Tennesseetransitions


An Informal Economy

Traditionally, ‘informal economy’ referred to economic activity that is neither taxed nor regulated by a government. Even though the term may be rather unfamiliar, examples of informal economies practices are as familiar as babysitting or the drug trade. But I recently read a different description of  ‘informal economy’: “that which allows people to acquire goods and services they might not otherwise afford.” It’s an idea that deserves more than a glance. As we move into the second half of 2015, I sense a deepening economic uncertainty that demands each of us find ways to transition to a life style that is built on community, local resilience and living well on less. Enter: trade and barter.

Not long ago I bartered fresh heads of bok choy in exchange for a nurse neighbor’s steady hand in giving Michael his B-12 shots. We often trade watering or harvesting chores down at the community garden with fellow vacationers. A friend recently had a raised bed but nothing to plant in it, nor any extra money to invest in it. So I gave her some of my heirloom bean seeds that I’d saved, to plant in her bed. She’ll no doubt enjoy eating her beans all winter, and has promised to repay me in fresh beans. Yesterday I offered my skills as a canner to a woman that is equally skilled in quilting. We will both benefit from our reciprocal agreement to ‘help one another’. Carpooling, house and pet sitting are favorite trade-offs for me. I also enjoy doing sewing repairs in exchange for goods or services that I might need. Years ago I helped an acquaintance prepare for a major move by organizing and packing, in exchange for several months of fiddle lessons; our friendship has lasted long after the trades were completed. These informal economies help friendships to grow and allow all involved to benefit without any money being exchanged.

I wrote here recently about the free truckloads of gravel for my driveway I was able to get, via Freecycle, from a nearby church, who just wanted it off of their parking lot. My own church offers many, many opportunities for sharing and trading of goods and services. Our local electric cooperative delivers shredded wood mulch for free to anyone that lives within the city limits, and the city crews deliver shredded leaves for our compost piles during the fall leaf pickup. The members of the nearby community garden that I manage are constantly learning from, trading with, and helping one another, even though we all started as perfect strangers and have few common bonds other than our love for growing fresh, organic food. From an online community to a community garden, all of these informal economies help to build community strength and resilience.

 The nearby town of Abingdon, VA is home to the Barter Theater, a live theater venue that was set up during the Depression and so named because you could gain admission to see a play by bartering fresh eggs, produce or chickens instead of paying the 40 cent admission price. During that same period, when no one had any cash, it wasn’t uncommon for doctors to accept food as payment. My own grandfather was known to accept car repairs and haircuts as payment for his bookkeeping and accounting skills.

Produce traded at Barter Theatre
Produce traded at Barter Theater, circa 1933

For all those aspects of life that we need in order to sustain ourselves and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (in response to peak oil), drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change) and greatly strengthen our local economy (in response to economic instability)? An Informal Economy is a logical starting point and offers limitless possibilities that can help us with these transition issues. Some communities have even gone so far as to start community currencies based on barter, trading one hour of work for $10 in credit. From food to computer skills, we all have something to offer. Might a more formal organization of these kinds of efforts be more helpful or hassle? Please let me know in the comments section below if you or your community are working in informal economies, and what affects it is having on your resilience and/or personal economy.



Frugal Friday- and life is good

“There are as many ways to be frugal as there are things to spend money on”~Sam J.

Being frugal is far different from being cheap. Don’t let anyone accuse you of being cheap because you choose to live within your means. Michael and I were able to retire at age 55 and 47, respectively, because we saw a simple, frugal life as our ticket to freedom. We had no idea then that our lives would become so amazingly RICH by doing so! Good health, good food, good friends and lots of music are the keys to our good life. With no debt and money in the bank, it’s no longer necessary to be so frugal, but we wouldn’t live any other way now. This week’s examples:

Monday: It was a warm and sunny day that I spent outside. I hung the wet clothes out first, then harvested a couple of heads of organic bok choy from my garden…

20150417_111941[1]

then washed and vacuumed my car, saving at least $8 in the process. Afterwards, I drove my dirty old truck (pick your battles!) to a friend’s little horse farm, just 5 miles away, and picked up a load of free manure to add to the compost piles that we’re building for next fall…

20150417_131336[1]IIsn’t this beautiful? Is this finally the answer to the age old question of “how much is a shitload?”

By the way, make sure if you get hay, manure or compost from someone that you first ask what’s in it. Ask if the hay was treated with herbicides, what kind of diet the animal was fed, etc. The herbalist that I went to hear speak last night reminded us all of this issue. If livestock eats hay that has been treated while growing with an herbicide, it could remain in the poop, and destroy your garden for up to 4 years after you apply it. Mother Earth News did extensive reporting on this ‘killer compost’ a few years ago and I’m certain it can be a problem.

The day was still warm and sunny when I got home from the farm so I weeded my strawberry beds and top-dressed with some safe, home-made compost. I really love knowing where my food comes from and to me, that’s priceless.

20150417_131553[1]

Tuesday: I’d planned to solar-cook some dried Anasazi beans (“Ancient Ones” – really means “Expensive Ones“) that were given to me as a gift, but it just wasn’t sunny enough to do that so I put them in the crockpot along with some peppers, garlic, onions and tomatoes, all from last year’s garden, then added a bit of cumin, salt and pepper and served it all over leftover rice, with fresh collards from THIS year’s garden on the side. Lordy it was soo good and only cost pennies for us to eat twice, with enough left to share!

