Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The $250 Tool

No, not Jim.

There's a phenomenon I'm noticing as I move more deeply into our homesteading adventure that I call the $250 tool. It seems like each new hobby or activity requires a tool that costs somewhere around the neighborhood of $250.

There's the cheese press: $279.95.

There's the grain mill, which is a two parter:

the electric version at $269.99, or the non-electric version, which comes in at $395.95, considerably outclassing the $250 tool phenomenon.

There's the honey extractor: $245.00.

There's the water filter, also a two parter:

the Big Berkey, which comes in at waddya know... $250, or the Aquarain at $239.99.

There's the broadfork, a bargain at only $166.00.

There's the six row seeder I want that about doubles the tool phenomenon at $505.50, making up for any savings on the broadfork.

Don't forget the scythe, which will run at least $180 and must be tailored to the individual. Since there's about a foot difference in height between Jim and I, we'd each need our own.

Then, there are the really big ticket items like a cook stove, or solar, or a fancy high tunnel, and this doesn't even count the $250 tools I've already purchased like the milk machine, dehyrator, vitamix, stand mixer, and pressure canner.

This phenomenon verges on the uncomfortable brink of a new, green consumerism that's fast becoming fashionable in our society—because, dahling, green is the new black. I try to be cognizant of falling unaware into the yawning consumer abyss... well, not really yawning, but looming, or... lurking maybe, rising behind me like one of those giant venus fly traps in the new movie Journey to the Center of the Earth. (Which, by the way, look disturbingly like giant vaginas, but I'll refrain from doing the whole gendered reading of consumerism and venus fly traps.)

No worries now, though, as I've just provided Jim—my priceless tool—an accurate accounting of all the things on my wish list, so he'll be sure to nix them all as too expensive. Brendan Fraser's got nothin' on him.


Anonymous said...

We've had good luck keeping our beekeeping costs down by attending our state beekeepers association auction every summer - we have a small stainless steel extractor we got that way, and I think we were able to get it for under 100. We buy frames, boxes, covers, etc. for the next season at the auction too. :)

Carolyn said...

yes.... all the cool stuff is expensive!! But on the bright side, the more expensive stuff is usually the better quality stuff. So in theory......once you buy it you won't have to buy another one for a long time Right?!?!?!?

Lewru said...

Danielle, I've often thought that a lot of the peak-oil-preparation/self-sufficiency-what-have-you involves a whole lot of purchase power. Lots of websites that talk about being prepared will sell you the tools to become so. That was a little off-putting to me, at first, and still is at times when I get slightly cynical about the shift in consumerism. I once dated a mountaineering/survival hiking gearhead who spent thousands of dollars on many of the items that would fit a self-sufficency prep list. I wasn't sure what to make of it then and I'm still not, to be honest.

Thought-provoking post!

CSA Farmer Girl said...

For us it seems to be $500 this year. Grow lamp - $469. Jang Seeder - $535 (worth EVERY penny.) Two 4gal SP backpack sprayers and extra tips - $450. Potatoe Plow and seed potatoes - $400. New delivery van - !!!$500!!! :) Small office printer capable of our page per week newsletter needs - $450. 2 new hives worth of equipment & bees - $600...

Wow, is farming expensive...

Miranda said...

I hear you, Danielle! But that grain mill, the non-electric one, is soooo worth it! We recently dropped the cash on that one and have had so much fun with it! Not to mention how great the flour is and how good it tastes.

el said...

Your buddy Richard Heinberg talks about two types of people sensitive to the post-oil world: Techno-Greens and Ghandi-Greens. The former think the world will be saved by buying gadgets, the latter by eschewing them. I think if I fit into anything it's the latter, but it's been done by the slow acquisition of some of your listed $250 items. Still dreaming about the Country Living Mill, though! I try to approach all of this by really trying to do an end run around the alternatives (honey extraction can be done with canning equipment but it's messy, seeding rows can be done by hand but it's tiring, etc.) and, if I am a really good girl, I might get one of these items for a gift. Just need to make sure I put my wish list in front of Tom!

Verde said...

Mr. Greenjeans once said to me in exasperation, "why does everything cost $300??? (This when we had horses and sheep).

On that count I love my country living grain mill that I bought with the economic sucking check for ... around $300. We use it twice a week.

Jenny said...

With our top-bar hives there is no extractor needed--but we get less honey and more wax since we harvest the whole comb. Still, I expect to get around 20 pounds of honey from our first hive this year. I just harvested 8 and there was still plenty coming along.

As for purchases, we've been hovering around the $1000 mark lately: jersey cow: $1100, jersey heifer, $1400, new HE washing machine, $800, carport for hay storage, $1000, a ton of feed, $1200. We often laugh that we spend so much money in order to have the privilege to work our butts off.

But here's what I don't buy at the grocery store right now: chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, milk, eggs, most veggies, honey, most herbs, greens, baked goods, and flowers. By this time next year we will add goose, duck, fish, and pork to that list. And the stuff that we produce here on the farm is far superior in quality than anything I could buy at the store.

I use some of my $250 tools to make our own processed foods, such as canned tomatoes, salsa, pizza and pasta sauce, pickles, relish, jam and jelly, homemade mayonnaise, homemade BBQ sauce, etc etc....

With my livestock I am also getting cultivating and mowing services, wool, and fertilizer, not to mention the priceless benefits of having the companionship of animals. There is also an economic and sustainability advantage to storing meat "on the hoof" so that less freezer space is needed. These are secondary benefits that people sometimes forget when looking at the sticker price of tools.

I'm not sure that we come out ahead in today's market, especially on such a small scale, but that's only because people are not used to paying for the real cost of food. Cheap oil and government subsidies have raised a society that is used to cheap food. Once food prices better reflect reality I think our investment in homesteading will have been a very good thing.

Gina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gina said...

Oops, I must be tired tonight because my deleted comment made no sense what-so-ever!

I joke all the time that I could have have had quite the lavish lifestyle for what I have spent on my homestead! However, I wouldn't trade it for such a wasteful life and I figure if I am going to spend it may as well be on useful items.

Everyone has already said great things about the benefits; I also feel that the items bought with purpose in mind will eventually have built in "equity" (as Jenny said so well).

It is kind of funny how we can group are needed items by price though.

Jenny said...

Oops-I just re-read my comment and that should have been $1200 for TWO tons of feed (actually it was just a little over). Didn't want to scare you too much!

Angie said...

Ha! I love this. Our famous saying around this farm is, "how much will that cost?" "Oh, probably $300.00 like everything else."

Maybe Wisconsin has some hidden $50tax or something:)

tansy said...

we have very similar wish lists!

that 6 row seeder is cool! i hadn't seen that before.

Danielle said...

Ha, nothing like a post about spending money to bring out the comments. ;) Thanks to all for your takes on the tool phenomenon.

CSA farmergirl, so glad you left a comment—I'm enjoying looking through your blog. Tell me more about the Jang seeder... please.

I don't actually plan on getting the honey extractor, but I thought I'd put it up there. I almost put the dazey style butter churn up, too, but I just use my stand mixer.

Jenny, I've been meaning to ask about your honey harvesting this first year. With the top bar hives, how many bars of honey do they need to overwinter? I haven't harvested any honey this year because it's my hives' first year. I'm doing that whole patient thing like with the asparagus and strawberries.

Oh, and I'm picking up nearly a ton of feed on Wednesday that will, unfortunately, cost nearly that much. Well, not quite, but more than half your bill I'm guessing .

Not to mention the fact that I spent almost as much on my one cow as you spent on two. She was worth it though—man are we loving the milk! Of course I should not have lumped the milk machine in with the $250 tools, as it cost significantly more than that. It, too, has been worth every penny.

The real price of food is a lot of money and a whole lot of work, no doubt.

LisaZ said...

That's hilarious! And all too true. But hey, we're Americans. We love to go buy something to solve every problem, right? It's good to question this, while at the same time re-building a real life with things that will work hard and last a long time, if not a lifetime...

dylan keating said...

hi, a way to save money on hives (and have healthier bees) is build abbe warre hives :

very simple and effective..

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