Yearly Archives - 2020

A Way to Navigate the Rat Race

I know for so many people out there, work can sometimes feel a lot like a gerbil wheel, or a rat race, in which you wake up every morning and do the same recurring thing over and over and over again with no real sense of accomplishment or progress.  And for years that's done without a second thought until one day—10, 20, 30 years down the line—you wake up one morning and finally realize that all you’ve been doing this entire time is run around  in circles and, in so many ways, you're still in the same spot that you were when you first got started.

The Goal of the Rat Race
That's not to say there's no sense of purpose to it all.  If you stop to think about it, even the most monotonous of rat races do have a purpose.  What purpose is that?   I think the universal goal of the rat race is two-fold:  First, it’s to find the cheese.   That can represent a financial goal, a career advancement goal, a life achievement goal, or any other.  Whatever the incentive is, a person is usually racing to find that.  Second, assuming they’ve found the cheese they were after, the goal of the rat race is usually to find the nearest exit, whether you want to call that “retirement” or “achieving  a certain set of circumstances,” or something else, in order to use whatever remaining time there is in life to enjoy, to share with family, or to generously give to those less fortunate some of the cheese you worked so hard to get.

The Big Trap of the Rat Race
Unfortunately, despite having a general sense of purpose in their work, many lack a real sense of progress.  While they can smell and nearly taste the cheese that they're after, and can envision what the exit to the rat race will look like when they reach it, they never seem to be able to find either.  There are even some poor rats in the maze who never reach their goals and die before they’ve ever had a chance to live.

The fact of the matter is, especially in the modern world, work and career can become a lot like a rat race maze with its own labyrinth of wrong turns, dead ends, setbacks, and pitfalls.  It can be easy to get lost or stuck behind the cubicle walls and go years without making any headway, or discovering what the next step—or the next several steps—needs to be.

Well, if that describes you and you feel stuck in the maze of your work, I want to give you 3 helpful ways you might try navigating the daily twists and turns that all seem to look alike.  And, for what it’s worth, these are all principals I’ve adopted over the years that I think have made a real difference in my situation.

#1.  Learn from the older, wiser rats.
The first principal I think would serve you as you try to find your way through the maze is to learn as much as you can from the older, wiser rats who have been in the race a lot longer than you have.  If there’s one problem that’s common to every new generation, it’s the pride they have in thinking they know more than the generation that came before them.

Folks, if you really want to avoid the wrong turns, dead ends, setbacks, and pitfalls of a maze, how better to do so that than to get advanced warning from those who’ve already discovered where they are and can tell you what turns not to take?  Or, assuming there are any secret doors, shortcuts, or fast tracks in the maze, how better to find those then with the help of those who’ve already found them.

My first piece of advice to anyone wanting to make real progress in the rat race is to humble themselves and to find a respected mentor, or a few mentors, who either by their own success or failures can teach you what you need to know.  Ideally, you want to find someone who can direct you from both angles.  You want to find someone who is willing to reveal their own mistakes on the one hand, but who can also show how they’ve succeeded on the other hand, with the proof of actual cheese in hand, and a clear path of breadcrumbs leading to the exit.

Find a mentor, and humbly and sincerely learn from them.  If it’s not a direct relationship with a boss, or a parent, or a grandparent, or a friend, or a pastor, or some other professional, find an author who has written on whatever the subject is and read everything they can about it.

The key is to receive good counsel, that’s the first thing.

#2.  Help younger, inexperienced rats.
The second principal I’d recommend you get in the habit of applying is to be about helping the younger, inexperienced rats around you navigate the maze in the same way you’re wanting to be helped yourself.  It’s the golden rule.  “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” 

It’s not a dog-eat-dog world.  At least, it doesn’t need to be.  You should want others to succeed just as much as you want to succeed; and what better way to see them succeed then to help them succeed?

Have you made any mistakes in your career?  Have you discovered any important tips that have really helped you succeed?  Take the time to pass that knowledge down to the next generation, assuming they’re willing to learn.  Again, that’s always the challenge.  For learning to happen, someone has to be willing to teach and someone has to be willing to learn.  But, assuming you have that combination, it’s a wonderful thing to foster mentorships.

