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Good times, bad business models

Hey, I have some language trivia for you. In olden days, when a British family kept a pig, he’d be put in a pen down at the bottom of the garden and fattened all year. Then in the Fall, when the old boy was ready to go, a specialist hog butcher would go from house to house taking care of business. He’d set up out front, and the pig would be “led up the garden path” to his doooooom.

Zo! This weekend was the annual Smallholding Fair at Sissinghurst Castle. They’ve held it for four years now and, though it’s a trek for us, it’s a highlight of our late Summer. I don’t think we’ve missed one.

Technically, a smallholding is an agricultural concern that is bigger than an allotment and smaller than a farm. But really we’re talking middle class people with a vegetable patch and six chickens who love artisanal beers, free chutneys on stinky cheeses and rustic garden furniture made from railroad ties and ploughshares. In other words, us.

This is something we see an awful lot of down here. People whose first career was marketing or engineering or nursing — people who did pretty well for themselves, in other words — who retire to the country at just past their peak and decide to open a little shop. Or weave blankets. Or throw pots. Or raise rare breed hogs. Or brew beer or bake cakes or make soap or forge knives or cane chairs.

And they make absolutely gorgeous stuff…for as long as they can make a go of it. Most of them crash and burn after a year or two. Problem is, they expect to make middle-class money out of old-fashioned working class trades. They charge eye-watering money and still barely manage to cover expenses, let alone what they believe their time is worth. The ones that survive end up modulating their expectations — and working harder than they ever thought possible, back in the days they sat in cubicles.

Anyway, these are our people — in many cases, literally our friends and neighbors — and we love to turn out and pay stupid money for their high class gee-gaws and listen to lectures on the difference between cyder and cider.

There was a fancy beer tent. ‘Nuff said.


Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: August 19, 2013, 10:40 pm

Sounds delightful!

By the way, those pigs look like they might be witches. Better burn em to be on the safe side.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: August 19, 2013, 10:51 pm

I wish to place it on record that Badger has A Real Job.

Well… kinda sorta.

Comment from Can’tharkmycry
Time: August 20, 2013, 12:02 am

Well, sure, Uncle Badger–but then, you haven’t retired yet, eh?
And I have to ask–to what degree is this an entirely novel phenomenon? I understand that the class to which these artisans belong is, um, not the artisan class; but, back when the folks making the stuff were solidly working class, were there such events, and if so, who was buying?

Comment from iamfelix
Time: August 20, 2013, 12:04 am

🙂 I have a surreal job. The perigrinations of you & Swease sound much more funner.

Comment from beasn
Time: August 20, 2013, 12:35 am

Mmmm…burned pigwiches.

Comment from Skandia Recluse
Time: August 20, 2013, 12:47 am

Beer fixes everything.
So I have been told.

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: August 20, 2013, 1:02 am

My mom was one of those folks who retired early (She was an RN school nurse) and then took up an old obscure family art tradition called Scherenschnitte – fiendishly complex paper-cut pictures. Being a German art form, there are all sorts of rules the most important of which is: “no knives, only scissors! Ever!) She was quite good. Unfortunately she decided that she should open up a shop – in a small bedroom community town of 1500 people. My dad (a lovely man) never told me how much the next couple of years cost them but I figure it was plenty. I still have quite a few pieces as in those pre-internet days there wasn’t much market for them

Comment from scottthebadger
Time: August 20, 2013, 1:39 am

I am intrgued, what is the difference between cider and cyder. I have never even heard of cyder. Next month, the Orchard down US-12 3 miles will start making cider. The dark brown, pulpy stuff that tastes oh, so good!

Comment from Nina
Time: August 20, 2013, 2:31 am

I do historical reenactment…I get weird things like British Smallholding Fairs

Comment from Steve Skubinna
Time: August 20, 2013, 3:50 am

I am always amused at modern urban women who take a class in candle making and then think they’ve mastered all there is to pre-industrial life. No smallpox or cholera or polio, no having to work at home while the husband spends his days in backbreaking (in some cases literally) physical labor, no having to squirt out kids as many as you can manage (and please try not to die in childbirth) to beat the infant mortality rate, no sending those kids off to apprencticeships because their labor is your retirement, no having to heat your home and cook over a peat or coal file (or for that matter having to take cold baths and eat cold food because you can’t afford fuel), and worse of all, no Oprah or Dr. Phil to reassure you that yes, you are a Special Snowflake and can Have It All.

A hundred years ago life sucked for most people. Most of us today have no clue. I like to make cheese and brew ginger beer and bake bread, but they’re hobbies and not my livelihood. I know better than to produce one cake of lye soap and congratulate myself on mastering life off the grid.

I live in rural Washington. We have lots of folk such as you describe, Microsoft millionaires and the like who go into semiretirement and build wooden boats or restore old water pumps or weave baskets, who take their produce to the Farmer’s Markets and congratulate themselves on going all Henry David Thoreau. They never realize that Thoreau was a fraud, who lived just a long golf drive out of town, and who sent in his laundry and walked into town for dinner parties. They also never see the massive cushion modern society has provided them to ward off the common catastrophes that beset ordinary people back then.

Comment from beasn
Time: August 20, 2013, 4:08 am

Hey weasel, since you create and sell stuff at zazzle, do they have limits on what you can ‘create’ on something…like using a curse word?

