Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Daily Grind

We live with an economy whose health is measured by consumer spending, by the amount of material goods bought and sold. Yet everything we read and watch - Affluenza, Simple Prosperity, The Story of Stuff - tell us that those days must come to an end. That we are consuming more than our planet can handle, more than our fair share globally and running out of cheap oil while we do it. Pulling the plug on our consumer lifestyle, however, will plunge the economy into a tailspin - or at least that's the argument.

As experts debate what can and may and should happen, a new economy is sprouting up around us. I'm talking about green jobs. Not the kind you initially think of. Not ones funded by Kleiner Perkins. Not the solar industry's efforts to keep up with skyrocketing demands by frantically hiring anyone with a brain and a couple limbs.

I'm talking about the little guys. You and me. Entrepreneurs. Average folks combining their skills and interests, their desire to do good with their need to earn a paycheck, their hope for a more sustainable future with the goal of a more fulfilling lifestyle.

I'm talking about Trevor Paque, a landscape gardener who grows organic produce - instead of ornamental flowers - for his homeowner clients. Mr. Paque was discussed on No Impact Man yesterday. Many people would love to have an organic vegetable garden in their yard but lack time and/or skill. Mr. Paque offers them what they desire and supports himself in the process. He is able to have a job he loves, that is fulfilling and provide a service that allows others to become more aware of where food comes from, reduce their food miles and pesticide use and enjoy delicious food.

Mr. Paque is not unique. A farmers' market friend, who is at risk of losing her farm, has mentioned the same service idea to me. Our own Beany has apparently considered starting up an organic, local ingredient meal delivery service. And the Wall Street Journal featured suburban farmers, replacing their own and neighbor's lawns with vegetable gardens in exchange for a CSA share of the produce grown.

Not all eco-entrepreneurs can devote their time as completely as Mr. Paque, at least initially. Many, however, are starting side businesses in the hopes of one day earning their living entirely from something they believe in.

People with green skills are increasingly paid to teach classes ranging from the Backyard Chickens class I took last month, to classes on solar cooking, canning, and bicycle maintenance. Last weekend, at the Blogher conference, I met a very smart Smart Mama who has launched her own business testing toys to determine whether they contain toxins, helping clients create a non-toxic nursery or home, and teaching classes on how to make green cleaning and beauty products. If rumors are true, she's got a few other green business models up her sleeve. Eco Burban Mom reported on a couple selling homemade lemonade and limeade at her farmers' market. Closer to home, I have a friend who collects old textiles and transforms them into trendy handbags for a local boutique. Another friend is exploring the idea of a consignment store specializing in used nursery items. Yet another friend gave up her career as an attorney to create a company specializing in energy efficiency audits for homes and businesses. I've even had a few blogger friends share some green business ideas with me.

Is this the local economy Bill McKibben dreamed of when he penned Deep Economy? Is this the key to a sustainable future? A means for people to do good and live well? I'm going to say yes. Are you inspired to search out a path that combines earning income with a more fulfilling life?


Bobbi said...

Cool video! I would love to learn how to have a green business on my one acre yard. I currently grow food for the family, but I never thought of increasing the size of the garden to have veggies for the farmer's market.

I'm also interested in keeping chickens in my backyard, but I'm not too sure of what my neighbors will say.

Small Change said...

great post. and something i find so true- thanks for the links and video!

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Hah! I know Kipp Nash - he's one of the farmer's at my market. He has about 10 backyards he farms in. He's something of a local celebrity these days and also happens to be a really nice guy.

The food revolution is very obvious around here with loads of folks coming in the spring to buy starter plants and so many folks telling us that these are their very first gardens. It's fun to watch it happen.

arduous said...

Great post GB! I think Beany really needs to be my personal chef more than anything. Think you could suggest it to her? :)

scifichick said...

I would certainly love to have a green business, at least side business. It's hard to get started though, at least without a major investment. And major investment is not affordable and scary too. But if anyone is interested, check it out:
I keep envisioning knitting all this stuff from organic yarn and keeping it affordable. Since I don't need this as a main source of income, I can keep the prices reasonable. And I just wanted organic materials be competitive with conventional ones. But not much luck yet.

Daphne said...

I'm a crafter, and belong to an artisans coop so see some of the fun recycled thing people make. I have one friend that makes handbags from the colored plastic bags you find your newspapers in on rainy days. Everyone she knows collects them for her.

Another one makes bookmarks from junk mail. They are very cute.

I had to smile at the video since I grew up in Boulder area and people are very much like that. The culture there is so strange compared to the rest of the US (closest to California). It is a mix of conservative pioneer attitude with sports crazed liberals (not watching sports mind you, but doing it, like kayaking, hiking, biking, skiing and such). There is a lot of do it yourself kind of people and a strong hippy, freedom thing going on.

bobbi: if you want to really see what you can do with a small plot of land see what these people do with their little lot.

Green Bean said...

Bobbi: I was thinking the same thing last night (about chickens) when a friend talked about how many eggs they ended up with. Danielle at Touch the Earth Farm runs a CSA with her two kids. I'm not a regular reader of her blog so I'm not sure how much land she has but you might poke around on her blog. Could be some useful stuff for what you're thinking about.

Small Change: My pleasure. It's nice to see these kinds of businesses popping up.

Hatchet: Too funny! I love that you know him. As to the food revolution, I read that Burpee's seed sales doubled this past year. Not that I'm a Burpee's gal but it is exciting to be alive during this period of time, when people are becoming more aware, getting back in touch with what matters.

Arduous: I think she'd listen more to you than me but if she ends up in the Bay Area (and it looks like that's a real possibility from her latest post), dibs!

Scifichick: Beautiful blankets!! Have you approached any locally owned boutiques? My neighbor owns a local boutique and just gradually migrated toward stocking 70% sustainably produced clothing. She's the one who buys the bags made from reclaimed fabrics and recently had an ecochic trunk show that was apparently a smashing success. I also say some bags made from reclaimed fabric at a yarn store, when visiting my parents - a couple hours a way so I know it's not made by the same friend. I think we're going to start seeing more interest in hand made products, created from sustainable material. Maybe you could start on a smaller scale with a baby boutique? Very cool if you can work it out.

Daphne: Very cool what peole can make out of "throw away" materials. That is the kind of spirit we need . . . that and maybe some hippie spirit from Colorado wouldn't be bad either. ;-)

kale for sale said...

There's a man in Oakland Van Jones who has been pushing for green job training in Washington for some time now. And people are listening. Basically his message is we can install solar panels to the moon and eat organic food until we're green in the face but if we don't work to green all our communities and bring people out of poverty it's not going to matter. He says it better than I do and is a great compliment to McKibben. I'd love to hear the two of them in conversation.

Burbanmom said...

Don't forget about the lovely and talented Organic Needle who makes organic cotton produce bags and sells them on etsy. Not local, but definitely green!

eco 'burban mom said...

Hmmm, if I had my way, I would love to create a living out of promoting green building and home innovation. It's somewhere along the lines of what I do now, but with more of a green focus. However, what I do pays the bills, so for now, I think I need to stay put!

ruralaspirations said...

I started my own business two years ago so I could be home with my children. I do consulting work, almost all of it from home, and working only a few hours a week (usually). I created this for myself as a way of slowing down and being able to get more involved in community, as well as living more simply. Does that count? ;-)

Green Bean said...

Katrina: Van Jones ROCKS! Never heard of him before but the You Tube is great. Eye opening. Hopeful. Let's get moving folks.

Burbs: Doh! How could I forget the Needle! She totally counts and I really want one of her tea bags.

EcoBurbs: Stay put, then, but at least you are thinking about it. You never know when a door might open.

RI: Yes, it counts! I think one of the big lessons is that we can live outside of corporate America. We can create our own reality, make our own companies, develop a situation that allows us quality of life and hopefully enjoyable or meaningful work as well.

CindyW said...

It's time for me to confess. We actually have a gardener who regularly does all the trimming of the trees and bushes (we have a lot of those). He is the one who inspired me to actually get a vegetable garden off the ground. He took me to a client of his whose backyard was an amazing urban edible garden. Yes, he did all of it. He also built chicken coop for people who want to start their own flock in the backyard. Once a construction worker in Mexico who helped build many fancy hotels on the beaches, he is now a well of knowledge and experience when it comes to organic gardening and xeriscaping.

Of course I feel doubly bad because we did not hire him to do our vegetable garden. We want to get our own hands dirty. One day I will ask him to help us expand the vegetable garden...

knutty knitter said...

I already run a small craft shop - mostly cos no one wanted to employ me (I have bad occupation overuse syndrome). We only earn a pittance but even that is helpful as my hubby does contract work (not very regular often) and I get to be home for the kids. My mother and I make small knitted gifts for tourists and christmas etc and sell from what used to be our bedroom (the bed is now in the living room) as we are on Baldwin Street (Wiki has a photo of the house - its the white one with lace work).

Our outlay was very small and we don't plan on expanding too much because there's only so much you can do in a day.

I say if you want it go for it but test the water first :)

viv in nz

Green Bean said...

Cindy: I don't think it is anything to be ashamed of! Some people want to get their hands dirty and some don't. That doesn't make you any less of an "environmentalist". But it is great that you ended up with this guy as your gardener and he ended up convincing you to plant an edible garden. Maybe some chickens soon? Oh, a girl can dream anyway. I do hope, though, that this guy has a steadily increasing book of clients. He sounds wonderful.

Viv: Holy cow! That's a steep street. Super cute house, too. Looks like a prime location, though, for selling hand knitted goods to tourists. Thank you for the inspiration. I think it is good to bear in mind that folks who go for their dreams won't necessarily make a killing but that they have the pay off of time with family, enjoying what they do.

scifichick said...

I approached 2 local boutiques. One of them took my cards to give to customers but she already had someone doing similar things. And the other place was turned off by my newness, I guess. But I'm still trying :)

Green Bean said...

Hey, at least you are giving it a go. It's like trying to get a book published (I've heard). They always say you get a bunch of rejection notices first. Keep trying. I can't remember where you are located. I'll actually bring it up to my neighbor next time I see her. She's the one who owns a women's boutique specializing in eco-chic clothes. She might have some ideas. Maybe some other folks will too. Don't give up!

Beany said...

Wow...this is flattering having people place argue over who gets to use my mad cooking skillz. :)

I am so sick of searching for jobs I am clearly qualified (or overqualified for) and then companies continue to wind up hiring idiots. I've already had the experience of setting up a business, and running it just to see what the process was like. So I haven't been scared away from starting up a business, I think this is definetly something to start after the move. So do I already have customers then? I certainly have the interest and excitement!

burbs: I was at the natural foods store today and saw some natural produce bags and looked at the label to see if they were from organic needle. Alas they were not. One day all my little bloggy friends will be catering to my every need...I think I'd really like that world.

Going Crunchy said...

I'm starting my own little thing on the side, but also will be starting a new "regular" job next month, details TBA.

I want time affluence, but for at least the next year had to make the choice to take a career step.

The good news- insurance for the whole family. Bad news- less time. Good news-less stress.

I'm trying to think a few years from now to make it happen. I think I can....I think I can.....

I do feel really great about what I do as a Librarian and in Library administration. We are the ultimate "reusers" and man, if the whole country were handled more by librarians we'd be in better shape. We know the value of the doller and how to use it well for great benefit. Just my take on it.

Green Bean said...

Beany: Well, yeah, you have customers but only if you end up in the Bay Area. Don't rely on Arduous and LA, man! She won't even be there. She'll be busy having tea and chutney on the other side of the pond. Pick me! Pick me!

Shan: You should feel good about what you do as a librarian. You've totally inspired me. BTW, I emailed the links to your children's eco-book reviews to my book club and green moms group. Gems! Truly. I hope that the new gig works out for you. There is something to be said for less stress and I know you've got time affluence in mind for the future.


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