serving in the military, and would need them shipped Priority through an APO.

I could do that. We always ship fresh grains Priority. But I ship them Priority to speed the delivery. Kefir grains are a live thing. They require food to live. We put them in milk each night, and they thrive through the night to the next day, when we drain off the spent milk (it is now very low on food for them, but high in probiotics for us), and replace it with new. As the grains grow, we give them more milk until we divide the grains and lower the amount again. Over and over we do this, to keep them fed and happy and growing and healthy.

When we ship them, they are a lot like baby ducklings. They can survive a day or two in the mail, but they cannot survive many days. Kefir degrades in quality day by day, and after 5-6 days, there really isn’t anything but a stinking pile of goo left, which may or may not be revivable using the most aggressive resuscitation methods.

When you ship through an APO, it goes Priority to the receiving station in the US, where the military then transports it to the duty station. A process of six days or more.

I explained this to the customer. I also pointed him to our shopping cart for the grains (he had seen the ad for them on another site which did not point to the cart).

He emailed back shortly with a few more questions, and thanks for explaining that to him. He decided to order the dried grains, and said he’d also like some other products which he found on the site with the cart.

I lost a sale of milk kefir grains. Had I not explained, he may have still chose to purchase other products from us as well, or not. I had no way of knowing what he’d do when I told him about the shipping issue. He did decide to order the other grains from me.

There have been many times when a customer has asked to make purchases and I’ve told them that what I was selling might not be the best option for them. It comes down to one simple principle:

  • I would rather have someone out there who did not buy from me who has a good opinion of me, than someone to whom I sold something dishonestly that has a bad opinion of me.

There are enough things in business that you CAN’T fully control which will leave you with dissatisfied customers, there is no need to make it worse by a poor choice.

Honesty up front about the limitations of what you sell will more often increase trust than give a bad opinion of you to the customer.

Today was a cool experience. It doesn’t always come back and reward you immediately. It is sure nice though, when it does!

Sell Your Strengths

In close to 15 years of small business startup consulting, I have noticed many patterns that are repeated over and over. You get a feel for success – who will do it and who will not, and what kinds of things work, and which are not likely to do so. Much of what I teach, I repeat over and over, in different ways, just trying to help people center themselves on principles that are honest and solid. The get-rich-quick mentality is hard to subdue in most people (even myself), and the lure of the exotic often pulls people from what they KNOW, to what they do not, with the hope that maybe what they do not know will prove better than what they do know.

So… here I go again. You’ve probably heard much of this before from me if you’ve ever heard me talk about starting a business. I keep repeating it for those who do not know – because they outnumber the people who do!

So… first off… the get rich quick thing. The rules are the same today as they always were, from time immemorial.  The internet has not changed the rules, it has only increased the type of scams available.

  1. Trust your gut. If something sounds too good to be true, it is. Don’t let greed overpower common sense, don’t ever tell yourself “It is only $29.95, if it ends up being a fraud I haven’t lost much.” If you lose $29.95 that is money you could have used for something real.
  2. If you don’t walk away feeling like they answered ALL of your questions, don’t buy. If you can’t get hold of a real person, who will admit that there are people who should NOT do it, don’t buy.
  3. If it is presented on a long page with miles of text and “testimonials”, don’t buy. This is the traditional method used by scammers, half-scammers, and other people who know it does not work, but want your money enough that they’ll do it anyway.
  4. If it is a “system” don’t buy. It won’t work. Ever.

Now that we’ve cleared that out of the way, please don’t email me and tell me you’ve found a great new system you want me to check out “just in case”. It isn’t real either.

So what do you do? The people who do best do NOT go outside themselves to find a business that works. They go INSIDE themselves. They don’t work someone else’s system, they build their own product or service based on their own skills, strengths, and desires. DON’T let someone else place THEIR idea inside your head. Find your own. It is probably already inside you, and you are probably already moving in that direction.

  • The best businesses are built on skills already possessed. It does not mean you don’t learn new things. It just means that you start with your existing strengths and build on those.
  • The lowest cost businesses are those built on materials and resources already in hand. If you work with what you’ve already got, it is far less expensive than if you try to buy into something.
  • Don’t let the “glamor” of someone else’s presentation of their life make you think that making or selling what you’ve always dabbled in has less success potential than their exaggerated representations. Most lives presented online are illusions (even mine), because nobody EVER shows the whole picture. They only show part of it. Even if they did show all of it, you would filter it through your own comprehension and still come out with something different than what their life really is. Don’t get caught up in peer envy. It can keep you from seeing the potential in yourself.

Brainstorm with a friend, or run it by a pro who knows the shoestring startup arena. Brainstorming has great power – nobody will tell you just the thing you need to do, they’ll all be busy telling you what THEY’D do. But their ideas generate a kind of energy in your brain and help you think outside yourself, which helps you hit on the right idea for yourself.

More and more of us are going to need to resort to generating income for ourselves, instead of relying on others to provide jobs for us. There are endless ways to do it, and endless choices. If you want to do it, go find the thing that is right for you.

Finding the Answer in Cottage Industry

Cottage Industry, as defined for purposes of this post, includes any kind of home manufacturing – where materials of one kind are turned into a product of another kind. This includes making parts, assembling parts into another product, making crafts, doing needlework, etc. It can be as complex as machining, and as simple as crocheted dishcloths.

This article is long, but it does explain something very cool. Something that our Nation is really ready for.

I believe in the power of the individual to create something better than a monster corporation can create it. I have long believed that the solution in hard economic times, for people who need employment that is rewarding and lucrative, is in the home, not in the factory or city.  For the impatient, the fastest way to get predictable income, is to become an employee of someone else. But then you are also somewhat enslaved – you are subject to the rules, whims, and employment vagaries of someone else.

I love independence a bit too much to love employment. I’ve worked jobs, and done so well. But I don’t like it. I’d rather have ownership. I’d rather produce a homemade product that has character than work in a factory producing carefully calculated and electronically machined items that are stamped out at hundreds per second.

There is absolutely a place for the assembly line. But there is also a place and time to break free from it. I haven’t drawn any firm conclusions yet about the shape this will take with us. I’m still revolving the options around in my mind, but I have determined on a few things that I think are worth sharing.

I had always thought that if I invented something that I could make at home, eventually we’d reach the point where we had to contract with a manufacturing company for parts to be custom molded and milled, in order to keep costs affordable and in order to produce enough, fast enough. I’ve changed my mind on that. I think there may be a better way, and a better market to tap.

Most of our manufacturing has gone to China. This is a result of the mentality of having to reduce and reduce and reduce the costs of production to accommodate an ever increasing supply chain, and the costs attendant with it, coupled with increases in operational costs due to Unions and Taxes. The US is handicapped in the manufacturing sector, and is now dependent upon overseas suppliers, and the unpredictability that goes with it. That isn’t a good thing.

“Buy America” is NOT the answer.

“Build America” IS the answer.

So here is a potential business model – one we are working as I write this:

  1. Design something unique. Find a way to make it yourself.
  2. At first, you are going to spend quite a bit of time making each item, possibly using make-do equipment or tools. They can get better as you go, but be careful! Once you move to “commercial” production materials, costs increase exponentially. If you set a goal of NOT going into debt, you’ll be able to avoid that trap.
  3. Perfect the process for making it.  Write down the steps. Get it worked out so that you can teach someone else how to do it.
  4. Assemble a materials kit – everything you need to make the item you are making. Create a training kit as well. If it is simple, and based on common skills, you can skip the next step. If the processes or tools require special knowledge or skills, you’ll need the next step.
  5. Hold a training camp. DON’T charge for it. DO pre-screen attendees for suitability. Train them in how to make the item you need, and train them in meeting your quality standards.
  6. From the attendees, select one or two to do a pilot program. Rent equipment to them for a low fee (do NOT look at this as a moneymaking opportunity – sales of your product is where your money comes from!). Sign a contract with them that they ONLY manufacture the item for YOUR company. Have a deposit on any rented equipment so you get it back if they quit. Agree on a set output per week or month. Pay them well enough for them to make a nice income if they do it fast and accurately. THEY pay for materials – you may supply them, but they pay for them (this is also NOT a money-making opportunity for you, you sell them to them at cost, or tell them where to get approved materials). They are sub-contractors, NOT employees. They own their own business, and manufacture something for you.
  7. Add more trained subcontractors as needed. Hold periodic training camps to train new prospects.

