Monthly Archives: July 2013

Helping farmers sell direct

Helping farmers sell direct.

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Is customer service gone?

How many times have you called about a bill issue, or question on some service you are involved in and had endless prompts with never speaking to a live human being? Home many times has the service hung up on you after navigating through the maze of selections. Where has customer service gone?

In today’s economy cutting cost is what is the name of the game. Obamacare, increased taxes, outsourcing, there are many reasons why a company looks to automate or eliminate customer service. It is not only limited to online or phone service. How many times have you gotten customer no service at a retail store. For instance, I walk into Menards to get parts for my latest project and almost no employees will make eye contact let alone ask if you need anything. Up at the counter and most seem like that are still in high school. Go to Walmart and there is virtually no service, and one associate told me not his department and kept walking. Are we really that desperate to buy items we will allow ourselves to be treated this way?

On the other hand, while I may pay more in some cases, I cannot walk around for more than 5 min without someone asking me if they can help me with anything. This is exactly why if I am uncertain about a product, or project, I head for Home Depot to ask the staff. Almost every time they are very knowledgeable about the area they are working in. If they do not know, they call over someone who does. Why is there such a difference?

When at a local grocery store I had to endure a lengthy conversation between the two cashiers and baggers about who was doing what on the weekend and what they thought of the other people going. While I don’t expect these people to be robots, I really am not interested in their personal lives. On the other hand, when I shop at GFS (Gordon’s Food Service) it is again like home depot. Every associate working in the store asks if they can assist me or help me find anything. Again, another reason why I spend my money here. I have even had an associate, in the freezer, in full winter gear, ask from behind the stocked shelves if he could help me locate something.

When I was in retail some almost 20 years ago we had what I thought was a great program. The home office would reimburse a assistant manager, manager or third key, for gas and a meal if they would shop at another store from a different city. I was fortunate enough to be on both ends of this program. It gave me the ability to go to various cities in my state and even other states, and get a free meal at the same time. On the other end, if you got two positive reviews a month you got $20. If you store got all positive reviews your store got a credit for store merchandise of $50. It was cheaper for the company than paying a secret shopper, and gave us insight as to how other stores operated, and see how we were treated as customers.

In my own endeavors I strive to have that customer service what I would expect from other businesses. I believe repeat business is more important than making a single sale. Having customers leave happy, and telling others about the service they received, so that I could have other repeat customers. When a store I was affiliated with began to have questionable business practices, dishonest to customers, and poor customer service, it was time to separate myself and sever the relationship. Sometimes your reputation and name are all that you have. 10 positive reviews or opinions can be overshadowed by one negative. Why not shop where you are treated as a customer not as a ATM. What kind of business are you running? Do you view your customers as single point sales, or do you view them as lifetime return customers whom you want to, and have built relationships with, not just increased your bottom line.

What is your time worth?

I was recently giving a class on ways to save money. One was to change your own oil. Granted it is cheaper to do it yourself, but what is your labor worth? What could you be doing instead? I am frugal and hate to spend money on things I can do myself but, some things are worth it.
When I look at a billable rate for consulting $50 an hour, and changing my oil would take several hours. By the time I get supplies, elevate the cars, change the oil, clean up I am looking at $150 in my time. I can take it to the guys at Car-X down the road from me and for $18 it is done in about 30 min. Jason and the guys down there are awesome. Super professional, and excellent customer service. Did I really save any money by doing it myself? I could have been consulting, or working on my own farm, finishing the projects around the house.
I think it is wise to look at many other services and features that must be evaluated. Mowing the grass for example. I detest mowing and of having a lawn in the first place. But it literally takes 7 min to mow my entire grass. Granted the chickens take care of the back yard, and now with landscaping and productive areas in the front we don’t have much of a lawn. In this case I can mow rather than pay someone.
Childcare is another place. We realized this summer it was more expensive to send our 4 kids to child care while I worked than it was for me to stay at home. We would have been dipping into savings each week they went somewhere. This gave me the opportunity to finish classes, work on our homestead, work on The Farm, and spend more time with them. When the wife comes home we can spend quality family time together. Before, it was pick everyone up, get home, get dinner started, dishes, baths, laundry and usually bed. Now dishes, laundry, and dinner are all ready when she comes home. We can eat, relax together, and enjoy our time rather than trying to rush around and get all the chores done.
We like to make and build much of our own items. For example I am making beds for our older girls. They seem to have outgrown bunk beds. Could I buy them, probably, would it be cheaper, probably, but it will be built to last and they can customize it however they like. Most items purchased today are disposable. From houses, to cars, to even beds. Nothing is built to last anymore. And if you buy well built items it cost an arm and a leg, why, because it is usually worth it. If you think how many items you have to replace because it is cheaper to buy new than repair, then how many times you have replaced it. Would it have been worth it to buy the better made item in the first place?
Someone, and I want to say it was Jack Spirko from The Survival Podcast, but not for sure, that money is essentially a way to represent time. The time you worked, the time you used something, the time it took to make something, the time it took to mine the resources for the manufactured item. When you put money in terms of time then, how valuable is your time. College educated people or highly skilled trades get paid higher because of the time dedicated in schooling, or education and mastery of their trade. After being a stay at home dad this summer, I have a new appreciation for what my time is worth.

Herb Blurb – Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm also known as Melissa officinalis, spreads and is part of the mint family. Rubbing the leaves you will get a lemon scent hence the name. In summer it has white flowers and is a pollinator attractor. Because it attracts bees so well it was given the name Melissa or Greek for “honey bee”. Lemon balm is as invasive as other members of the mint family and should be planted in containers or other was contained if spreading is not desired.

Lemon balm is used in candies, ice cream, teas both hot and cold, and is the main ingredient in lemon balm pesto. In teas it is used as a mild calming agent or sedative. The extracts from lemon balm have been shown to have high antioxidant properties.

There have been numerous studies involving lemon balm. From reducing stress in agitated people in a control group to reduction in obesity. Some studies have shown when drank in a tea given to people with regular exposure to radiation, the DNA degradation, and increased plasma levels. While it is known it inhibits the thyroid medication thyroxine it however inhibits antithyrotropic activity and may lead to treatments for Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism. The extracts from lemon balm have show to improve mental performance and even shown positive results in testing with Alzheimer’s patients. It has both antimicrobial and antiviral properties and has shown to be effective against herpes simplex.

At our homestead we use it as a mosquito and fly repellant in addition to a flavoring for teas. Three of the four kids including myself react harshly to mosquito bites and we have lemon balm growing all over our homestead. Any time one of walks out it is now a habit to grab a handful and rub the leaves all over any exposed skin. This has kept the mosquitoes at bay and prevented us from using any harsh chemicals or pesticides.

We regularly harvest and dry the leaves and dehydrate for longer term storage. We also sell plants from our herb gardens to start your own natural medicinal and culinary herb garden. Use the contact us page for purchasing.

220PX-~1800px-Melissa_officinalis2

FoodConIV: A place to celebrate Indiana’s food movement

I got mentioned in Indiana Living Green Magazine!

 

FoodConIV: A place to celebrate Indiana’s food movement.

DIY – Laundry Soap

                With a price tag of $0.02 per load price tag I was curious about making my own laundry soap. I read about people making their own laundry soap for some time on various forms and blogs. I decided to give it a try. A while back I was in our local Rural King and saw a photocopied recipe in the laundry area just sitting on the shelf. Too many signs to not give it a try.

                There are many recipes based on what is in your water, ease of use, liquid vs. dry soaps and what type of machine you had. I decided to start simple and make a basic liquid soap and build from there. Below are the three ingredients plus water.   

Borax Washing Soda Naphtha Soap

Borax
Washing Soda
Naphtha Soap

 NOTE: Do not use your household appliances or utensils unless otherwise approved by the significant other. Lesson learned. It was later spelled out in detail what I was not permitted to use in experiments, non-food purposes, or otherwise non-edible by people activities.

  • Cheese grater (not appropriate for making laundry soap)
  • Kitchen pots/pans (not acceptable for laundry soap, bar soap, candle making)
  • Microwave (lots of cool experiments with these if you have a SPARE)
  • Blender (blending fish carcasses for fertilizer is not an acceptable application)
  • Food Processor (blending compost for worm food is not an acceptable use)
  • Crock pot (not acceptable for making fire starters, or candles)

Here is the process, it takes maybe 30-45 min total

  • 1st use a grater to grate 1/3 the naphtha bar soap.
  • Melt 1/3 bar sop in pan with 6 cups of water over medium heat (30 min or so)
  •  Add ½ cup Borax
  • Add ½ cup Washing soda and stir until dissolved
  • Pour mixture into 5 gal bucket
  • Add enough water to make 2 ½ gal and either put lid on or pour into empty laundry soap container (We bought the larger sizes with a dispenser and 2 ½ gal just fills a container.
  • It will look like egg drop soup
  • You will need to shake the container or stir the bucket before using
  • Use only ½ cup.  

You can use this in high efficiency front load washers is what we have, or top loaders.  The only complaint I have is that ONLY my towels come out stiff. To remedy that I add ¼ cup or so of vinegar to the fabric softener area of my washer when washing towels.  You can also add a few drops of essential oils to the mix if you wanted a more fragrant laundry. We tried and like adding the oils, but were perfectly fine with leaving them out. The clothes still smell clean and fresh, and even more so since we hang them to dry.

International Market

How is this about homesteading or farming? Well, our longer term plans on our farm is to raise as much of our own food as we can. This means we have looked at alternatives in meats and other food sources. We have plans to raise goats, frogs, fish, quail, rabbits, cows, and pigs. We have eaten pork and beef before; we both have tried rabbits and frog when prepared by others; but we have never prepared it ourselves.

This is where the international market comes in. We recently took a trip to our local international market which we discovered was right down the street. We were amazed at the fruits and vegetables we have never seen before, and some we have never heard of. Jack Fruit. About the size of a watermelon with spikes all over it. Or the dragon fruit.

 

Dragon Fruit

Dragon Fruit

Jackfruit

Jackfruit

 

 We were on a mission however, and after walking up and down the aisles we knew had to come back. We made it back to the meat counter and found all sorts of cuts of beef and pork you typically do not see in the big box grocery stores. Cow tail, pork brains, fresh fried pig skin and then we found it, goat. We were on a mission to find fresh goat meat. If we were going to raise goats as a potential meat source we wanted to try it first. We had seen some at our local farmers market but at $19/lb it was more than our grass fed beef we like, and more than we wanted to spend. Our purpose with goats are threefold. One, we wanted them to clean out all the underbrush at “The Farm”. Two we wanted an alternative meat source, either for ourselves or to sell. Three, we wanted an alternative milk source, for ourselves to drink, to possibly sell, for cheese, and for soaps.

While in the meat area, we also saw they had quail and rabbit. These will be purchased on our future trips. We made the comment to go back once a week and try something new.  We also picked up some corn meal to make our own tortillas and chips. Our family likes taco night so we are going to make fresh tortillas and use an alternative meat and see if the kids can tell.

If you have an international market I highly suggest going in and taking a look. You don’t have to buy, but just see what they have. Maybe be daring and try something you never have before. There were so many things we have never heard of before we almost wanted a guide to help us out. What is that, and how to you cook or eat it? What does that say? Many labels are in other languages, but many have English on them, or pictures

We will be cooking the goat this weekend as it takes longer to slow cook to make sure it is tender. We also have more projects out at “The Farm” So next week will have lots of posts.

The Farm update, preparation of goat meat, DIY laundry soap I am down to one last container, and our battle with poison ivy and what remedies we have tried, what didn’t work, and what has

Money Matters Moment – Laundry

I have decided to post as regularly as I can ways to cuts costs and save money. The savings can be put towards other endeavors, such as getting out of debt, buying property, investments on the farm or homestead, or just making a buck stretch further.

Laundry is something that most of us have to do regularly. Some people take the laundry to be done elsewhere, some do it themselves, and some expect you to do it for them (kids). Not at our house. Eight years old and older do their own laundry. This was the result of picking out clothes and throwing in the laundry basket for us to wash, even though it was not dirty.

Wash your own – I used to take my dress clothes to someone to launder them and press them. I liked the nice creases. I was never taught how to use an iron, and after working in a drycleaner, I learned. It is not difficult. I actually found it somewhat relaxing. I would Iron my dress pants, and dress shirts. It would save me about $40 a week. I added to this by either watching a video while ironing or listening to a podcast. There are tons of free podcasts and videos available online to extend your education. I bought a used iron ad Goodwill for $5. I made my own ironing board out of scrap lumber and material remnants from a fabric store. $40/week x 52 weeks $2,080/yr saved. You can buy a used car for that!

Buy used –  After ironing much of my dress ware I had one favorite pair of pants. Wrinkle free Dockers. You could wash and dry and there was no need to iron. I wanted a few extra pairs, but wasn’t about to pay upwards of $40 a pair. Back to good will. It took me a few visits over a month but I found 6 more pairs for $4 each and sometimes $2 each when it was color of the day. Another $200 saved.

Line dry your clothes – Back in the day no one had electric or gas clothes dryers. It was hung out on a line. Remember movies, pictures from the 40’s and 50’s. EVERYONE had a clothes line in their back yard, balcony or apartment window. When doing some energy research I found the electric dryer was one of the most power hungry appliances. It is also a huge vampire drain on electricity. That is when an appliance draws energy whether it is on or not. Additionally, it made the whole house heat up. Now that we are in summer the AC was battling the dryer and both making the electric meter spin. We now line dry all our laundry. There are several added bonuses. If I were still wearing dress clothes, line drying removes much of the wrinkles, so less ironing. The AC works less keeping the house cool. The dryer has been unplugged, and no more vampire energy drains.

Get a vent switch for the dryer – This may be contrary to the above tip, but in winter months we vent our dryer exhaust into the house. When it is too cold outside to dry clothes effectively, usually winter months, we have a leaver that allows us to vent the moist warm air into the house. In winter here, the air can be quite dry. By venting into the house we add the needed moisture, and retain the otherwise wasted heat that was vented to the outside. You can get one at most home improvement stores for around $10.

Make your own laundry soap – I was a bit skeptical about this. But it is how it was done again in the old days.  I read about this in an online form (The Survival Podcast) and decided to give it a try. The ingredients are simple and used to be hard to find until more and more people started doing this. The recipes vary and you can experiment based on family laundry needs and what is in your water. 1 bar of soap (we use naphtha), washing soda, and borax. That is it. No harsh chemicals or dyes, or fragrances. Remember I said out 11 year olds do their own laundry? It is so simple that make their own soap too. I will post more on the DIY post soon.   This recipe allows me to do a load of laundry for about $0.02/load. We only wash in cold water, and have an energy efficient washer. The soap can be used in top, front, and high efficiency washers. Two of my kids and myself have somewhat sensitive skin and we were limited to a handful of laundry soaps or our skin would break out. No ill effects since switching. We also started to notice that once we started eliminating extra chemicals from our lives our skin clear up, we could smell things much better, we seem to feel better. Here is the recipe.

Wear more than once – This may not be for everyone, but if our clothes are not dirty, and we didn’t work and sweat in them, we will wear them again. Sometimes it is a lazy day and we just hang out at the homestead, inside and take it easy. No need to do a load of laundry. When I worked in a cube all day, I sat at my desk. No need to wash something that wasn’t soiled.

Next Money Mattes Moment I will focus on the bathroom.  Lots to save there.

 

Herb Blurb – Catnip – Not just for cats

Catnip is not just for cats. Nepeta cataria has many beneficial properties. While most of us know it for the “drug” we give to our cats to make them loopy for a while and act like a kitten again, it is of use in the garden, for insects, and even for people. It looks like a member of the mint family but has a square stem with green-grey leaves. The flowers can be purple or pink. Catnip is an attractant to butterflies and cats. Like my favorite lemon balm, it is also a mosquito and fly repellent in addition to cockroaches, and termites. The chemical terpenoid nepetalactone is the main component of the essential oil which is obtained through steam distillation. Have no fear, you do not need steam distillation equipment to harness the benefits. For fly and mosquito repellant on your person simply pick a few stems and leaves and rub on your skin. Enough pressure needs to be applied to release the oils in the plant. When done it should look slightly crushed and dark green. Research has shown that catnip also attract beneficial insects such as lacewings which eat aphids and mites. Catnip is drought tolerant, and can also respell certain insects such as aphids and squash bugs. Additional research has shown that the essential oil of catnip is ten times more effective repelling mosquitoes than DEET the active ingredient in most insect repellents. Be careful as catnip can be evasive and spread like mint. To keep it contained you can plant in pots or containers around your garden. It WILL attract your neighborhood cats. You can also harvest it and dry it. Either in a dehydrator, hang upside down in a cool dry place, or even hang outside in the sun. Once dry take the leaves and put in a sealed bag.

Catnip has a long history of being used as a digestive aid. It’s a natural sedative that also helps to ease digestion, colic and diarrhea. Dehydration caused by diarrhea, and high body temperatures caused by fevers can be life-threatening. A tea brewed from its leaves may help alleviate these symptoms. Catnip is also a mild sedative that naturally helps calm the nerves during stressful situations.

CatnipCatnip-1

Getting more for less – Class scheduled

Here is a class to make your hard earned money stretch further. All the tips, techniques, and practices my family and I actually use. Demos will be available, handouts will be made available of the items we cover, the products, places to purchase, and recipes. This should be about 2 hours long. If you have missed out on the farm tours, you could hang out after, but it will not be the full 2 hour tours others have gotten, feel free to ask questions before, or after class. We will be sitting outside on our deck, and have bench seating and a picnic table. There is also room for folding chairs if you bring your own. Space is limited so it will be the first 25. There will also be home made pizza as an appetizer to demonstrate cost cutting. There is no public restroom available. Sorry. Cost is $10 per person or $15/couple, easily made up if you use the tips and techniques demonstrated. We have saved well over $700/year doing these activities. Fee free to park in the driveway, our cares will be parked elsewhere. Bonus, drawing at end of class.

We will cover just to name a few subjects/topics not everything is listed;

• Food and Grocery- bulk buying, making from scratch, coupons, discount programs, more

• Entertainment- kicking cable, discounted movies, free e-books

• Making your own-laundry soap (an 11 year old can do it), deodorant, toothpaste

• Cleaning supplies – household cleaners, eliminating harmful chemicals

• Gas- save on fuel for your car

• Utilities- gas, water, electric

• Gardening – how to get seeds for 50-75% off, how to get fruit trees 50-75% off

 

RSVP here

http://www.meetup.com/Indiana-Disaster-Preparedness/events/128496512//