Communities within communities. Social interaction for pack animals stuck in hive animal environments. (Aka, someone rescue me from the BURBS!)

Hey foodies, do-it-yourselfers and all others strangely obsessed with the 'I can do it so much better for so much cheaper' attitude. 

Hell, this will probably apply to environmentalists, greenies, locavores, anyone interested in very passive civil disobedience and probably a few cultists, too.  (Cus let's face it. My atheist commune plans are something of weird urban legend here in the bay area. ) 

I am one of those people that finds a keen sense of satisfaction in the fine things in life. I'm an afficiando of a million different interests. For the last few years, I was able to afford some major luxuries simply because I lived overseas in country with a favorable exchange rate. It wasn't just with food and drink, either. You know those fancy bath products they sell at the mall? The ones cleverly designed to look like they are made from the ground up moss of some exotic substance and wetted in the last tears of an endangered species? The ones that are insanely expensive, but only contain like.0000043% of the product the marketing scheme is themed around? Well ok. I was out LIVING in the jungles where this stuff comes from, and literally buying the whole plant matter as cheaply as we buy baking soda.  Hell, my housekeeper would actually make me face-masks and lotions out of native plants and coconut oils and leave them next to my sunken in stone bath tub like a self re-stocking spa in my own home. Every week was a new surprise. I never had to ask. Things just magically appeared based on what she thought I was needing. It was like having spa fairies. 

So now that I'm in the U.S and slaving away as a bay-area wage monkey, I've had to evolve. No more in home spa. Hell, I'm lucky I can afford a place with bath tub, not just a stand up shower. (Though I must admit. There are a few 'modern' conveniences I'm getting used to again. Hot running water in the kitchen, for one.)

But there are good things about being back. 

One is our incredible beer and wine scene. 

San Francisco has arguably some of the best microbreweries in the WORLD. Our mixed-immigrant background is so diverse, we are the testing ground for fusion recipes and funky extremes. If exclusiveness is your style, I know of places that sell just a few thousand bottles a YEAR.

And I can get them for cheap. 

It's amazing what we've learned and how far we've come in our own personal brewing. We provide 100% of our own beer needs. 

Imagine that. Never having to make a beer run again. 

Yeah, suck on that court-appointed-religion-via-AA. 

Oh. And we also do it a ton cheaper. 

There are two adults and three taps in my kitchen. 

At any given time, we have five varieties of beer on hand. Our bottling "facility" isn't that state-of the art, but it's good enough. We are having fun making clones from our favorite beers we experienced in their locals around the world just now. Seriously? Belhaven's Best like you can ONLY get in Scotland...nom nom nom.

I'm not even going to get into wines. It's a thing we are just starting to explore. But let me tell you something..California Wine country easily ranks up there with some of the more picturesque villages we drove through in the United Kingdom. Our wanderings through the heart of England and to the little villages so far north they still speak Gaelic brought us to some incredible little communities. I dare say that Napa and Sonoma are serenity on earth, but American Canyon and Novato, Sonoma and Vallejo offer some incredible bed and breakfast escapes that could easily rival anywhere else in the world in terms of 'quaintness.' Many of these places have their own vineyards attached. People make wine just for their friends and family here. It's like chili. The same amount of work goes into producing it on a personal scale as triple that. Might as well make it a big batch! 

There is also this incredible produce scene.

Again, influenced by our diverse immigrant community, the farmer's markets and even mainstream corner stores are carrying a wide range of formerly 'exotic' produce on a regular basis. There is a DEMAND for it. All the culinary skills I picked up in Thailand, all the amazing colors and flavors can now be re-created here on my home soil with 100% accuracy. Also, restaurants have no excuse NOT to use the authentic types of peppers and other specialty ingredients in making traditional dishes. I swear, for all the times I got jalapeños in my Mongolian Beef here in the U.S.....Never again!!!! Neighborhood ethnic restaurants in Hayward and Concord offer you the feet-still-on experience if you know where to go. Chinatown still has some tucked-away back alleys that remind me of places I got lost at and ended up drunk in Asia. Sure, you know you're still IN America, but the ghosts of the place don't know that. There is a history there that they earned all their own. Generations of families that came as basically slave-labor on the railroad tracks. There is an ancestral tradition as old as any Caucasian claim. There are places that haven't been blinged by tourism, where you can get far more than a knock-off purse. 