So, find someone eager to learn, and teach them.  Find someone not as far along as you are, and show them the tricks of the trade.  Show them the best ways to make the bosses happy, or the clients or customers happy.  When they mess up, encourage them with stories of how you’ve messed up a whole lot worse and what the best path is to make things right.  If they do a good job at something, let them know it so they’ll know to do it again.  On that note, if they mess up, assume first the burden is on you to do a better job teaching them.  If they do well, assume first that they succeeded in spite of your imperfections as a teacher and praise them.

The goal is to help them progress in work, though it’s worth mentioning that in helping them progress you’re also helping yourself progress as well.  How so?  Well, as any good teacher knows, in the process of teaching and in the process of preparing to teach, a teacher always learns more and solidifies what they know whenever they find ways of articulating it to others.

As a pastor especially I know I’ve discovered when you’re in the habit of giving advice to others, assuming your advice is good advice, your actually reminding yourself of things you’ve learned every time you share them and you keep yourself on the right path.  That goes a long way to helping you get to where you’re going.

#3.  Get an elevated perspective.
The third thing I’d say you’ve got to do to navigate the proverbial rat race is to get an elevated perspective as early as possible.  If you’ve ever been in a real maze before, whether that’s a corn maze in the farmer’s field or a hall of mirrors at the county fair, it always helps to get a glimpse from above, or to have a pre-charted map of where everything is.

If you can get a big-picture view of where you’re trying to get in life, you exponentially increase your chances of getting there.  If you don’t know where you’re trying to get.  If you haven’t defined for yourself what the “cheese” is, or what the “exit” looks like, the chances are pretty good you’re going to waste a lot of time going in circles and retracing your steps a few dozen times.

Imagine if you could pause for a moment and find something to climb onto to poke your head above the maze wall to see where you are.  Or, imagine finding a piece of paper on the floor with the following direction:  “Go straight for 20 steps—then turn left—then right—then right again—then straight—then left—and so forth.”  No doubt, that would completely change the game.

Well, you’ve got to do the same thing in life.  You’ve got to pause.  You’ve got to orient yourself and figure out where you are and where you want to get.  If you really want to help yourself, get a pen and paper and start scribbling it all down.  Write down your goals.  Write down what steps need to happen to get there.  Write down what obstacles are in the way preventing you from getting there.  Write down if you see any realistic path to get around those obstacles.  And then, take it one step at a time.

If you’re still not sure where you trying to get, may I suggest you first figure out where God wants you to get, and for those answers the Bible is a great place to look.  What does God want you to accomplish with your life.  Have you ever thought about that?  What relationships, what projects, what life’s work were you created to give your life to?  If you can figure that out, and the steps you should be taking to accomplish that, you’re already half of the way there.

Hopefully something I’ve said here is helpful.  If you feel lost in the trenches of our work, and it just seems like your going in circles with every passing week, month, and year that goes by, remember what I’ve said: Find someone who can point you in the right direction.  Take the time to point others in the right direction as best as you understand it.  And get a glimpse, as early as possible, of the big picture purpose and goals for your life.  All those things, in my opinion, will help you navigate the rat race.

Why Farmers Often Have Large Families

Have you ever noticed some of the big differences between urban & rural communities?  I’ll tell you, I’ve noticed a few. For example, all you need to do is look at a political map during an election cycle to see that, by and large, it's the cities and your more metropolitan areas that tend to lean liberal, while it’s those in more agricultural places that tend to lean conservative.  Or, the fact that city life is typically known for its more "fast-paced," "on-the-go" approach, while life in the country is known for its "slower-paced" and "its-a-good-thing-to-put-down-roots" perspective. There are several trends that differentiate city and country life.  Some time, I may circle back and explore further some of those interesting aspects, but one of the things I thought I'd address in this post is the trend of varying family sizes between urban and rural groups. It may be less the case today than it's been in the past, at least in the U.S. (here I’m writing this while we’re all still waiting for the results to come back from our latest 2020 census; so I'm not 100% sure what the numbers show currently), but, traditionally speaking, farmers and those in the rural community have had more members per household than those in the city, on average. Obviously, this point is based on statistics and doesn't reflect every family situation.  Not everyone in the country has a large family, just as it's true that not everyone who lives in the city has a small family.  But, proportionally and historically, the stereotype has been true. There was a report put out several years ago by the United Nations that was tracking these numbers, not just in the United States, but around the world.  The report stated:
"Agrarian societies have typically been characterized by high fertility…Broadly speaking, urban residence is associated with [lower fertility] and smaller [household sizes]… A recent United Nations report lists more than 100 countries and territories for which distributions of households by size were available…A recent summary of [the] data shows that for the developing countries, most of which have not reached high levels of urbanization, average household size is approximately 5.2 persons, compared with an over-all average of 3.5 persons for the more developed countries, most of which are highly urban.  Broadly speaking, then, average household size in the less urbanized countries tends to be approximately 50 per cent greater than in the more urbanized countries."