Anasazi beans

Wednesday:   A cool, rainy day prompted me to finish drying the orange and tangelo peels that I’d been saving all winter on top of the gas stove before the pilot is extinguished for the summer. The dried peels are full of oils and make excellent fire starters for this summer’s campfires. We didn’t get to go camping at all last summer because of Michael’s cancer treatments, but that’s about to change!

20150417_102901[1]

Thursday:   I attended a free presentation on “Growing Medicinal Herbs” at the local Community Center. The presenter was extremely knowledgeable, personable and offered her audience lots of good tips and advice and a nice handout. I’ve already got my new herb bed ‘lined out’ in the backyard. I love culinary herbs but medicinal herbs could be a lifesaver in hard times!

20150417_135320[1]

Friday:  I finally got my swarm trap set up in the backyard today. There’s a small vial of honeybee ‘pheromone’ attached to the inside, and I’ve found the perfect place to put it-right beside an evergreen tree and facing East. I’m hoping to attract a homeless swarm and forgo the expense of buying a package of bees and their queen. This method was how old time beekeepers added to their apiaries each year, so I thought I’d try it too. Wish me luck!

20150417_101619[1]

This weekend I plan to meet new friends in the One Acre Cafe’s community garden plot to help weed it before we plant it next weekend, go to the library’s book sale, take a bike ride on the new Tweetsie Trail, attend the opening day of the Farmer’s Market, have a barbeque and play some music with friends,  and start filling that new growing bed we finally built in the greenhouse with that truckload of manure. Life is good.

678px-ReelMower



Frugal Friday- May 16, 2014

This weeks’ rain and cooler weather have been welcome visitors to my spring garden! Bok Choy, spinach, cilantro and broccoli have been the stars this week, with peas in full bloom. We’ve tried to plan our meals around these seasonal treats, because they’ll be gone soon, at least until fall.

Monday: Speaking of cilantro: I had such a surplus of this pungent spicy herb that I decided to try to preserve some it. After reading over several different methods, I took the easy way out by shoving handfuls of the plant, tender stems and all, into my blender. I simply poured enough olive oil to help the process, added some salt, and pureed it to a thick paste. Then I scraped about 2 Tablespoons of the green goo into empty ice cube trays and froze it. When solid, I popped them out and into freezer bags. I tried two of the cubes last night in a curry dish that called for fresh cilantro. Maybe not quite as good as the fresh, but definitely a nice flavor.

cilantro

105_0010

 

 

 

 

BEFORE:

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                     AFTER:

The only thing I’d do differently would be to simply drop the thick paste by tablespoons onto a cookie sheet instead of ice trays. Less cleanup and easier to remove. Savings? With organic cilantro selling for 99 cents a bunch, I think I must’ve cut at least 5 bunches from my little patch, leaving enough to continue using fresh for a while longer and enough to go towards reseeding. One time years ago I bought a little tray of these little frozen cubes (only MUCH smaller!) at Trader Joe’s for about $3.00. Based on that, I’d say I saved at least $9.oo on this easy project.

Tuesday: On my daily walk I saw that my neighbor had put out a couple of carpets and rugs for trash pickup. I brought home the smallest one because it was very pretty, clean and just the size and combination of colors I needed for a bedside rug in my bedroom! I returned a bit later to take a picture of the larger one to show ya’ll how nice it was but it had already been claimed from its’ street-side ‘grave’. So I took a pic of the one I got. Very pretty I think:

rug

Savings? Well the main reason I hadn’t bought such a rug was because the ones I saw in the stores and admired were always too expensive for my tastes, running from $25-$45. I always say if I’m patient enough, I’ll find just what I want for a fraction of the price, or better yet, in the trash!

Wednesday: Michael’s favorite old gardening shorts had gotten a hole worn in them. I spent a few minutes patching them with an old scrap of muslin I had (which is what old feedsacks and consequently, our grandmother’s long-wearing dresses were made from) and I expect he’ll get plenty more garden mileage out of them. Savings: Does anyone REALLY need new shorts to garden or cut the grass in?

105_0012

Thursday: Michael loves A-1 Steak Sauce, even though we never eat steak. He likes it on eggs, hash browns and more. A-1 is expensive. (I mean really, what the hell’s wrong with ketchup???) Anyway, he bought a store brand this week for half the price and likes it just fine. Savings: $2.25 a bottle.

a1

 

Monday through Friday:  We’re eating more and more fresh food from our garden and the remains of last summer’s bounty that’s left in the freezer so it will be fairly empty when the space is needed again. This requires creativity on the cook’s part. This week we’ve enjoyed Shepard’s Pie, stuffed with broccoli, beans, greens and carrots and topped with mashed potatoes made from the last of the 50 pound bag I’d bought for a few dollars, Pasta Primavera Sauce simmered with frozen tomatoes, peppers, squash, and mushrooms, Fish Fillets with corn on the cob and homemade slaw, and after a long day in the garden, we enjoyed big fruit smoothies for supper one night, using up frozen bananas and berries that I found hiding in the bottom of the freezer! Savings: A week’s worth of meals using whatever’s on hand saved enough money to enable us to eat out one night! Priceless

There are many benefits to living frugally. Being a mindful consumer and an even more mindful NONconsumer inspires an attitude of gratitude and contentment within me, it increases my resilience to be better able to withstand shortages, inflation, losses or emergencies in life by encouraging me to be resourceful and to find creative ways to ‘use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without‘ and is better for the environment because I generate less waste and consume fewer resources. Oh yeah, it saves me tons of money too 😉

 

 

 




%d bloggers like this: