How can rural communities advance the common goal of economic stability, healthy living and environmental stewardship?
Food, clothing and shelter are the necessities of human survival. These industries and the transportation of these goods also have the largest impact on the environment. These same industries also drive a good portion of the local economy as well as corporate economic growth.
Most countries use capitalism as a way of organizing the economy. The things that are used to grow, make and transport products are owned by individual people or a company rather than the government. The mid-18th century gave rise to industrial capitalism, made possible by the accumulation of vast amounts of capital under the mercantile phase of capitalism and its investment in machinery. Over the past two decades, Wall Street investors, boards of directors, financial analysts, even auditors and career politicians have all collaborated in creating a new type of capitalism. Management capitalism has replaced owner capitalism. In this new corporate capitalism, the focus is not on the creation of value, employing the greatest number, or rewarding shareholders. Instead we see that typically management runs a firm for its own benefit, as executive compensation and earnings seems to be the raison d’être.
The world economy is still recovering from corporate management decisions that led to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. In an increasingly inter-connected world, corporate decisions have affected the livelihoods of almost everyone. With unemployment still high, people are turning to examine their own talents and abilities in an effort to make money. Innovative ideas fueled by well researched, determined individuals are building a renewed interest in cottage industries.
A COTTAGE INDUSTRY
Long ago, agricultural labor did not dominate a rural peasants life during the entire year. Family members would devote their free time to activities like spinning wool or weaving cloth using there own equipment at home. The additional employment would provide a bit of a safeguard from harvest failure. These cottage industries did not demand a lot of space, required little technology, used mainly raw materials and allowed for working hours to be flexible.
The downside of cottage industry produced goods is a slower production of product and less opportunity to compete. In today’s world the only practical way for a cottage industry to survive is to serve a niche market which isn’t being addressed by the high-volume mechanized producers.
The main attraction a home-based business brings to the creator is the ability to dictate working hours, develop an item or service of interest, and sell the product for a higher profit margin. Cottage industry is a small scale industry that can be carried on at home by family members using their own equipment. Custom options are available that would not be possible with a larger company. The product can be personalized, fitted, or customized to the order of each individual customer. The product may incorporate unique cultural, artistic or creative content. Industrialization allowed cheap mass production of household items using economies of scale but there is no substitute for the fundamental principles of good design, the finest materials and expert craftsmanship.
Cottage industries are a means to provide employment, raise the level of living for both rural and urban populations and practice environmental stewardship. Farmers markets, farm tours during harvest, bed and breakfast homes and eco-tourism are a few cottage industries that have successfully grown in numbers over the past decade. Educating the local community of the relationship to raw material, the producer and the customer has helped these businesses succeed and find support. The local economy and the environment benefit when niche markets use local resources for a customer base that is actively involved in promoting interconnected local producers.
In Mora, New Mexico a group of entrepreneurs built and equipped a spinning mill in order to build sustainability in their rural community.
Tapetes de Lana is a non profit organization that was created in 1998 as a vocational training program for rural individuals in the art of weaving.
The raw material of sheeps wool and the fleece of other fiber animals for weaving comes from area ranchers.
At the Mora Valley Spinning Mill they wash, dehair/deveg, pick/blend, card and spin fleeces into yarn.
The retail shop is filled with yarns made in their mill from local and regional fibers, in natural colors or dyed by hand.
Tapetes de Lana has evolved over the years to include a weaving gallery, local art center and factory direct yarn store. They continue to provide training in weaving and a gallery space for weavers to sell their work.
They also show and sell the work of local artists– potters, quilters, photographers, painters, woodworkers, soap and salve makers, jewelers, knitters and crafters.
Tapetes de Lana is located on Highway 518, Main Street, Mora, New Mexico.
Tapetes de Lana has this to say on their website:
“We have worked in northeastern New Mexico, an area with a unique history tied to both Spain, Mexico and the indigenous people of this land. Here there exists a high percentage of the population living below the poverty level, as is frequently the fate of rural communities. However, we believe that the rural lifestyle can be sustaining, with or without large sums of money. We intend to encourage sustenance in our rural communities, and thus assist those who wish to remain in their ancestral homes. Northern New Mexicans still enjoy a vibrant rural way of life. It is now time to revive our lost traditions so that our people can continue to stay within their families and communities, while simultaneously subsidizing their incomes.”
Tapetes de Lana is an example how a cottage industry can be entwined in the local economy. From farm to fiber to textile.
The productivity gains of capitalist production began a sustained and unprecedented increase at the turn of the 19th century, in a process commonly referred to as the Industrial Revolution. The Technology and Banking Revolution that followed has allowed corporations a fantastic growth rate and an unprecedented accumulation of wealth at the expense of economic stability for local communities , healthy living of it’s own consumers and disregard for the environment.
At the beginning of this article I asked “How can rural communities advance the common goal of economic stability, healthy living and environmental stewardship?” Innovative collaborative efforts are needed to source raw material for local production of community consumed products. Buy local, shop local. Cottage industries can play an important role in the future of local economies if creative thought is given for integration and support.
Cottage industries are an effective way to encourage, inspire and inform people about the benefits of a simpler, less material lifestyle, and the importance of protecting our natural environment as the source of our well-being.
Happy Trails, Dohn