"Patterns of Urban and Rural Population Growth" United Nations Report, 1980

It’s important to clarify, which the report does, that what constitutes a "family" obviously differs from culture to culture, and that "household size" doesn't necessarily reflect "family size." But, "broadly speaking," it's evident agrarian societies have larger families.
The reasons why that trend rings true is somewhat complicated.  The report I looked at was around 185 pages long and touched on a lot of different factors.  I won’t bore you trying to unpack all of them.  Suffice it to say, a full explanation to the trends can’t be boiled down to a convenient formula. But, for the sake of this post, I will give you three factors I think are worth mentioning:

1.  The Rate of Reproduction in Rural Communities

The first, and maybe most obvious, reason why rural families tend to be larger than urban families is because rural couples evidently spend more time in the bedroom making babies. That may sound like an oversimplified reason, but, hey, if Occam’s Razor is true, and if the simplest explanation is likely the correct one, where there are more babies being born, perhaps, there is more reproduction happening.  I’m going to assume you’ve all heard the “birds and the bees” talk and already know that babies don’t come from storks.   They come from God’s good gift of sex.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  It’s simply the nature of God’s design.  And, evidently, it’s true in more ways than one that those in the country are more in tune with “nature” than those in the city. I understand things like contraception and abortion are also factors.  We’ll come back to those in a little bit.  But if you just think about the day-to-day logistics and patterns of farmers v. corporate executives, for example, which do you think spends more time at home with their wives?  Whether it’s net hours at home during the day or net hours during certain seasons out of the year, while both are hardworking, the nature of the farmer’s work gives him more flexible opportunities at home than the executive has, who is stuck at his desk at the office for more hours, weeks, and months out of the year than he’s able to spend with his own wife. I think that’s one reason newly married soldiers and public servants in the Old Testament were instructed to take a year-long sabbatical at home with their wives before reporting to their duties either on the battlefield or in the city.  Because, once they’d commuted off to work, there would no longer be a chance to see their wives for any meaningful time for the foreseeable future.  You see that in Deuteronomy 24:5.  It’s hard to have children when the husband is rarely home. I saw an article by Fox Business that reported that farmers do in fact stay a lot “busier” on the farm and at the farmhouse than those in other professions, according to a British survey. Out of the pool of 2,000 men and women surveyed, farmers reported having the most active marriages, followed by architects, followed by hairdressers.   Take that for what it’s worth.  I won’t read too much into the runners-up on the list, except to wonder how many of those architects and hairdressers ran their studios out of their home.  To quote the article:
“The lifestyle factors of our jobs such as flexibility of working hours and the environment…have an impact on all our lives [including] our sex lives.”

Stephanie Pagones, Oct. 9, 2019 “People working in this profession have the most sex” Fox Business

The point I’m trying to make is, there is a likely correlation between having time to make babies and babies being born.  Those in the rural community—farmers especially—are afforded such time.