Now, there are people who will be terrified at this idea. They will feel that in doing this, they’ll be giving up their proprietary rights to someone else.

Don’t be so paranoid! Is there a risk that one of these hotshots will take the training and then go copycat? Of course! But they are going to do that anyway! Most people who are dishonest copycats don’t have the motivation to see it through – they think that having a hot product is enough. It is not! They are usually bad at marketing and actually competing with an established business. Most people whom you train will rather sell to you for a predictable income than to want to take on the marketing, additional costs, and additional time and hassle of direct selling the product, even if they can make more from each sale. That extra money is hard won!

If you watch, you’ll get a feel for those who are content with a predictable income stream, and those who have a more entrepreneurial spirit in them. They are usually easy to differentiate.

The potential here is that long term, you can be the means of not only keeping YOUR business in the country, but of helping dozens of small businesses get a firm foothold, while it benefits the growth of your own business. Your business stays comfortably small, but gains the income benefits of a much larger business.

So how can you do this affordably? There are a couple of keys to it:

  1. Setting your pricing for YOUR production at the start – in other words, base your sale price on what it costs you to manufacture when you start out – don’t decrease and decrease it if your costs go down, you may go broke without realizing it, and you eliminate the room for paying someone else, and get into a trap. As you go along, your production costs will drop as you learn to work faster and as you refine your processes – this is good, it means that you will be able to “split the difference”, and pay someone else less than it cost you to start, but a bit more than it cost you doing it yourself at your fastest. Don’t get sucked in by greed either – having to have it all. Share your bounty, enough is enough.
  2. Setting a fair price per hour for YOUR labor. Count that into your production costs, so you don’t run off feeling like you can’t subcontract because now your parts are going to cost twice as much (when all you are counting is the cost of materials).
  3. Pay a fair price to your subcontractors. This is tricky. You pay them BY THE PART, not by the hour. The faster they work, the more they make. So work out how many you were making per hour when you were in about the middle of the speed range, and base what you pay them on that. If they can make $15 per hour working at a moderate pace, they can probably make twice that once they learn to work really fast. If they choose not to work fast, that is their choice, you are not responsible for that choice. Just make sure that you provide a reasonable opportunity for good earnings. If you do, you’ll never lack for subcontractors.

There is plenty of room for this kind of business model. This is how things were done traditionally, and it worked for thousands of years. Our society has NOT outgrown it with the advent of assembly line production. You can take advantage of that in your business, by batch processing at specific stages and contracting single stage production tasks out to different individuals.

Think of what you can accomplish this way:

You can have a home business without having to “move up” to a factory. You can retain all those wonderful advantages of a home business.

You can provide those advantages to other people, and enrich our society by doing so – keeping parents in the home with their young children, giving opportunities to people who have been dropped from the job market but who are still good workers, and by encouraging independence and true performance based compensation.

You can get the government out of your business more than you can if you have employees. It is far more economical to run a business without employees than with. EVERYBODY benefits more in this kind of scenario.

You eliminate the supply chain from the cost equation. Most items double the price at multiple points along the distribution chain – raw material, shipped, refined material, shipped, manufactured part, shipped, distribution center, shipped, wholesaler, shipped, retailer, shipped, you. When you manufacture your own parts, you eliminate a LOT of steps and shipping, and markups. Maybe you have to pay twice as much to your subcontractors for the part as you would from a manufacturer, but at the same time, you are direct selling to your customers, so you can afford to do that and still make good money, whereas if you sold to the distribution center, you’d be making far less from it. Of course you also have marketing and other tasks, but overall, it is a win-win situation. You and your subcontractors take the place of multiple steps along the way, so you and your subcontractors can share the profit that those steps would normally siphon off. This assumes that you are purchasing refined goods to manufacture yourself.