I feel that I do the culture credit when I'm true to their recipes. Don't get me wrong, I'm a local. I dig the fusion movement as much as the next person, but traditional food, timeless recipes? Those are all comfort foods for a reason. Sometimes dusting off the tried and true as a reminiscent fall back is more about the memories the sights and scents and flavors provoke, and less about the quality of food itself. 

That's why I'm also taking up smoking. 

(Yes, there IS an incredible marijuana scene, but I'll get to that in a minute.)

I mean a good old fashioned, thick sliced bacon that was smoked on an applewood slab dusted in spices and cured with maple syrup? Oh. And you can control the nitrate content if you're worried about health. How about local caught trout, deboned, stuffed with herbs and cold smoked for ten hours before being tossed on a hot grill. How about home-made basil and garlic stuffed pork links and logs of salami that cost less than 2.00$/lb. to make? Right. But a lot of time has to go into it. And who has time to do all of that?

Well, no one, though my husband and I are sure trying. 

We live in a suburban area in the bay area and we are trying to cut our cost of living down as much as possible while maximizing our enjoyment as much as possible. Not because either of us feel that money is important, per se. 

But it does allow us the freedom to do yet more stuff we enjoy :) 

Our hobbies are not cheap. 

Fortunately, some of them are multi-purposed. I can eat the vegetables from my gardening hobby AND fresh produce that is also locally grown and organic totally checks the box on a few of my other major interests. The freshest, most local possible is my own back yard. That means the things I grow should be for consumption. Even the flowers I plant are good for basic skin-care. (I make these cute little 'bath-teas' that are just fresh or dried herbs/rose-petals/lavender/whatever I throw into one of the old hops bags I claimed from beer brewing. (You'd be amazed how many base items are interchangeable for do-it-your-selfing. The yeast vials also make great little weed storage containers that look all cute lined up and labeled in my medicine cupboard. I'm like a living tips album from Real Simple Magazine.) Look, I'm not claiming this is as good as the stuff that was being made for me in Thailand, and it's a whole different sort of plants anyway, but it's better than chemical-based-mass-market stuff of questionable origin. And my skin does look good. Really good. So no complaints there. 

I'm just saying..I make a lot of cool stuff. 

Not particularly valuable stuff. 

But things I find fundamental to my happiness. Things my husband finds fundamental to his. 

And I know first hand there is a whole community of other people out there that do, too. 

I wonder how difficult it would be (and how legal) to recreate a barter system. 

The magical interwebs is wonderful. Hell, just ebay organizing auctions you didn't have to be physically present for in REAL time is a HUGE concept. 

What if some like-minded individuals did the same in the interest of neighborhood trade? 

Nothing on a mass-produced level. 

That would defeat the purpose and anyway I'm sure there would be some serious issues with Health & Safety, the FDA or whatever it takes if you sell food or drink. 

Though technically we wouldn't be selling anything. We'd only be trading. No money changes hands, only goods and services. 

Lordy, now that I think about it, ATF could get involved for anyone offering a six pack of microbrew for a few dozen eggs from his neighbors chickens. 

But Hmmmmm....it's a thought. 

A commune of trade.

All the benefits.

None of the property-sharing issues. :)

This would be nothing more than saying:

Hi! These are my hobbies: xxxxxxx  This is when I'll have a surplus:xx/xx/xx. This is how you can get in touch with me: XXXXXXX

 

 

Thoughts? Opinions? Suggestions? 

Views: 19

Tags: barter, brewing, commune, community, cooking, do, greenies, high, if., it, More…localvore, organization, quality, services, spoiled, trade, what, yourself

Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on May 22, 2011 at 2:16pm

High quality things I enjoy making and that can be made in batches as well as single-household use. 

Some beers

Flavored Oils

Flavored vinegars

Marinades/Spice packets

-Meat/Veggie sprinkles

-Dips and soup flavorings

-Salad Dressings

Salsas

BBQ sauces

Guacamole

Herbal teas for drinking

Herbal 'teas' for bath-water conditioning

 

There are probably more. This is all I can think of off the top of my head right now. 

 

Here are some things I am going to be expanding into within the next few months:

Smoked meats. (We are setting up a hot and cold smoker. Everything from beer can chicken to Scottish Smoked Salmon in our custom made smoker. (I love being married to a mechanical engineer.) We will have this ready by summer.

Candles (not a huge priority, but I think it would be fun)

Essential Oils (probably at the same time I do candles.)

