My Own Personal Sweat Shop

Hand Sewing Crocheted Squares Together For a Headband

Hand Sewing Crocheted Squares Together For a Headband

Being a craftsperson in the USA can be a real financial challenge which continues to worsen as the costs of raw materials, food and housing rise. To make matters worse, few of us have seen even a measly cost-of-living raise at our “day jobs” in years.

Sites like Etsy claim to support the small business artisan but after modifying their definition of “handmade” at the end of last year, mass produced items are springing up like weeds on the site that calls itself a “handmade marketplace”.  I’ve argued with artists who refuse to compete with inexpensive versions of what they create by hand, saying it’s a useless endeavor.

As of yet, I’ve been unable to reconcile my time and material costs with my prices.  I scour sale flyers and websites to get my materials at the lowest prices possible but where I usually hit a brick wall is with my hourly rate for labor.  If it takes me an hour to crochet one of my headbands, with costs subtracted out, I’d do better working as a…well…almost anything else.  Yet, I tread on, believing I will someday find the magic equation and actually be able to support myself doing what I love.  Is it really asking too much?  It’s actually asking a lot.

Putting it very simply, the average American can’t afford to buy goods that are manufactured or created in the United States.  This is nothing new globally as the same has been true of workers in China, India and other countries for hundreds of years but is unnerving in one of the most highly developed countries in the world.  The far majority of Americans buy clothing that’s made in another country.  The few who still work in the manufacturing industry probably can’t afford to buy the things they help manufacture.  I receive catalogs from “Fair Trade” companies who glossily advertise beautiful items that I couldn’t afford in my wildest dreams.  I want to buy fair trade, organic, natural, ecofriendly and items made in the USA but I just can’t afford to most of the time and have tried not to feel guilty about purchasing things that wear the dreaded “made in China” label.

When I was a child, my family went through some rough patches where money was pretty tight.  My stay-at-home mom made some of our clothing to save money.  Now, it’s hard to even find a fabric store.  After buying a pattern, fabric and notions for a garment you wish to sew, you could have bought three at Wal-Mart or Target, already made, for the same price.  There’s no reason to waste the time it takes to sew something by hand if it isn’t cost effective (for most of us anyway).

The global economy has been undergoing complex changes of which I understand at only the most rudimentary level, if at all.  I think most of us can see how these changes are affecting our daily lives as basic food prices rise while the containers in which they are sold shrink.  It’s really important that we are able to do what we love at some point during our lives even if it’s only for a couple hours a week and for those of us who are artists this may just have to be enough.

But still, I work towards my goal, even after my two other jobs and four year old, absorb most of my time.  After all, if you work hard enough and have faith in your dream, you can accomplish anything  – right?  A nice sentiment but not very realistic.

My Organic, Container Vegetable Garden

Container Veggie Garden

Container Veggie Garden – Tomato, Zucchini & Spinach

Is anyone else out there as freaked out as I am about the insane cost of groceries?  Here on Catalina Island all of our produce is brought over on a barge, in a refrigerated shipping container so it’s even more expensive than it is on the mainland. I couldn’t believe recently that one green bell pepper (yes green, not yellow or red) at our small market was almost two dollars!

I’m drawing on all the self-control I have to not roll right into a political/ socio-economic tirade. But be warned readers, I don’t know how much longer I can contain my frustration.

Anyway, to continue with the less controversial topic of gardening, since I’ve embarked on my juicer journey, I’ve obviously been buying a lot more fresh fruits and veggies than I  have in the past which is a good thing. Last year I’d decided to start a vegetable garden but just never got around to it, which is the fate of many grand ideas. This Spring I bought two large garden containers that were $45 each and the fact that I couldn’t return them was just the miserly incentive I needed to actually do it.

The containers I bought at our local hardware store are intended for city dwellers or those with limited outdoor space, hence the name “City Pickers”. They’re about 1′ 9″ x 2′ about 9″ deep and one of their greatest features is that they’re on wheels! If you think your spinach might be getting a bit too much sun, just wheel it over to a shadier spot.

I found this feature especially convenient last week when our neighbors were having their thirty-foot palm trees trimmed. Large fronds were dive-bombing to the ground right where my garden was, so I just wheeled them out of harm’s way until the tree-trimming was finished.

Watering the plants in the container is fool-proof.  There’s a plastic tube that rests on the bottom and comes through the soil at the top. The reservoir holds two gallons of water to replenish daily and a screen keeps the soil from direct contact with the water reservoir so the plants are never over watered (there’s an over-flow opening on each side). Just pour the water through the tube and it’s wicked up into the soil as needed.

I went into this project rather blindly since I’ve never actually grown vegetables before. I have plenty of experience with ornamental plants and even herbs but not veggies. My mom had a small vegetable garden in our back yard when we were kids, so she gave me some good general pointers.  She, however, lives in the wet, humid north-east, US (NJ) and I live in the very sunny, dry south-west, US (CA), so it’s a very different experience.

I’ve planted tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, green onions and spinach. As expected the zucchini and tomatoes are thriving but the others are having a slow start. I think it’s too hot and sunny for the spinach so I’m thinking of moving that container. There are 5 baby tomatoes on the vine and the squash plants have sprouted beautiful orange flowers, some of which, I hope, will eventually become squash.

I haven’t had too many problems with pests but one young tomato was eaten by a cabbage worm (I think) and I have seen some aphids.  I rinsed as many of the aphids off the leaves as I could, let them dry and sprayed a light mist of vegetable-oil based, organic pesticide to the leaves and it seems to have done the trick.

I’m hoping, in a couple of weeks, to have a great shot of me to post, biting into one of my own, home-grown, juicy, red, organic, tomatoes!  Here’s hoping!