This concept was originally discussed with a friend of mine who makes hair bows. An alternative to Direct Sales Companies, for other people to own a business and really profit well. I believe that this is what many people really want. They really just want a job to do at home that they can get paid for.

From the customer perspective, I also see that there is a growing market of people who would rather purchase a hand manufactured item with imperfections and irregularities than a more perfect looking one that has been imported from China.

Bigger isn’t better. Smaller is the trend that will save our nation economically.

Our company is now offering Cottage Industry Consulting.

Businesses You Can Start for Less than $50


Not once will you ever see me recommend buying one of those online systems that promises that you’ll make thousands each month. That is because packaged business “systems” simply do not work. What DOES work, is good old fashioned products or services. New twists on old ideas work fine, but the heart of it all is WORK. The less money you put in, the more WORK you have to put in.

Now that we got that out of the way, yes, there are things you can do for less than $50. But you are going to have to rely more on things you have on hand, recycled and repurposed items, and items scrounged at yard sales and swap meets, smart balancing of resources, and gaining the creative edge.

The following business options may not be terribly original. What is original is the way that you get started on a frugal budget. Not by investing hundreds or thousands in equipment and inventory, but by buying only what you need to get started, using workarounds and imperfect methods to get going. Once you get some cash coming in you can make things better.

Before I outline some of the options, I need to say that there are some concepts that make it work, or not work, which have to accompany the product.

  1. Smart spending. Don’t spend on anything that won’t increase your profits. A piece of equipment that makes things faster or more convenient for you than an old tin can and wooden spoon isn’t going to increase your profits. It will just cost you before you can afford it.
  2. Do the Math. If you have to buy small amounts to start, you are going to pay more for supplies, ingredients, and resale items. Make sure you can charge enough to actually make a profit at the prices you’ll have to pay to start. If you can’t, then you’ll have to save up a bit longer to get to the point of buying larger bulk. Taking a lower profit to start is fine. Getting in the hole is not!
  3. Turning Disadvantage to Advantage. Find the positive side to the imperfections. For example, if you use PayPal because you can’t afford another merchant account, then present that to your customers as a security advantage: “We use PayPal for your security. We never see your sensitive financial information, and you are protected by Buyer Protection.” This is perfectly true – you are just helping the customer focus on the advantage instead of the disadvantage.  If something looks handmade, make handmade the selling point. If you can’t provide automation of everything in the order process, be personally accessible instead.
  4. Don’t enter a saturated market with the same old thing unless you have a really advantageous twist on it.
  5. Expect to work hard, and get your ducks in a row before you make a dime, and expect to be discouraged and feel like giving up at least a few times. That’s just business.
  6. You’ll need a printer to print your own business cards, and you’ll need some kind of web presence. You’ll have to get yourself known, and learn how to do that without annoying the socks off of everybody by shoving it in their face. These are things you can do, and learn.
  7. Don’t expect to do it all on your computer. Especially if you have a physical product. Expect to get out and shake hands, show up at farmer’s markets or business showcases. Expect to have to BE THERE a lot.
  8. Keep the recession in mind. People will still spend on small indulgences, practical necessities, sustainability and preparedness supplies, items to start or increase business income, frugality items (things to help them save money), and eco-conscious items (especially frugal ones).  It probably isn’t the time to launch a new line of luxury teddy bears.
  9. The cheapest way to start a new product line or business is to piggy back it onto something else you are already doing. Hobbies, or existing product lines. You’ve already got supplies and materials.
  10. Avoid baby items, food preparation, herbal or cosmetic items, and other items with a high regulatory burden. They are prohibitively costly for budget startups.
  11. Don’t invest in a lot of inventory of supplies or resale items until you are certain they will sell. Keep your initial investment low, make a sample of several items and take pictures, then order or make on demand. Work out a way to get them out quickly after the customer orders. Make sure and tell them that the item is supplied on demand, and that there is an extra week of waiting for that. Accumulate inventory little by little according to highest demand.

Ok, so what kind of product or service can you do for less than $50? A surprising number of things, especially if you already have a bit of software on hand, such as Photo Editing software.

  1. Candles… but wait! What did I just say about entering a saturated market? True, it is. But it is a popular enough one that candles often sell because of WHERE they are, as much as who is selling them. There is also still room for creative ideas – shaped tea lights, creative molded scented candles, painted candles, and other awesome and wondrous creations. You can get 5 lbs of wax for about $25. The shipping is gonna cost you more than half of the price, so don’t compare prices without comparing shipping! You can also go to yard sales and get used candles for a quarter apiece, and recycle the wax. Be careful about scents if you do that! You won’t be able to know what kind of wax they are made from either, which may or may not be important. Scent and dye cost about $5 to get in the door for each. Wicking will cost you another couple of bucks. You can use a clean tin can and pot of water for a double boiler, and an old wooden spoon. There are all kinds of creative molding ideas online, or you can use recycled glass jars, obtained from yard sales, second hand shops, or scrounged up around your house.
  2. Other things with wax. Pinecone firestarters, furniture polish, emergency heat, dyed arts and crafts that use wax to prevent certain areas from being dyed. Google any of these things and you can find ways to make them.
  3. Fabric, yarn, and thread crafts. These can be sold on a custom order basis, or made and put onto a mall like Etsy. eBay probably is not the best venue for hand-made items, they tend to sell for pennies on the dollar, and you usually barely make the cost of materials. You can often find usable fabrics through second hand stores and at yard sales. Don’t overlook sheets and curtains as potential fabrics that can be obtained cheap. Patterns can be found free online, and equipment is often cheap through yard sales, estate sales, and second hand shops, or eBay.
  4. Pinecone Bird feeders and ornaments, or other types of hanging objects. Again, Google them, you’ll find ideas. Natural items seem to sell really well right now.
  5. Fold Up Solar Ovens. Can be made from recycled cardboard, you only pay for glue and foil. Do a quality job, and you can sell them for about $8-10. Make some nice instruction sheets to go with them. They sell great at gun shows. This is an eco-conscious product, a preparedness product, and an outdoors camping and hiking product.
  6. Self-Publish. If you can do the writing, editing, and typography (making the layout look nice) yourself, and if you can create a reasonable cover design, you can self-publish through a Print On Demand company with no financial investment other than the cost of a book proof. If you are e-publishing, it won’t even cost you that. You’ll have to get out and hawk the book – it won’t sell itself. But you’d have to do that with anything else too! How-to books, novels, specialty cookbooks, all kinds of options here.
  7. Rabbits. Assuming you can build a cage from materials on hand or salvaged items (our first cages were built from recycled chicken wire, refrigerator shelves for the bottoms, and some OSB and 2X4s that we had on hand, much of it salvaged). You can purchase meat rabbits for about $10 each. A buck and a doe will do to start – be aware though, that you do need a cage for each of them. Rabbit feed is about $15, for 50 lbs. Rabbits can also eat a lot of leftover and scrap fresh veggies, grass, clover, and many kinds of weeds. They are eaters of greens, just introduce new foods slowly, and you can feed them from mostly fresh foods in the spring, summer, and fall. Grass is important – if you give them grass you won’t need much hay (make hay available to them at all times during the winter, and as nesting material). You’ll have to keep them for a few months before they are old enough to breed, so feeding is a major issue (meat rabbits are sold at about 9-12 weeks, and they are not ready to breed until around 5-8 months). A single bag of feed can last anywhere between a month and a half, and four months, depending on how much else you are feeding them. Options for selling them depends on the breed, and what you are selling them for. If you are raising meat rabbits to sell, reducing the cost of feeding them is important, and ample home crops can really make that affordable. Other breeds may be more lucrative, but you’ll need breeding stock – which is more expensive for other breeds, and you’ll have to breed them more carefully. New Zealand and Californians are two of the most affordable startup stock. We recommend Californians. They seem more hardy, and have a distinctive hefty muscling structure and lighter bones that is dominant in most crosses (meaning that you’ll get those advantages even if you breed a Californian to a mutt).
  8. Wood Pallet Furniture. Again, plenty of designs online, and pallets are often available on Craigslist to come and pick up. The wood is usable most of the time. It can be used weathered, or sanded down (lightly to show grain or heavily to pretty it up). If you already have tools on hand, you’ll just need nails or screws. Be creative about your design, to come up with simple ways to make things that sell well. Simple things often sell better than difficult ones, because the price is more affordable. There’s a place for complex items selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars, but to start, keep it simple, and make quick things that sell fast so you can get cash flow going. Campy looking things and rustic items really go over well with Pallet items, but there are also some amazing things made with pallet lumber cleaned up, sanded, finished and polished and looking spanking new. Pallets can be made into trendy urban farm items also – chicken coops, beehives, hutches, planter boxes, raised beds, fencing, feeders, and more.
  9. Creative Plantings. Either as a service, or as ready to go planters. Again, you use recycled items and cheap items found at yard sales and second hand shops. Pallet Planters, gutter planters (made from leftover gutters), creative pots and containers – old shoes, anything that can be hung with plants stuck in them. Vertical gardens especially are very popular right now, and if you can supply cute and original items with a hanger on the back and a plant already in them and thriving, people will buy them locally. You’ll have to get out to Farmer’s markets, and talk to local stores that might carry them. If you start the seeds yourself, you are only in for the cost of the seeds and potting mix ($15 should do it if you are frugal). If you have a flair for it, you can probably find things around your house to get started, but failing that, go out yard saling with a $5 bill in your pocket, with a goal of coming home with some amazing stuff. Old boots still make charming planters…
  10. Green crops from the farm. Ok, so what if you have nothing more than a house or apartment in town? There is a creative market for a few items that you can grow in that environment. Wheatgrass, microgreens, sprouts, potted herbs, and other crops may be grown in very small spaces. The key to this one is two things: Selling at Farmer’s Markets is one option. A Route is another – build up a clientele to whom you make regular deliveries. This will work best if it is a natural outgrowth of sales at a Farmer’s Market. Ask each purchaser “Would you like to have this delivered to you on a regular basis?” Or make a brochure and hand it around, make it available when you sell your homegrown items. Any of these items can be started with little more than trays (or a homemade sprouter), potting soil for microgreens or wheatgrass, and some zip baggies to package microgreens or sprouts. Wheatgrass sells in the tray. A 6X6″ tray sells for around $4 in the grocery stores. There’s room for competition there!