Vanilla (Not quite sure about this one. It might be after we move to a new location.)

Cheese (again, we'll see what my local options are)

We will also be lobster diving this summer, so I'll see what our limits are. 

 

 

I mean, there is a lot that can be done with a concept like this. 

 

On even the smallest, most intimate level, good friends or neighbors can coordinate distance-shopping trips. 

Like if I'm going to a specific shop in the city for fish or down to Monterey for the weekend to get my wetsuit fixed and pick up some artichokes, I can take orders for other people that want some 'chokes, too. 

The users could decide on all terms privately. As long as it is a barter system, I think it could be pretty cool. It's really about maximizing efficiency. Not just for the highest quality, most hand made type things, but for services and standard of living, too. How much better would life be if you could cut out doing even just a few errands you hate, leaving you more free time to do the things you really enjoy and can put real passion into? The more you like to do something, the better you are at it. That in turn affects quality...well...it's a positive cycle all while reducing a carbon footprints for everyone involved. 

 

 

 

Comment by T A A on May 22, 2011 at 7:02pm

In Quebec there was a certain bartering fashion a few years ago. But most laws in Canada regarding commerce include "trade". In the legal sense, there is no difference between trading for money or trading for other goods, they are both trades. So the trade clubs had to charge taxes, which was more hassle than it was worth, and eventually, the bartering clubs have gone out of fashion.

 

The new fashion is what could call a "locavore" store. These are little clubs where people pre-contract with local farmers to acquire locally produced food. The benefit is the purchasing is centralised, so we don't have to get to know each and every farmer by first name basis. But each item sold has "name and address" of producer, as well as production method, some conventional, some certified organic (which doesn't mean much nowadays) and some non-certified organics, which are usually more interesting and smaller businesses.

 

I'm planting a small garden this year, haven't done this in ages.

 

Regarding time required for running errands... It was estimated that transition from horse locomotion to car locomotion increased our transportation speed from 3km/h average to a whopping 4 km/h!!!  This "time" also takes into account time spent working to afford the car (purchase, insurance, maintenance) compared to total number of kilometres achieved. It's similar to the laundry machine conundrum... labour time spent simply manufacturing these machines (and parts) is much more than the time needed to hand wash laundry. In the end... they've increased our work load :(

Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on May 22, 2011 at 7:18pm

That's really cool. I'm totally onboard with the locavore movement. We do a lot of that already. I mean, we aren't 100% supportive. There are still staples we get from wherever is cheapest. But you know, it started with meat for me. 

While I do not value an animal's life on the same level that I would a human, I really only want to support businesses that raise their products in a way that is not uncomfortable for them. Our eggs come from the guys next door. I literally look at their chickens every day. I know if they are suffering or not. Our meat comes from places that feed their cows grass, not grains. I want to see the goddamned cows out in the fields nearby and know they are not shoved up in some nasty pen somewhere. I feel better as a person when I do this. Whether or not there is a huge economic difference in the long run, it makes me happy. I've found doing things that make me happy simply for the sake that they make me happy isn't a bad way to exist. I'm lucky enough to live in a place where this is mostly possible. 

The rice we buy comes from the fields that my grandfather tended when he was alive. California is actually a huge exporter of very fine rice, and that's a pretty big staple for us, so making that switch wasn't hard. Really, the worst offenders in our grocery budget is anything prepackaged or junk food. We try to keep those purchases limited, but I won't lie. Money is tight, so we rely on the nearby dollar store for crappy packaged noodles, condiments and a few odds and ends that aren't the best for us but we do buy just to make our lives easier. I've found some pretty good substitutes in gray areas such as dish washing soap (Pomolive!)  Hunt's pasta sauces, things that I admit are buys of desperation because let's face it. We live in a modern time. I want to make everything from scratch. I want to be part of the food process so I know it's food. But sometimes? Just sometimes it's easier to open a can of pasta sauce, toss in some fresh herbs from the garden and add some fresh chopped veggies + mince meat than it is to blanch and peel a million freaking tomatoes and cook it down all day to make sauce. Yes, every once in a while I do make huge batches to portion and freeze, but I can't really do that with EVERYTHING and work full time. I'd love to, but lets be serious. Moderation. All things in moderation. I'd love to get a pasta press and do my own pastas, but right now? Dollar store rigatoni tastes just fine. Cutting corners is ok as long as you admit that's what you are doing and why. If it saves you enough time to be worth it, then I sure as hell won't judge. 

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