Thursday, October 4, 2007

Seeing the Forest

You look at a problem, and look at it, and look at it.

You look at another problem, and look at it, and look at it.

And maybe 10 years later you suddenly see that the trees are all part of the same forest, and the solution to one challenge is also the solution to another challenge, and in putting them together in such a manner there is no longer a challenge, but an opportunity.

For example....

Ever since I got sheep and started buying feed for them, I've wrestled with the dilemma of what to do with the heavy brown paper feed sacks that accumulate. For one thing, I have to pay for every sack, and they aren't cheap...several dollars a piece. For another thing, it just drives me nuts to waste that many trees.

Sometimes, I buy bulk feed to prevent the accumulation of sacks. This is certainly the best solution, but various logistical and storage challenges have made it difficult or risky at times. And I do like to have feed sacks on hand for a number of things: trash bags, storage for various items, drop cloths, padding, etc. They're right up there with baling twine/wire on the list of "rigging" essentials. But like baling twine, either you don't have any or you have WAY too much for such uses.

Ever since I started making soap from the scraps of fat that the meat processing folks trim off of my lamb chops and legs of mutton, I've puzzled over some sort of sustainable packaging for it....

Now just by reading those two paragraphs one after the other, you, dear Reader, have doubtless already put two and two together and figured out that I could wrap soap in old feed sacks. How perfectly obvious! Especially to those of you who know my life-long love affair with the paper arts/crafts.

But soap happens in the garage, and feed sacks generally don't participate in that activity except as table coverings. And feed sacks live in the feed shed and don't hang out with the soapmaking on a daily basis. One is in the realm of "outside work". One is in the realm of "inside work". In a traditional agrarian social system, one is part of the "man's work" and the other is part of the "woman's work". So even though the same brain does both the "outside"/"man's" work and the "inside"/"woman's" work on this farm, the problems from those two roles didn't present themselves side by side until just now.

The really delightful added dimension to this discovery is that once this brainstorm began to catalyze, one great idea led to another. It took just a few minutes to figure out that not only could I wrap soap in cut-up feed sacks, I could run the wrappers through my inkjet printer and fill both sides of the labels with information on why we raise sheep and make "sheep soap"!

An initial challenge was cutting the sacks (3 heavy layers of kraft-type paper, even heavier than grocery-bag paper). But...yet another example of how wonderfully God has led me on a merry chase through so many diverse fields and occupations on my way to farming, to make sure I had the necessary skills...drawing on my fine-arts printmaking and commercial offset printing training and experience, I scouted out a long steel straight-edge and quickly, neatly tore the paper to the right size. Easier than cutting, and guarantees rustic, soft edges that look great and also won't cut unsuspecting fingers.

A whole new realm of farm by-product crafts awaits me in the towering stack of feed sacks, whenever I have time to take up some of my beloved book arts again.... First and foremost, I know what I'll use for cover stock for the little books of my writings that I've been working on....

A short scrap of handspun yarn left from some project or another, or a strip of fabric torn from an old garment, will complete the soap packaging.

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