2. The Benefit of Children in Rural Communities

A second reason why rural families tend to be larger than urban families, historically speaking, is because of the practical benefit children provide to those rural families. My wife sometimes gets stopped at the grocery store as she has our 5 kids in tow, and people often say, “I just don’t know how you do it.  We stopped at 2 kids, because 2 were enough to drive us crazy.  How do you manage 5?!” We know families with 7 or 8 kids, so to us 5 doesn’t even seem like a lot, but the questions still come.  Obviously, the produce isle at the Grocery Store isn’t the best place to explain the logistics of how large families work, so my wife usually just smiles and places the bananas in her cart.  But, if she had the time to sit down with the frantic mother of 2 who is ready to pull her hair out, what my wife would say to her is, “You know what, I don’t know how you do it without the helping hand of older siblings keeping an eye and an extra set of hands on the little ones freeing you to focus on what’s on the shopping list!” The truth of the matter is, in many ways, larger families are easier to manage than smaller families, especially smaller families that still have young children, because of the help older siblings provide in larger families, not just keeping an eye on the younger children but in all aspects of family life. Whether it’s mowing the yard, taking out the trash, or building that shed, a capable young man helping dad (or a few capable brothers tag teaming to help dad) makes all the difference.  Or having a capable young woman helping mom (or a few capable sisters tag teaming to help mom) prepare dinner, dusting the shelves, or lending a hand at the grocery store, again, makes all the difference. So has it been for generation after generation on the farm.  If you can imagine the benefit older siblings can offer while grocery shopping, just imagine the benefit they provide in managing the garden, or the barn, or the market.  In many ways, farm life is easier with a larger family.  On a farm, an extra child isn’t just another mouth to feed.  He or she is another set of hands to help mom and dad produce an even greater bounty for the family to enjoy. I admit, in less productive contexts, when an impoverished family has more kids than they’re able to take care of (requiring the taxpayer and the welfare state to fit the bill), yes, children can sometimes be viewed as a drain.  But, in productive contexts, the opposite is true.  Rather than being a drain, children become an asset.  Rather than being consumers depleting society’s resources, children become contributors helping to supply them. It also used to be true on farms, when households were multi-generational (you know, when grandma and grandpa lived on the property?), that the more kids you had the more stable your retirement.  Why?  Because there were more hands on deck to share the task of caring for grandma and grandpa.  It didn’t fall on the shoulders of one or two children, but care taking could be spread out over what eventually becomes multiple branches of extended families. So, having more kids provided a practical benefit, both short term and long term, to the families that had them.

3.  The Conservative Values of the Rural Community

A third and final reason I’ll share for why rural families tend to be larger than urban families is because of the old-fashioned values that were, and I think still are, held by so many in the rural community. When I look at the census data for urban v. rural households, there are a few interesting things that jump out to me: One is the increasing median age of those getting married in the city.  That is to say, those in urban areas are putting off marriage much later than those in the country do.  And, naturally, what happens as a result is the the window of time and fertility for women to have children is shortened, resulting in less children being born.  That makes sense. Closely related to that, I think, is the increasing number of women in the workforce now splitting their attention between work and home.  More and more families in the city are choosing not to have children so as to not allow children to interfere with their work.  Granted, the number of stay-at-home moms is close to the same in both the city and the country, except for that prime childbearing age of 20 to 35.   In other words, during that natural window of fertility, there are less women participating in the work force in rural areas.  No doubt, that affects the number of children being born. Not only that, but I mentioned earlier that contraception and abortion are also likely factors.  The degree to which access to these kinds of things are available is more concentrated in the city than it is in the country.  But, far more relevant than access to such things is the difference in overall attitude toward them. There is a fundamental difference in worldview, by and large, as relates to children and family between the two environments.  On the one hand, in the cities, there is a widely more liberal, progressive, feminist attitude that tends to place a stigma on having too many children, or on having children at inopportune times—referring to them as “unwanted pregnancies.”  As a result, there exists a societal push to prevent or outright abort, as the case may be, children from being born. On the other hand, in the rural culture, there is a widely more conservative, fundamental, faith-driven attitude that tends to embrace the gift of children in whatever time and quantity God chooses to give them.  Not only that, but the entire idea of aborting a pregnancy is understood to be murder for most conservatives—which I wholeheartedly agree with—while the idea of preventing a pregnancy by contraception is just as “contrary to nature” to many other conservatives. Such fundamental differences in worldview, understandably, has a huge effect on the size of families. Therefore, while we can all learn a lot by the number of red and blue ballots cast on election day between cities and the country, you know what?  We can also learn a lot by the number of red (or pink) and blue sippy cups that are sitting at a family’s dinner table. Again, to be clear, I’m just speaking in generalities.  Not all conservatives live in the country and not all liberals live in the city.  In the same way, not all conservatives have large families and not all liberals discourage having large families.  In fact, I know many God-fearing conservative evangelicals who don’t have any children, either because of circumstance or choice.  I also know many liberal feminist atheists out there who absolutely adore kids and who have more place settings at their table with kids eating at them than I have at my own.  So we have to be careful we don’t overgeneralize.  But, the census data does tell a story, just as the red and blue political map tells a story. If there’s a takeaway I’m trying to convey, I guess it’s to appreciate the longstanding tradition and values of the rural community in general in their giving attention to things like the priority of marriage, to the value and contribution of children, and to a fundamental belief in a biblical worldview that bears witness, in my opinion, against so much of the “social progress” (which I hesitate to call progress) happening in the secular world. I’ll end with a quote by Voddie Baucham:
“The size of our families has become a matter of income and convenience.  Our attitude toward children is, ‘A boy for me and a girl for you, then praise the Lord, we’re finally through!’  I am amazed at the number of people I meet who live in two-thousand-square-foot homes with two cars parked outside and argue that they can only ‘afford’ to have one or two children.  Amazing!  Our forebears successfully raised houses full of children in homes that we would now consider meager at best, but we can’t afford it.”

