Recession Survival

Peanut Butter, Poverty, and Salmonella

Peanut Butter Salmonella

Ever notice how we get told about salmonella outbreaks in peanut butter whenever the economy tanks? There’s a reason for that. And a simple solution!

Apparently, the oil and low water environment of peanut butter can make salmonella stubborn to kill in the processing factory environment. Heat sealing won’t quite kill them all. Usually only a few stubborn beasties are left though, and only on special occasions.

So why is it that these little buggers show up every time the economy gets bad?

When things are hard, people buy more peanut butter.  Peanut butter sales are sort of the mercury reading of economic health. Good times, people buy meat and cheese. Hard times, they eat more peanut butter. Especially families with lots of children. No criticism there, my kids ate a lot of peanut butter, it is good food.

But when things are hard, and peanut butter sales increase, peanut butter spends less time in storage, between the factory and the table. Turns out, that creates a problem.

Salmonella can’t survive well in peanut butter. It can’t multiply there, and has a hard time even living. Somewhere between two and six weeks after bottling, any salmonella in peanut butter is gone from natural peanut butter and unsweetened peanut butter by the time it hits the store in almost every situation.

Some ingredients help the salmonella survive longer. Sugar is one of them. Some other sweeteners act the same as sugar, giving the salmonella a carbohydrate fix that helps it last a bit longer. More sugar, longer living salmonella.

Even so, within about 12 to 20 weeks, the salmonella is completely gone (even in cooler temperatures which prolong the life of the bacteria). And here we have the reasoning for salmonella outbreaks when the economy is in the toilet…

It means that our peanut butter reserves in warehouses have run short. The peanut butter is spending less time in storage between packaging and the store. It isn’t having enough time for the salmonella to completely die off.

This is a bit alarming when you think about it. If the economy is so bad that we are down to a few weeks supply of peanut butter in our nation, then things are worse than they may appear on the surface. Peanut butter doesn’t lie.

So, what does this mean to you, and how can you be sure you are eating safe food? It has nothing to do with the government – there are a few simple things you can do to make sure your peanut butter isn’t going to make you sick.

  1. Buy natural peanut butter. Peanut butter without sugar is best.
  2. Keep natural peanut butter sealed, at room temperature, for 2-3 weeks before using.
  3. Keep sugared peanut butter sealed, at room temperature, for 6-10 weeks if you can, before using. This means having a supply on hand to use from.
  4. If you make fresh peanut butter, do not add sugar, and store it at room temperature for three weeks before using – the salmonella comes from the fresh peanuts, not from the packaging systems. Give it time to die.
  5. DO NOT REFRIGERATE UNOPENED PEANUT BUTTER! Store at room temp, NOT in a root cellar or cold storage. Salmonella survives LONGER when refrigerated.

No need to recall “contaminated” peanut butter, just set aside unopened jars for use later. Truth is, probably a lot of what comes to your table was contaminated at one time – but the salmonella has had time to die in storage, and is no longer a risk.

The problem here is not that peanuts can be contaminated. We will never be able to stop them from being contaminated, and we won’t really be able to stop some of those little beasties from surviving the hot bath of processing and preserving.

The real problem is that our economy is so badly damaged that people are using far more than is being produced, resulting in a depletion of stored supplies. Under normal conditions, the commercial storage and distribution system has a built-in mechanism to ensure that the peanut butter is safe by the time it reaches your home. It is only in this kind of hard times when that falls apart because of abnormally high demand.

The long term national solution is to elect a man who actually cares about fixing the economy instead of re-electing someone bent on destroying it further. A reduction in government regulations, which allows businesses to flourish and hire again, will solve the problem of the peanut butter – no new regulation is needed (quite the opposite).

The personal solution is much simpler. Just make sure your peanut butter is old enough to be safe.

The Myth of the Capitalist Pie

Those who criticize Capitalism perpetuate the myth that economics are like a pie. That if someone else has a big piece, that it only leaves a crumb (or nothing) for you!

The truth is, everyone has their own pie. Their pie can be large, or small. It can get that way by their own work, by someone giving it to them (through an inheritance), or from the kindness of others when things are hard. (It doesn’t EVER get to be big because the government gave it to you.)

Another way of saying it, is that Economics are NOT a Zero Sum Game.

Imagine that you are playing basketball. When the teams come onto the court, the Referee announces that there are only 50 points that can be earned between the two teams. Not 50 points each, not playing until one team hits 50 points, but 50 points total between the two. If the other team scores, then that is one less point you can score.

THAT is a zero sum game. Not much fun for basketball.

Economics are like points really are in basketball. Any team can accumulate any amount of points. If the other team gets more points, they may WIN, but they don’t take away your points, nor does their earning of a point lessen the number of points you can earn.

The whole lie about a single economic pie is perpetuated by people who want to keep you poor. That’s right… by people who want you to blame the wealthy for the lack of jobs, rather than blaming the people who made it so difficult for people WITH money to provide jobs for people WITHOUT money.

When some people are wealthy, and others are not, those WITH money are NOT taking anything from those without. In fact, people who are considered to be wealthy pay 70% of the taxes in our nation, and they donate immense sums of money, goods, and resources to charities. WITH wealthy people, we have FEWER poor people.

Wealthy people also spend money. The money they spend creates jobs.

Wealthy people usually invest money, or own businesses, both of which create jobs. If there were no businesses making good money, there would be no jobs, because businesses that don’t make money don’t hire workers!

If you think it is unfair that a person has a maid, just ask the maid who has steady employment if SHE feels like it is unfair.

Wealthy people do not control the destiny of poor people. Poor people control their own destiny. While circumstances in life CAN cause a person to not be able to control their financial circumstances part of the time, we generally have the ability to shape our finances and earn our own pie, be it a large one, or a small one.

When a nation is rich, ALL her people are better off. When a nation is poor, ALL her people suffer. This does not EVER mean that there are not some who have more than others. That is just a fact of life.

Another fact of life is that when government TAKES from the rich, to GIVE to the poor, there are FEWER RICH, and MORE POOR people. It does NOT lessen the number of poor people. It INCREASES them. Want proof? Look at EVERY nation that has adopted socialism. The majority of their people live(d) in poverty, while free capitalist nations thrived with comparatively few poor people. The ones who did not live in poverty in socialistic societies were those with privileged places in the government – who skimmed off the top and allotted themselves a greater portion than they allowed for anyone else. Is that more fair than having those who EARN the money KEEP the money? Absolutely not! It makes everybody suffer more.

When a nation encourages people to BE wealthy, more people ARE wealthy, and they share that wealth with the needy more freely. Heavy taxes on the wealthiest people does NOT encourage wealth, it discourages it. It also discourages hiring, spending, and donating by those with money – all of which are activities which help OTHER people to be more financially secure.

So if you think it is unfair that someone else has something you don’t, then get out there and start baking. Their pie isn’t stopping you one bit! Go make your own!

The Forgotten Livestock

I suppose there are actually many kinds of forgotten livestock, and I’m only pointing out one. The Pigeon. Relegated to the impractical role of show and contests by most, the Pigeon was a bird that was found on every farm, and generally used and encouraged, though no one would have thought they needed to go out of their way to see that the Pigeon stayed there!

The farmers before the day of big ag accepted Pigeons as part of life, and used them because they were always there. They did not think about the uses of the Pigeon on the farm – they did not need to. They were always there, they did what they did, and the farmer did not have to worry about the tasks that the Pigeons carried out. It was done, so there was no thought regarding any need to manage the job.

Pigeons are always on the lookout for an easy meal. They like to hang out in barns. Not only are there eves for roosting and pockets for nesting, there is feed to cleanup. If the Pigeons clean up the feed, then it does not attract rodents, or other pests.

Plenty of other uses for Pigeons on the farm – for meat, for feathers, manure, animal food, etc. Pigeons were there, so they might as well be used. After decades of dwelling in cities and suburbs, we’ve gotten out of that habit. We often overlook resources, simply because we are not used to using them, or even owning them.

We haven’t just forgotten Pigeons. It isn’t just Pigeons that used to be useful and are now classed as a nuisance. We are that way about many things. Having turned our world upsidedown by compartmentalizing things and removing ourselves from nature.

Pigeons are one small part of it. One that may be easier to recapture than others. If you take a look around, you’ll probably find others. I’d love to hear about them.

UPDATE: Our book Raising Pigeons for Meat: Reviving the Forgotten Livestock is now available for Kindle, on Amazon, or in PDF format on our Firelight Heritage Farms Books website.