Ideas are a dime a dozen, there are SO many things you can do that can be started cheaply. You may wonder why I’m pushing real products, instead of internet stuff. Experience. My most successful clients in more than a dozen years of working with small online businesses, were the ones with a real product or service. They didn’t have AdSense websites (though I had a few winners there back in the day when they paid more than a penny a click), they didn’t sell “reports”, they didn’t sell Internet Marketing garbage, and while a few (myself included) made a few dollars on the side through affiliate marketing, not one ever made a fortune at it, or even a living at it.

These hard working people were consultants, graphic designers, coaches, gift retailers, personal care manufacturers, musicians and artists. People with real skills, real products and services. Unique things that lasted.

Statistically, this is the most successful type of business to start. Direct Sales and MLM have a success rate that hovers right around 1%, and that is for the “good” ones! Standard product sales or service businesses have a success rate of 50% or better (as measured by how many are still in business after 5 years, which is not always an accurate measurement of success). By smart planning, and consistent follow through, you can increase those odds significantly.

Research it out, do the math, and write up a specific task list to get going. None of it is easy. But some things really do work!

Our company is now offering Cottage Industry Consulting, and can help you develop a business plan on a budget.

Nothing But What You’re Wearing… Then What?


What if you woke tomorrow with nothing but what you have on? For the sake of functionality, let’s assume you went to sleep in your jeans and t-shirt (no, we aren’t going to get into whether it is appropriate to go out in public wearing your pajamas – it isn’t about that!). What if your job was gone, you had no computer, no car, no bike, no spare clothes, no food, nothing that you’ve accumulated or worked for. Your bank accounts have a zero balance, and while you do have your wallet, you do not have any other personal documents. You do NOT have your cell phone. You can’t GET a cell phone, because you have no money.