Voddie Baucham “Family Drive Faith”

Folks, children are a blessing from the Lord, not a burden.  As the psalmist says, "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!" (Psalms 127:4-5 )[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Cottage Food Laws in Arkansas | 2020 Edition

One of the things we had to learn about when we first got started homesteading were all the different rules and regulations pertaining to the things we can or cannot legally do, or the things we can or cannot legally sell, being a home-based business.

When we first started out, Amy and I had so many plans, so many ideas, and so many options in terms of things we had the ability to produce, and were confident we’d be successful in marketing and selling, only to have a wet blanket thrown on a lot of our ambitions when we finally saw all the red tape that our state laws apply in this area.

It was a big snap back to reality when we realized there are several rules to follow when it comes to selling eggs, meat, produce, and baked goods.  Sometime, I may comment on what some of Arkansas’ rules are for things like eggs, meat, and produce.  In this post, though, I simply want to address the law regarding what are generally known as “Cottage Foods.”  Simply defined, Cottage Foods are “food items produced in a person’s home.

We live in Arkansas, so if you live in a different state you need to look up what the laws are where you live.  While Arkansas isn’t the most restrictive state when it comes to Cottage Foods, I know it’s not the most accommodating either, so do your own research and keep a pulse on your own state legislature.

To be clear, I’m not a lawyer or a state official.  If you want the “final word” on anything on this subject, please contact the experts.  If you need specific questions answered, you can call the Arkansas Department of Health, or even the UofA Division of Agriculture.

I can share with you the basics of what I understand about Arkansas’ Cottage Food laws, as I’ve tried to familiarize myself with them.  I titled this with the description “2020 edition,” even though the most recent change to the law happened in 2019.  As far as I know, there hasn’t been any changes to the law since then.  But, still, I’m using the title 2020 because that’s the year I’m posting this, and because I want to give you an overview of the law up to the present day.

At the end of this post, I will share with you one interesting development that has come up in 2020 with the rise of COVID-19.  Though it isn’t an official change to the law, it is certanily a more flexible tone coming from one of the prominent voices on Cottage Food expectations in Arkansas.

The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1953
For an overview of Cottage Food laws in Arkansas, it may help to turn back the clock before 1953, when opportunities to sell homemade products looked a lot different.  At the time, there were far less restrictions than there are today.  Entrepreneurs were given a wide berth to do as they pleased.

Granted, in those days, opportunities for foodborne illnesses were also a lot more widespread.  Illnesses like Norovirus, Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and Clostridium botulism were all more commonplace when food makers could get away with making, preserving, transporting, and selling their food products any way they saw fit.

All of that was the case until Arkansas passed “Act 415” known as the “Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act” in 1953.  For the first time,  the Health Department was granted authority to license and inspect all food establishments—presumably including home-based food establishments.

This landmark law resulted in an immediate improvement in Arkansas’ public health and life expectancy rates.  In that sense, the new regulations were understandable and appreciated.  As a customer, you’re able to enjoy your meal a lot better knowing that what you’re eating is safe and is unlikely to kill you.

The negative side to it, though, in my view, is that whenever the state enforces safety, it inevitably strips away some freedom.  Benjamin Franklin and other founding fathers warned us about that.  While the 1953 food law did improve health and safety, it also made things a lot harder for entrepreneurs to do business, especially when many of the regulations were more precautionary than they are necessary.

Personally, I can see the need for certain standards and practices, though in a perfect world, or even in just a free world, my preference would be, rather than forcing these things, to find a better way to educate and equip consumers and producers, allowing them to make some of their own decisions in this area.  It makes me a little uncomfortable thinking we’ve created a “food police” who can tell us what we can or can’t eat.

Regardless of the pros and cons, Arkansas’ food act was established.