Comment from JeffS
Time: August 20, 2013, 4:20 am

Too true, Steve, over here in another rural part of Washington … where we don’t have butt loads of retired millionaires to annoy us with their products at the “Farmers” Market. Just middle to upper class retirees with too much time on their hands, and delusions of The Noble Savage™.

It’s nice to have a hobby, but retro living is for the birds.

And I was reading an article about people who start a business based on their hobbies or skills. They can cook, but don’t know how to run a restaurant. Or balance books for a small business. They focus on the creativity side, and ignore the need to make a profit.

Comment from Mike C.
Time: August 20, 2013, 6:34 am

Here’s one for you, Stotie. I saw this guy’s stuff at the Waterford Crafts Fair last year, a definitively high-dollar event. His work is stunningly gorgeous, museum quality (literally) stuff. The only thing more stunning is the price. But he apparently does make a living at it (getting commissions from places like Monticello can’t hurt.)


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 20, 2013, 11:19 am

The way the lecturer explained it, Scott, cyder is made from the first pressing of apples. It’s high in sugar, so the yeasts can get it up to a wine-like alcohol percentage, in the 13% range.

Part of the contract for day labor in the 19th/early 20th C was that each worker got four pints of cider. As he said, you wouldn’t get much work out of a fourteen year old boy on that much booze, so they made a weaker version for the workers. They took the once-used apple pulp, added water, pressed it again and made cider: the result was usually 3-7% alcohol.

He said the stuff they sell commercially today starts with a pulp that’s, I think it was, 5% apple — the rest is all sugar water and acids and stuff. Bears little resemblance to the real thing.

It was a pretty neat talk about how to make your own on the cheap. Apparently, a drill with a plaster stirrer attached in a bucket make as good an apple press as the expensive commercial ones. Strain it through some plastic garden mesh and you’re good to go.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 20, 2013, 11:27 am

Beasn, you can get as language-y as you like as long as you label the product correctly (G, PG-13 or R). I had a product auto-kicked into R because it mentioned cock (it was a male chicken, dammit). I won on appeal.

They are absolute hell on intellectual property, though. Images of actors or actresses or grumpy cat or the Superman logo…none of that will fly. Political figures are okay, but no other public figures.

I remember the day they pulled all products with the word “twilight” in the description. It took out all sorts of “picture of a quiet country lane at twilight” kind of images. Peripheral damage.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 20, 2013, 11:44 am

I have a love/hate with crafts people, having spent much of my life around gunsmiths, potters, weavers, carvers and other assorted work-shy.

The ones that ultimately make a living at it fall into two groups: those who descend into mass-produced schlock and sell lots of it for peanuts, and those who make high end products at enormous prices and somehow stick it out until they build a reputation.

In between, though, you can buy a lot of beautiful things from people who aren’t going to be doing this forever. I have an absolute fetish for beautiful handmade leather journals or hand knives or jewelry.

Comment from scottthebadger
Time: August 20, 2013, 1:35 pm

Thank you, Stoaty! I think I shall stick with the pulpy stuff from Ski HI orchards. Johnny Appleseed was a big advocate of hard cider. It tasted good, and because of the alcohol content, was safer to drink than the water in most places.

Comment from AltBBrown
Time: August 20, 2013, 2:18 pm

It appears jc has taken the dead pool w/ Elmore Leonard

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: August 20, 2013, 3:19 pm

Ever try any Perry? Its like pear cider, supposed to be an English speciality only in the fall.

And too bad about Elmore Leonard, but he did leave behind a pretty immense body of work. His last few books weren’t quite as good as his earlier work, though.

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: August 20, 2013, 3:59 pm

Thank you for the explanation on the difference between cyder and cider.

I am of the opinion that, after the first pressing, the pulp should be offered to the piggies.

Now, as to pear cider, is it proper to call it perry, or braggott? I’ve always called it perry.

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: August 20, 2013, 5:58 pm

Steve, your comment above brings Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric KoolAid Acid Test to mind. One of the things which he discussed was communes and the fact that very few Blacks participated in them. His theory was that most Blacks were not enough generations out of poverty to develop a “nostalgia for the dirt” as he called it.

I think there’s a fundamental truth there.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: August 20, 2013, 6:21 pm

Ah, communes! Work 80 hours a week, sleep in filth, starve, & end up with literally nothing but the clothes on your back when you finally decide to walk away. Sounds like paradise to me.

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: August 20, 2013, 6:22 pm

This made my day:


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 20, 2013, 6:38 pm

Holy shit! Somebody really did have Elmore Leonard. Thanks for the heads up, AltB.

Comment from Nina
Time: August 21, 2013, 12:32 am

A braggot is a beer that includes honey in its fermentables. A perry is a pear cider. A cyser is honey and apple.

/the brewer

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: August 21, 2013, 12:50 am

I stand in awe of your knowledge, Nina.

I once encountered a real honest to God “Pork Barrel.” We were getting my late Grandma’s house ready to sell, and there it was, in the cellar, and mostly full.

Back in the old days, folks (like us) in the Midwest would butcher their hogs, render down the fat, place all the cuts of meat in a white oak barrel and pour the lard over them. (There was a strict order as to what went where.)

When you needed some pork, you reached into the fat and got the piece you wanted. Then you par-boiled it for a half hour or so, and prepared it according to your recipe.

I suppose there were other farmers (whose religions allowed them to actually enjoy their food,) who did it differently.

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