Oh… and your credit is destroyed.

You may think that this would not happen, but there are situations, less remote than you think, which can put you in exactly that situation.

What do you have left?

How do you recover?

And how in the WORLD do you prepare for that kind of disaster?

You have some VERY valuable assets left, but they aren’t the kind that most people think of when they consider how to prepare for potential catastrophe.

  1. Your faith. You are going to need a lot. The more you build now, the better. Get your relationship with God together. You are going to need Him.
  2. Attitude. If you have persevered in your life, and made a practice of not giving up, it will serve you well. Practicing facing challenges and practicing constructive problem solving, will stand you in good stead.
  3. Your loved ones. Well, let’s face it. You are going to lose some of them when disaster strikes. Some people just can’t handle it – they have to blame someone, and blaming you is easiest, because that relieves them of the responsibility of helping you. But half of them or more will gather round to lift you up, and help you as best they can. It won’t be much – such a disaster is more than anyone can fix for you. But strengthen the relationships with those closest to you – disaster either breaks a relationship, or strengthens it, and that largely depends on how healthy the relationship is to start with, and how committed the individuals are to each other. If your primary relationships are in trouble, repair them now – it is part of being prepared.
  4. Your skills. The skills that can help you may be widely varied – good job hunting and interview skills, good trade skills that can be applied to self-employment, good bartering skills, good salvaging skills, good work ethic, willingness to work hard at whatever honorable work you can, the ability to make the most of anything you are given (canning and cooking skills, mending skills, mechanical skills,etc) – it is harder to obtain working things than to obtain non-working things, and if you can repair things, you have a distinct advantage. Other skills can help also – frugality, gardening, hunting, being able to entertain yourself free, even basic skills like riding a bike.

Probably the easiest thing in that bunch to improve, are skills. There is always someone to teach you, or a book to help you learn. The other things are more individualized, and perhaps not as easy to pin down, but just as important.

The political climate we live in makes the potential for this kind of situation more of a real risk. When we consider what we would do if we were left with nothing that we think of as being “survival” items, it brings us back to having to depend upon others, and upon ourselves and God. In that respect, it is not a bad thing – no one can recover from such a thing on their own, and there is no shame in accepting help from genuine need.

We know too, that when we are prepared for less devastating disasters, with food storage, some wise self-sufficiency items, water, etc, then we are better able to share and help others who are in a situation where they cannot possibly meet their own needs. Helping others in need is truly a blessing to those who can give to victims of fire, flood, false imprisonment, crop failure, job loss, catastrophic illness, or other disasters that can affect anyone at any time.

Keep preparing for those things which would require you to have a food storage, or to live without electricity, or gather your own food from the wild. But prepare to have that taken away also – and think about what you’d need if it was taken away. Think about what you need within yourself – because THAT is what you take with you no matter what happens.

UPDATE:  Our book on growing food from scraps and groceries is now available for download! Get The Scavenger’s Garden: Growing Food from Groceries and Scraps from Amazon for Kindle, or from our Firelight Heritage Farm Books website. If you have to start over with nothing, this book teaches you how to grow a garden without spending money for the garden.

Naturally Healthy Hair

My hair and I get along most days. Sometimes though, the relationship becomes decidedly uneasy, as something changes that my hair does not like – and then IT changes in a way I do not like! I don’t have the answers to everyone’s hair distresses (yes, that is a pun), but I have learned a few things that might be of use.

Anemia causes hair loss – if you notice slowed hair growth on your legs and thinning of hair on your head, it may be from anemia. If you don’t get enough iron in your diet, or if you have heavy bleeding, your hair may thin. This one is pretty easy to fix unless you have an underlying disorder. Get more green veggies and clean red meat in your diet (yes, I said meat! And I won’t apologize!). Egg yolks help too. If you have heavy menstrual bleeding, get the artificial hormones OUT of your meat and dairy (they mess up female hormones), stop using tampons (they increase bleeding), and get the refined foods out of your diet as much as you realistically can. Folic Acid and B-12 supplements can also help dramatically reduce menstrual bleeding – take them starting when your period starts.

