Archive for February, 2014

Being a Crafter

Who doesn't need a chicken hat?

Who doesn’t need a chicken hat?

Being a crafter is hard. I’m up against not just Wal Mart stuff, but even imported fair trade items are competition. This is because what’s a fair wage in India or Africa or Tibet really doesn’t cut it in America. I am working on living more simply, but I do also deserve to be compensated for what is, in the end, a skill.

Or bath salts. I think they turned out pretty cute- and mason jars are the gift that keeps on giving.

Or bath salts. I think they turned out pretty cute- and mason jars are the gift that keeps on giving.

I am brand new to actually selling my crafts. I’ve been making things since forever, but I’ve never really tried to sell them. I participated in my first farmer’s market today. It was the Colorado Farm and Art Market’s Winter Market at Ivywild. I brought enough that the profit would have more than covered my rent. I made enough to cover my booth. Because the cost of the booth was covered, in the end it mostly only cost me time. I have time, at the moment, so I am going to give it another try. I have some ideas for things to make before the next one that might do a bit better, too. However, it’s a little discouraging to have so many people walk by unique works of art and hardly spare them a glance. Yes, I do believe a practical item, if it’s well crafted, is art.

I'm proud of this one- 13 stripes, 50 stars, and the wool is from Nebraska. 100% American.

I’m proud of this one- 13 stripes, 50 stars, and the wool is from Nebraska. 100% American.

If I think about it, I had a few things working against me, today. A warm, sunny day and wool hats just don’t mix well. I am brand new, so people haven’t had a chance to mull over my wares to make a decision. I price my hats so I make between $8 and $9 an hour plus materials. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for skilled, and artistic, labor, but it does mean my wool hats are $45. They take time. I think the biggest problem, though, was the beer. My table was in the hall between the entrance to the building and the beer event. A whole lot of people walked by, but their focus was not on shopping. When the choice is hand-crafted wool hats or beer, the hats don’t stand a chance.

Slightly out of season- but only slightly.

Slightly out of season- but only slightly.

Once I got the table set up, it ended up being a very feminine-looking table. While there’s nothing wrong with that per se, I think it did cut into my potential clientele. I started making hats that I liked, so purples and reds dominated the color scheme. I only had one orange and blue hat, and the blue is so dark people thought it was black. There was really only one that was neutral. Even the cream one had a silver tiara and sparkles. (After all, why knit something that bores me?) In order to appeal to a wider audience, I need to move outside of what amuses me and think about how to make things that appeal to others that will also entertain me. Like the idea for a white hat with an orange and blue mane. That could be fun.

In the end, it was a good learning experience and worth another go. I’m hoping for cold, but not snowy, weather next time and to see all of you there, looking to buy a hat. (Don’t just show up for me, though. There are some awesome people there.) Being a crafter is hard, but the more people realize that a crafted item is often superior to a manufactured item, the easier it will become.

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Giving Jobs to China

I just finished watching Death By China. I’ve been saying for a little while now that China was grooming us to take us over. I thought I was kidding.

China joining the World Trade Organization and opening their borders to trade was sold to us in the ’90s as a good thing. We would make goods in America and ship them to China. That didn’t exactly happen. Since they joined the WTO in 2001, we have lost 57,000 manufacturing plants and something along the lines of 5.5 million jobs. Good jobs.

I WONDER WHY THE RECESSION ISN’T FIXING ITSELF AS QUICKLY AS THEY WANT IT TO?

I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that losing 5.5 million manufacturing jobs also kills all of the jobs that supported them- maybe as many as half a dozen per job. We’ve seen pictures of Detroit. When the factory goes, that’s it. Bear in mind that it seems like the big businesses knew this was going to happen. They knew that when China was opened for trade, they’d just skedaddle over to the country that doesn’t have minimum levels of pay, or safety, or environmental concern.

There are several problems with this situation. Number one is that there are lots of Americans that are willing and able to work that simply don’t have the option. If there aren’t any jobs to be had, then there aren’t any jobs to pay the bills. People complain about a nanny state and a welfare state, but a welfare state is the logical conclusion to shipping the available jobs elsewhere.

The second problem is a total lack of quality control. This covers everything from worker’s health and wellbeing to the quality of the products themselves. Most of the products aren’t worth repairing when they break which supports the current throwaway culture. Worse than that? All of the products, including food, that have been recalled because they’re dangerous. If an American company had the reputation that Chinese products do, they’d be drummed out of business. But, hey, who cares if it’s killing you or killing the people that made it if it’s cheap enough?

The last one, the one I hadn’t realized, is that all of the money we funnel into China is supporting their large and growing military. If you remember your history, one of the major reasons that the North won the Civil War was because they were the manufacturers. The South had all the cotton they could want, but they didn’t have the infrastructure to turn that cotton into uniforms. Or guns. So the North cut them off from imports and trounced them with freshly-manufactured weapons. In a war, the “service jobs” that they’re pushing Americans toward are about as useful as a plantation full of cotton without a weaving mill. At the moment, we cannot build a military plane without Chinese parts. If they choose to cut us off, or worse- sabotage the parts, we’re in the same position that the South was in. The losing position.

So what does this mean? Don’t buy from China. I don’t care how much cheaper it is. If you can’t buy local, then buy American. If you can’t buy American (we don’t make microwaves anymore) then buy an import from anywhere but China. Don’t give them your money, and don’t support “American” companies that have given away our jobs.

We also need to get our government to stop allowing the Chinese to bamboozle us. If they are going to manipulate the currency, then we slap them with an import tariff to make up the difference. If they are going to soot up their country, then we charge them for the excess carbon they’re dumping into the sky they share with the rest of us.

I think this is a situation where we trust in Allah, but also tie up our camels. The government needs to get their heads out of their butts and help us out, but they owe so much money to China and their corporate overlords are so happy with the current state of things that I’m not sure how much they can do. So we push them to help us but also take steps to help ourselves. We start small businesses to make products worth having. We shop at our neighbor’s business instead of WalMart. Either our government will be able to do their job and protect us, or we’re going to rebuild our economy anyway.

The documentary started and ended with a plea to remember that the Chinese people are not the same as the Chinese government. I think this is a very important distinction to make. The people are suffering from low wages, dangerous working conditions, and the most degraded environment in the world. This isn’t their fault, and I doubt they’d keep things as they are if they had any say in the matter. If we can stop our insatiable demand for cheap products, then that will remove a lot of the drive for their government to treat them so badly. Buy American to improve the lives of the Chinese.

We Have Babies!

Lucia and her 12-hour old babies.

Lucia and her 12-hour old babies.

I have been interning at A Joyful Noise Farm since sometime in November, and I’ve been learning a lot. One of the things that I’m most excited about is that I’m developing the knack of milking. They use a machine to milk their goats, but to get it to work well, you really need to get one squirt out of each teat to make sure the milk is flowing. I can almost always get it, now.

Having a Bambi moment on the ice in their outdoor pen.

Having a Bambi moment on the ice in their outdoor pen.

In order to get an animal to lactate, though, they need to have babies. In order to have continued milk production for their shareholders, the breeding and subsequent birthing of the goats is staggered. The first group has just finished giving birth, but there will be two more groups later in the spring. The births are staggered because the goats are dried off (no longer being milked so they stop producing) for a bit before they give birth and then after the birth the bulk of the milk goes to the babies for a few weeks so that they get a good start in life.

Some of the other girls, aged from yearlings to seasoned producers.

Some of the other girls, aged from yearlings to seasoned producers.

Goats, like most hoofed prey animals, prefer to give birth at night. The babies are up and functional in an incredibly short amount of time, but the mother and the babies are pretty vulnerable during the birthing process. During the dark of night, or better, the shelter of a storm, they are less visible to predators that would love an easy meal. Of the three that delivered for this round, the first two had their babies the night before an internship day, so we got to see each set of twins when they were less than 24 hours old. So far, the goats are hands-down the cutest babies on the place.

This is the "absolutely in labor" position.

This is the “absolutely in labor” position.

Annie, the last to give birth, actually delivered during the day while we were all there to see. I think she was expecting a quieter morning for her delivery, but she did put up with the lot of us hovering around waiting for the newborns.

Baby one! They’re very floppy, and slimy, when they come out.

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Baby two! So far Curly, the one on the left, is living up to his name. Usually the first one out is the big one, but in this family, that prize went to baby two- Raoul.

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Annie was being a very attentive mama, helping to clean her boys up and prodding them to get them to stand up and have their first meal.

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Curly was worn out by being the first out, so he needed to be hand-fed a little colostrum before he had the energy to think about latching onto Annie on his own. Raoul had no problems beating his brother to the punch and latching right on.

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Raoul was way more precocious while Curly really took his time to think about standing up.

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Finally, the last one was ready to come out- breach, or butt first. Her brothers had taken up so much room that it took Dolly half an hour to make her way to the exit end of the birth canal.

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Annie, being a good mother, was keeping a close eye on all of us while we hovered around her triplets.

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Dolly also needed a shot of colostrum. Being born is exhausting work!

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A much skinnier mama and three healthy babies.

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If you want to watch the next round, check out the GoatCam. You can find it on their website under “Education” when it’s time for more babies!

Who Is John Galt?

I just finished watching the first two Atlas Shrugged movies. The third one should come out this year. I read the book a while ago, and I do still remember how the story ends- although I am curious how many minutes John Galt’s multi-page speech turns out to be.

I am not a follower of Ayn Rand. I think she was very traumatized by what happened in her country of birth and what she thought was happening in her country of refuge and that comes out in the story. However, I do think that she brings up some good points. It’s particularly telling that the story written in the 1950’s can so easily be moved to 2016. With how the economy (read, stock market and housing market) has improved in 2013, it’s not as clear a jump as it was in, say, 2011. It’s still a much easier sell for a future than it would have been in 2007, though.

What I pull away from her work is that innovation and hard work need to be rewarded. I don’t think an absolutely free market is the way to do it, but too much interference in the give and take is a problem. If we don’t let the brightest minds and strongest work ethics get the biggest cut, we’re removing a really big reason for them to share their bright ideas and work their fingers to the bone. If they get no more credit than the person that shows up and plays Angry Birds for half of their shift, why should they contribute more?

Don’t get me wrong- I am not happy with the differences between the 1% and the rest of us. The divide is too wide for a healthy society. However, I won’t begrudge those that started with little or nothing and made it to the 1%. Heck, even the ones who inherit their wealth, but then build on it through actual work are still pretty ok in my book. The problem is when they have the money and contribute nothing. Dagny inherited her wealth, but worked her butt off to keep her family’s business working- not just for money but because it was necessary for getting things done in the country. Her brother, James, is the kind of rich person that really, really doesn’t do our world any good. He wanted, and accepted, no responsibility even when his were the only shoulders left to carry it.

In the story, it’s the manufacturers and inventors that go on strike. In our world, I’m wondering what would happen if the farmers went on strike? What they do isn’t farming anymore. It’s strip-mining for grains and vegetables and meat. What would happen if there was a place for these folks to go if they wanted to walk away from the mockery of a living they’re making? If they all stop farming tomorrow, they lose their farms. But how long would they need to be gone before we start trying to give them their farms back again to run as they please? We don’t have anyone to take their places.

Food shortages aside, what sort of havoc will they wreak on a system that doesn’t even count “farmer” as a job on the census? For starters, it’ll be hard to bet on porkbelly futures if there’s no pork. The same with commodities like grain. That’s a hit for the stock market. Chemical manufacturers will lose a very, very large customer base if they aren’t selling pesticides and fertilizers. The same goes for pharmaceutical companies- to the tune of 80% of sales. I’m really not sure what Monsanto would do, and I really don’t want to find out. They have their hands in all aspects of modern farming to the point that you can’t grow heirloom plants anymore without risking them looking over your shoulder to see if you’re “stealing” their genes.

We can’t forget about the food shortages, though. How long would it take us to work through the backlog of processed foods? And the grain stores held against future need? Then what? We could import from other countries, but that gets expensive, fast. Particularly if they choose to exploit our situation. We aren’t growing any food, and we can’t afford to import food . . . but unlike food shortages of the past, the bulk of people can’t turn to gardens. They don’t know how, they don’t have access to land, or they aren’t allowed to use their land that way. I wonder how long restrictive HOAs would last under those circumstances?

If farmers walked away from their fields tomorrow, how long would it take us to realize that they serve a far more important role than they are currently being given credit for?