The Politics of Hunger, and Saving the Constitution

Throughout history, there has been ONE thing that will get people to revolt. One thing that pushes them to a Revolution. That is:


They won’t fight if their freedoms are stripped from them, if they are well fed. Because instinctively, they do not feel threatened until they are hungry. When they fear where the next meal will come from, they will mobilize to war.

This is why, right now, the unemployed are NOT calling for revolution, but people who depend upon natural foods for their health ARE. Because one group is being BOUGHT OFF, and lulled into a sense of false security by Obama’s largesse with Food Stamps. The other is being threatened with the loss of their required foods – they feel threatened with hunger.

Obama fully knows this psychological reality. This is why he is so free with food stamps. So those who are ON food stamps are now dependent upon them. THEY fear that they WILL BE hungry if they lose them. They are an easy target for socialists who cry that a conservative government will take them away. Being dependent upon the government makes you easily manipulated by the government, through fear, and the Obama camp well knows it, and is taking full advantage of it (this is also why his administration is strangling people’s ability to grow their own food and to cooperate with their neighbors to supply each other).

As long as this situation remains unchanged, we have an entire sector of society which feels threatened at the thought of LOSING food stamps. They are voting with their stomachs. We CANNOT restore the Constitution as long as such a high percentage of society lives in fear and is voting with such a warped set of priorities. They will never WANT the independence that the Constitution gives them, because that independence REMOVES the safety net they feel they need.

I have been VERY reluctant to support Romney. I am Mormon. I am grounded in the same religion he professes. This does not make me want to vote for him just to have “a Mormon President”, any more than I would vote for someone based on their skin color. His politics are not my politics. I came to the conclusion that I had NO CHOICE but to vote for him, because he was the ONLY OPTION that offered ANY HOPE AT ALL.

Perhaps he would not keep his word. Perhaps he would repeal Obamacare and replace it with something worse – I would have felt better if he had just left it with “Repeal”, because we have NO NEED to “replace”. Many things make me VERY UNEASY about him as a candidate. But at least there is THE CHANCE that we will see another free election if he is elected. There is NO HOPE of that if Obama is elected. Romney has limits. Obama has none – there is no limit to the degree of depravity to which he will stoop, no limit to his dishonesty and corruption, no limit to how much power he will usurp. He has shown himself capable of any degree of abuse of power.

I finally have one thing on which I can say with assurance, I fully support Romney in regards to. He has presented a plan for creating jobs, by opening up Energy Development. Execution is simple – the government just needs to GET OUT OF THE WAY.

We were presented with this as a solid plan for reversing the Recession over four years ago at a Technology Summit that we attended. We knew then that it was truth. That if the government simply got out of the way of Energy Development, that it would accomplish many things:

  • The creation of jobs
  • Lowering of energy costs
  • Decreased dependence on foreign oil
  • Decreased volatility from outside market influences
  • Increasing independence in our nation, both personally and nationally
  • Increased stewardship in our own resources
  • A return of national patriotism as we have things to feel good about
  • Laying the groundwork for decades of returned prosperity

Obama has done the opposite. He has obstructed, bound, and chained us, and much of that has been through energy. His “energy incentives” went to companies that went bankrupt – poured down the drain and evaporated into nothing. The energy we depend upon was strung up and castrated.

We need this. This ONE THING is enough to turn things around sufficiently that we will have MORE CHOICES at the next election cycle. We can’t win it all this time. But we can live to fight another day.

Our nation cannot survive even another two years under Obama. It cannot because HE WILL NOT LET IT. Destroying it is the goal. It is meant. It is deliberate.

On other things I value - returning independence to small farms, reducing red tape for small business owners, restoring rights to parents, reducing government entitlements, and getting rid of Unconstitutional mandates and decisionmakers. There’s no telling whether Romney will make any progress on them. I hope that he will.

I do know that under Obama, those things WILL GET WORSE – it is a certainty. If they get no better under Romney, then that is grudgingly better than having them get worse. Will I accept that as the best we can do? Absolutely not. But the uncertainty of lack of progress is FAR BETTER than the CERTAINTY of rapid deterioration.

I am still not happy with my choices this election. But I am reconciled to them, and I no longer feel like I am hanging my hope on an invisible peg. I have found something solid on which to hang it. Just one thing. But maybe that one thing will be enough to STOP the cascade failure, even if it cannot turn it around fully. It may be just enough to stem the fear of hunger, so that people can vote with a clear head.

I will vote for Romney – not with full confidence. But with hope that it will be just enough.

UPDATE: Our book Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere is available in print through, or in PDF format from our Firelight Heritage Farm Books website.

Freedom Plus Responsibility Equals Independence #liberty

I believe that one of the reasons so few people prize Liberty anymore is because they do not know what it is. They equate Liberty with “getting what they want without working for it” instead of “the freedom to choose to prosper without the help or permission of anyone else”.

There is a huge difference between the two concepts. We saw a BBC production on the Titanic recently. In it a maid said, “So in America everyone eats from porcelain and drinks from crystal?” The immigrant she was speaking to replied, “No, but in America there is at least the hope that they might.”. (This may be slightly misquoted, but the essence is there – I was unable to find an exact quote.)

Early immigrants understood that if you wanted to “eat from porcelain”, you had to work to do so. What they wanted was the OPPORTUNITY.

They did not want someone to hand them a finished product. They knew that if someone did that, it would be someone ELSE’S idea of what they needed, not THEIR idea. When you are restricted to accepting what someone else thinks you need, you are not free, you are a slave.

The more the government does for us, the fewer choices we have. If the government provides housing for us, then we have to accept their idea of what we need. Take a look at Low Income Housing, and see if it is all you want for the rest of your life.

If the government provides food for us, then we must accept what they deem is appropriate for our food, and we must accept the amount of food that they deem appropriate. Food stamp recipients receive the amount the government dictates, and can only spend it on things the government specifies for it.

If the government provides healthcare, then we must accept them dictating what conditions can be treated, how they can be treated, and even who is eligible for treatment. We have surrendered our right to choose what we prefer, by giving someone else the responsibility of providing it.

You cannot have true Freedom without Responsibility. You must be willing to take responsibility for your own:

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Healthcare
  • State of Wellbeing (not being “offended” by what others say)
  • Relation with your Neighbors (not asking for laws to forbid them doing things you do not like)
  • Employment
  • Children’s Education
  • Phone Bill
  • Product safety – we use common sense rather than expecting the government to make sure it is all safe.
  • Community and charitable giving.
  • And yes, even things such as Disability, Retirement, Insurance and other “safety nets” that we think we cannot do without.

If you want true freedom, you have to step up and do the work. When someone else provides for you, whether it is the government or someone else, THEY decide, you do not. If you go to a Soup Kitchen for a meal, they will hand you a meal. You don’t get to decide what you’ll have for dinner that night, they decide that. Any help you receive from anyone is based on their determination of your needs, not your own.

The early immigrants had had enough of that. Someone else had made the decisions for them long enough. How sad for their posterity, that they are so willing to give it all away, for the hope of the ease of having someone else do the work so they don’t have to.

The real irony of it all is, that as soon as you are enslaved, you realize that not only is the government making the choices for you, YOU are still having to do the work. Eventually, the money runs out. When it does, the eligibility standards tighten and tighten, and pretty soon everyone is impoverished, and everyone is slaving for the government, to feed the fat hog that takes its portion from the top before anything is disbursed to the starving masses.

Equality never meant that everyone had the same things. All it meant is that anyone who chose to work had the same potential of having more, and of deciding for themselves what they did with what they earned.

It did not then, nor does it now mean Equal THINGS.

It just means Equal CHOICE, and Equal RESPONSIBILITY.

When we have the Freedom to choose, and the Responsibility for our own life, then we are truly a free people. If we do not understand that, we will never comprehend the value of Liberty.

Stacking on the Farm #farmblog

Stacking refers to using space in multiple ways, for multiple purposes. For example, letting your chickens do cleanup in the greenhouse, using the gardens for winter pasture for the pigs, etc. It also refers to using the same space for multiple purposes all at one time. This is where we can get really creative, primarily by mimicking nature.

One of the concepts that seems to be ingrained from commercial agriculture is that you raise cows in a cow barn, chickens in a chicken coop or house, ducks in a duck pen with a duck house and duck pond, geese in a field with a pond and a goose house, etc. There is little sharing of space – each item being in an environment created specifically for mass management of the largest possible numbers of one particular thing in a very small space.

Another erroneous idea that we have picked up from commercial ag is that you must not share space between species, because it encourages the spread of disease. This is in fact, not true. Overcrowding encourages disease. Overuse of antibiotics encourages disease. Feeding on industrial waste encourages disease. Putting pigeons and chickens, or chickens and quail in near proximity does not encourage disease.

Ok, so what do we mean by mimicking nature in how this is done? Nature grows more in less space with no input from man. She’s got something good going on. Instead of trying to rewrite the rules, we out to be simply managing a natural system well. All natural things operate under a single rule that holds, no matter what. If we an abide by that rule, everything gets MUCH simpler!

Provide the conditions that the animal, plant, fungus, fish, etc, naturally thrives in, and they will generally thrive with minimal interference from you.

There is tremendous power in this. It is the key to sustainability on a small polyculture farm. It is the key to financial success. It is the key to being able to have enough hours in the day to get it all done. And it is the key to using space wisely.

Let’s start with ducks. Ducks are good for eggs, meat, feathers, garden cleanup, bug control, and sometimes they make great incubators. Ducks require water. While a child’s swimming pool will do the job, a pond is much better, because it can contain plants that the ducks eat, which reduces your food bill. Duckweed is cheaper than meatbird feed by a long shot.

Once you have a pond, you can also raise crayfish, freshwater shrimp, fish, and aquatic plants for animal feed. A pond will foster some insect growth, which your ducks will also happily gobble, and your fish will eat them too. Your ducks WILL eat some of the young fish, but they won’t eat them all, and you’ll have enough for you and the ducks too.

Duck manure helps the aquatic plants grow, and will even help bottom feeders survive. You’ll have to trap turtles (there’s a market for fresh turtle, by the way), and control some predators, but you can set up a small micro-ecosystem where each element is used for production, where you simply act as a catalyst to encourage it, rather than trying to manage every element yourself.

You can get the benefits of some of this same concept by using greenhouses in conjunction with farming fresh fish or freshwater shrimp. If you bring animals into that as well, and add mushrooms to the mix, you have even more benefit from a small space.

This isn’t meant to tell you all the ways you can do this. It is just meant to get you thinking beyond the simplistic “I’m going to raise chickens so I can have eggs.” type mentality that commercial ag has conditioned us to think within. If you are going to raise chickens, then what else can you do because you now have chickens? Can you also raise worms or Black Soldier Fly larvae for chicken food, which will feed on partially composted chicken litter, and which will produce finished compost for the garden? Can you raise mushrooms in your compost pile, where they will help compost the chicken litter so it is ready for the garden?

In the wild, there is an amazing complicated synergy that is created that lets nature do her wondrous work. If we think about that when we go about setting up to raise animals and crops, we come out with something that reduces the amount of work involved, and increases the range of crops we can produce, in a way that is completely in harmony with nature.

When you are faced with needing a solution, ask yourself how Nature solves that problem in the wild. The answer to that will usually lead you to a simple and effective option that you can implement in one way or another, so that your farm can do something truly miraculous.

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

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.

10 Unusual Businesses to Start for Under $100


I’ve been researching business startup concepts and options, and working with business startups for more than 12 years. And just when I think I’ve seen it all, something else pops into view, and shows me that there is a market for things you’d never think there as a market for! So I’ll share some of those things with you.

No, I’m not going to hand you some stupid business system. If you want one of those, what you really want is to get scammed. I’ve got something better in mind. But it assumes that you have some drive, creativity, and the ability to get online and research how to do things, and then SIMPLIFY the instructions on how to do things.

These overviews do not include things like business license, ink and paper for printing your business cards, or the cost of having someone else build a website for you. I’m going to assume that if you are really on a shoestring budget, that you are going to have to do those things yourself, and use existing supplies – and I’m going to assume you do have some simple tools and a few things lurking around that you can repurpose – most people do.

Most of these are probably things you’ve never thought of… and a few are probably things you’ve heard of, but have not thought about in the way that really works for a shoestring startup.

  1. Butterflies and Moths. Yup. there’s a market for butterflies and moths. There are increasing regulations about importing them, and shipping them across state lines if they are alive, but it is still a fairly easy proposition. You can get cocoons, or eggs. You can even capture live specimens and start that way, as long as you make sure it is legal where you are capturing them. You can raise them in containers – plastic storage containers or glass jars – indoors, or in remay sleeves on trees out of doors. Products range from eggs and cocoons, to instructions, to supplies, to mounted specimens, or crafts made with specimens.
  2. Snails. Now, personally, I find snails to be rather repugnant. Like slugs, only in a cuter box. Still not my thing, and I can’t imagine actually eating one! Nonetheless, snails are a booming business in many cities, and there is usually insufficient local supply to meet the need. With snails, you MUST think local – and you have to buy or gather starter snails that are known edible, and that are legal in your area. Forget shipping them across state lines – there’s a huge regulatory burden. But growing them and delivering them locally is pretty simple, and it does not take much to get started – initial containment and starter stock is fairly inexpensive. Really, all you need are two snails in the right mood… they can be very prolific!
  3. Mushrooms. Not THAT kind of mushrooms! Gourmet, edible, medicinal. THOSE mushrooms! Nothing illegal, doing illegal things in your business is never a good idea! So… what kinds of mushrooms? Do some research. See which ones are selling for good prices. You can get started with a few bins, some compost, (alternately, use a kit), and a spot where you can keep temperatures within a warm or cool range. Growing mushrooms is not actually as complicated as it sounds, a sterile environment is not even needed, if you are just smart about keeping things tidy. Just don’t expect to make a fortune growing Shiitake or Portobello mushrooms! The markets are saturated, don’t bother. Grow something that has a solid demand, but which is underproduced, and you’ll do much better. You can sell fresh mushrooms (farmer’s markets, or shipped), dried mushrooms, gourmet mushroom products, pickled mushrooms, mushroom grow-kits, mushroom spawn, mushroom growing instructions, etc.
  4. Food Molds. Oh, NOT the fuzzy kind… the SHAPED kind. Like people use for chocolate, or marzipan. This takes some talent… Buy a block of paraffin. Carve a 3-D design in it. Something that would look good as a cookie, a chocolate, or a cake decoration. Buy some food grade silicone mold putty. Use that to create the mold. Sell the molds. Make more. Costs about $10 for enough paraffin (or other carvable wax) to make 6-10 mold designs. Costs about $40 for a mold maker’s starter kit, or about $15 for enough putty to make 20-30 molds of about 1″x2″x1/2″ in size. Larger molds, fewer of them, but higher price. Look at what people WANT to shape things like, that you can’t buy at Wal-Mart (seriously, go into the party and bridal area, where they keep the cake decorating stuff – if you can buy the molds in a plastic sheet of a dozen molds, don’t bother!). Do unique and trendy stuff. If you have a flair for carving, and a flair for style, this can be very lucrative.
  5. eBaying Junk. Ok, not junk, precisely, but garage sale and salvage items. You have to have a bit of talent for knowing what people really want here, but I’ve seen this work for many people. I’ve seen a LOT of people FAIL with eBay also. Because they don’t understand that eBay is a BUYER’S market for common things, and a SELLER’S market for rare and desirable things. Your first step is to search on eBay, in the Completed Auctions (under Advanced Search), to see what the things you’d be interested in selling, are actually selling for! A lot of them aren’t going to be selling at all – dozens of auctions, no buyers. Scratch those items. Look for the ones that EVERY listing sells, for a price from which you know you can profit. Go with your interests – you’ll keep the information in your head better that you need to keep there. Then go salvaging and yard saling, and digging through the second hand shops, for stuff that is underpriced, and salable. The potentials are really good IF you can find a type of product that you have access to, which sells well. What NEVER works with eBay, is those “drop ship companies” that tell you that you can sell their overpriced oh-so-common product, which you will pay more for than you’d pay for something better at Wal-Mart, and which no customer in their right mind is going to pay you a reasonable mark-up to take off your hands. That never works. eBay depends upon uniqueness, and desirability. If you can get that, you’ll have a moneymaker on your hands.
  6. Hatching Eggs. Ok, so the startup cost for this is debatable – depends on how you get the chickens, and whether you already have containment for them or materials to build containment. But you may have enough resources to be able to do this. If you already have chickens, you can generally just add a good rooster – hatching eggs are far more lucrative than eggs for eating. You can sell edible eggs for around $2-3 per dozen, depending on quality. Hatching eggs go for $1-2 EACH. Heck, they even sell for $1 apiece on eBay! You just need to make sure that you either have breeds segregated so they do not cross-breed, or list them as crossbred chickens. Keep good chickens also, and get the marginal ones out of the breeding pool so you can say with assurance that you are selling good quality stock. If you are planning on getting chickens with the hope for earning a little cash on the side, it is worth knowing that hatching eggs sell for more.
  7. Meal Planning. There are a number of ways to do this. Weekly menus and shopping lists, or “Prepare Ahead” Recipe and instruction booklets. For Prepare Ahead meals, a recipe book, in PDF downloadable form, for a specific number of meals which can be prepared ahead, and frozen for on-demand quick-fix the following week. Combine ingredient prep – for example, if four of six meals take sauteed onions, combine all into a single chop and cook operation. Shopping lists are also a matter of combining things. An Excel spreadsheet makes a nice way to track the shopping, and estimate costs – you can create a self-calculating spreadsheet, with places to put in the number of items, the average cost of the item, which calculates the total for that item, and then adds up the total for all items. Take pictures of the prepared food (in the freezer containers, and again fully cooked and on the plate), write down all the recipes and combination preparation instructions, the shopping list, and average prep time. If you can keep the prep time to half a day or less, and the meals tasty, healthy, and not too costly, people will be interested. Works best to target a special needs segment – people most likely to do this are those who cannot eat supermarket prepared foods. For weekly menus, meal prep times of 30 minutes or less sell best.
  8. Auto Detailing. No need for a brick and mortar shop. Operate a mobile business – carry your vacuum cleaner, rags and polish with you, and make house and office calls. Busy people love it when the service comes to them. Now, auto-detailing is one of those things that attracts a lot of fly-by-nighters who think it is an easy way to make a buck. It isn’t. You have to do a good job and go the extra mile to keep paying people coming back (or asking you to come back!). So learn to do a good job, and KEEP doing a good job.  At $100 a pop, the potentials are good for a great income.
  9. Oddball Themed Online Store. There are tons of oddball and quirky things that you can assemble together in an online store. Look through eBay again. Only this time, look for what ISN’T selling well on eBay, but which WOULD sell if you had a bunch of items of that same kind together. You aren’t looking for really common stuff. You’re looking for stuff that a LOT of people have extra laying around, but which a lot of OTHER people really don’t think to go to eBay to get, or don’t know what it might be called on eBay. Your store can become the place to find it all. This will work best if there aren’t a ton of other stores specializing in the niche you discover.
  10. Printable Posters. This is one I’d have NEVER thought would sell, but it does. Pictures, borders, nice fonts, and motivational or humorous quotes, in PDF format for self-printing. Remember when you make these that most printers have a 1/2″ margin that won’t get printed around the edge. Also, the key to reading text over a photo is contrast – bold text often reads better, and putting a drop shadow behind white text, or a glow behind black text can make it stand out and improve readability when you have an image with a lot of distraction behind the text. Also, putting the text in a box, or with an opacity layer behind it can look classy and make the text readable. Elegant embellishments are easy to do using decoration fonts. Images for this kind of thing can be purchased through places like Big Stock Photo, or through clipart or photo collections from Dover Books. There are other places that sell licensed images also. You’ll need a photo editing program, like PhotoShop Elements, and you’ll need to make sure you use high resolution images (look it up if you don’t know what it means). Holiday quotes, seasonal thoughts, learning tools, classic political quotes, or scriptures. Watch what trends on FaceBook, and sell things with a similar mood. Make it look good enough that people want to pay for it. Sell with instant download for $1-2 each.

If you start a shoestring business, you’ll expect the first revenue that you get to go back into the business, and the next dribbles to put a hefty percentage of the profit back into the business, for quite a while. But all of these options allow you to start on a shoestring, and get to the point of profit much sooner than you would if you went into debt to start up.

No business is FAST to start, but with these ideas, you can be profiting within months instead of years, and possibly even sooner than that. Go out there and look for the unusual, and think about how you can simplify it enough to get in the door for under $100. You’ll be surprised at what is possible.

UPDATE: Our book Starting a Mushroom Growing Business on a Shoestring is now available from Amazon for Kindle, and in PDF format through our Firelight Heritage Farm Books website.

Our company is now offering Cottage Industry Consulting and can help you develop a plan for a successful business on a shoestring.

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 AnywherePractical 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.