Dying hair, and perming hair also causes hair loss. Most people know that it causes damage to hair, but it also is very hard on the scalp. If you already have hair loss for other reasons, this can be even more damaging. Dye or perm your hair less often. Even an extra two weeks between chemical treatments can give your scalp time to recover.

Dying and perming hair also contributes to an increase in split ends and breakage. Treating less often can help with this, but other solutions for split ends will also help. The same chemicals that stress your hair, are absorbed into your body through the scalp, and may stress your body also, so slowing down a bit and treating your hair less often may help your physical health in ways you did not expect.

Aging can also cause hair loss, which means many men and women will fail to recognize reversible types of hair loss. Whether or not diet or exercise can affect age related hair loss is debatable.

I have oily hair. I do not mean hair that gets a little oily. I mean hair that has to be washed every day, and hair that will look oily if it gets rained on in the afternoon. I mean hair that can’t be washed at night and then worn the next day – after it has been slept on, it is too oily for public. So dry hair isn’t something I have experience with. I do have issues with sceborrhetic dermatitis on my scalp though, combined with chemical sensitivities, and my hair does get split ends and breakage when it gets about waist length.

I’ve found that the best treatment for the dermatitis is Borage Oil. One capsule a day, taken internally, has a really nice effect on reducing the symptoms of sceborrhea. It also has some other really cool effects… though one is not so cool in my situation.

Borage Oil makes my skin more oily. While this is good news for people with dry hair, I could do without that, my skin is like my hair, and adding more oil to an oil slick isn’t what I’d consider a good idea. I do take it at times though, because of the effect on the sceborrhea, and because of one other really cool thing:

Borage Oil helps prevent split ends and hair breakage. It strengthens the hair (and fingernails too, by the way), while the hair is forming in the follicle. So taking Borage oil today, will help you NOT have split ends two years from now. The hair is more elastic, and less prone to developing split ends, and less prone to developing breaks up an inch or two from the bottom. I took it on and off for a few years, and as my hair grew out, I could clearly see where I had been taking it, and where I had not. The hair that grew while I was using the Borage Oil was just so much healthier two years down the road.

You can get Borage Oil at Wal-Mart. I’ve not seen it anywhere else in the stores, but you can also order it online.

I’ve also been through times when I could not use shampoos that had the common chemicals in them. Many shampoos with organic sounding names, are not, in fact, organic. They have the same ingredients that other shampoos have. Many shampoos made by small companies are just standard shampoo blends, with a few custom ingredients ordered. Getting away from the chemicals in shampoo is really hard.

I used Burt’s Bees Shampoo for a time, when that was all I could get. But I don’t much care for it – it leaves my hair feeling VERY greasy. Not a good thing, since I’m fighting oily hair anyway. It seems to have a Castile Soap base (as do many homemade soap recipes), which does not remove oil from hair.

The BEST shampoo I EVER used was Tate’s. The last time I bought it though, it was NOT the same shampoo I used originally. The smell was so strong it gave me headaches – NOT the Tate’s I remember. I will not use it again.

Hair responds very much to your overall health and to good nutrition. I don’t mean what the USDA says is “balanced nutrition”, I mean REAL food. The stuff that does not come in a box or can, or from the freezer case. I mean fruits, vegetables, whole grains, clean meats and clean dairy. Your body recognizes and responds to fresh food, and so does your hair. Hair is an optional thing – no longer needed for survival. So when your body is nutritionally stressed, it often cuts back on the non-essentials. Your hair growth will slow dramatically, and you’ll develop problems with hair and fingernails. Yes, you can be overweight, and still be undernourished. Getting too much refined food that your body does not need (so it stores it around your middle), and not enough of the nutrient dense food that it needs (so it keeps telling you that you are hungry, even when you just ate).

Pay attention to your hair, and make a few changes to keep it healthy. Those changes will help your body stay healthy too.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.