The Cottage Food Law of 2011
Years later, in 2011, the Arkansas Legislature eventually passed “Act 72,” which finally exempted “cottage food operations, farmers’ markets, and other similar food sale entities” from permit requirements.  This was a big relief to home business owners, because the act defined “cottage food operations” as any person who “produces food items from their home that aren’t potentially hazardous.”

The Cottage Food law was a big step in the state’s removal of a lot of the red tape it had placed over an entrepreneur’s home kitchen.  It wasn’t a total removal of the red tape, though, because the list of items it was permitted to make and sell had its limits.  The law restricted the list of qualifying food items to include:

(1) Bakery products;
(2) Candy;
(3) Fruit butter;
(4) Jams;
(5) Jellies; and
(6) Similar products specified in rules adopted by the Department of Health.

As I stated earlier, there are also rules and allowances for items such as Eggs, Meat, and Produce, as well as things like Maple Syrup, Sorghum, and Honey, etc.  I’m leaving all of those out of this discussion, though, because, while all of them are things that are home-produced, there are a few nuances that I feel put them in a slightly different category than the basic “Cottage Foods” list above.

Regarding the basic Cottage Food list, the limit is on food items that aren’t “potentially hazardous.”  How do you define what is “potentially hazardous”?  Well, for that you must go to the Department of Health, who define potentially hazardous foods, at least on a starting level, as any food that requires refrigeration or heat to remain safe.

That, of course, comes as a huge disappointment to us because, naturally, one of my wife’s specialties is her homemade pies, and cheesecakes, and all her goodies with cream cheese frosting, which all require time in the fridge.  She also has a knack for hot-and-ready meals like lasagnas, and chicken pot pies, and other homemade dinners that we know would be popular were it not for this rule.  So, unless you get a permit, you can’t sell things are time and temperature controlled, or what is commonly referred to “TCS” (time and temperature controlled for safety) items.

Related to TCS restrictions, you also can’t use artificial sugars in your canned jams and jellies because of how those artificial sugars are understood to react in room temperature storage.

Speaking of home canning, most of what you can at home probably doesn’t qualify as a Cottage Food, not because of TCS requirements but because of the essential conditions needed to kill bacteria in the canning process.  For those who aren’t familiar, it’s important to understand there are two general types of canning.  The first is what’s called “water bath canning,” which, through the process of simple boiling, is used to process and preserve your more naturally high in acid foods.

The other canning method is called “pressure canning,” which can reach higher temperatures, making it ideal for your lower-acid foods.  All of that is important because the higher the acid level, the easier it is to kill off any bacteria.  It also helps if the moisture content is low.  pH levels are also important.  Hence, why jams and jellies are allowed on the list, but why your canned soups and vegetables aren’t.  Arkansas also doesn’t allow acidifying agents, so if it’s not naturally high in acid, you can pretty much rule it out.

So, the list the law outlines is the list you’re limited to.

Other factors in the law include not only what you can sell, but how you label it and where you can sell it

In terms of labeling, every Cottage Food item you’re wanting to sell has to include on its packaging the following 4 things:

(1) the name of the product,
(2) the product’s ingredients,
(3) your name and address, and
(4) the words “this product is home produced” in a 10-point font.

The other thing to remember is you can’t make any nutritional, health-benefit claims on labeling.

In terms of locations you can sell your items, according to the old 2011 law, your options are either:

(1) from your home,
(2) a farmers’ market,
(3) a county fair, or
(4) a special event.

Similar to the limits placed on what you can sell, Arkansas has pretty strict limits you in where you can sell it.

Everything covered up to this point is a basic summary of Arkansas’ Cottage Food law, as it was enacted in 2011.  If it helps you remember, you can think of it in 3 simple parts: (1) the list of allowed items, (2) the labeling of those items, and (3) the locations they can be sold at.

The 2017 Amendment
A few years later, in 2017, an amendment to the 2011 law was eventually made under “Act 399,” which added one more thing to the list of products you’re allowed to sell.  That item was “Chocolate-covered fruit and berries that are not cut.”  Just remember, if you poke a stick or toothpick in those berries it’s no longer classified as “uncut.”

For berry growers and chocolate lovers out there, this amendment was great news.  Honestly, the addition is good news for all Cottage Food sellers, because even if your business doesn’t sell uncut fruits, to see a loosening of restrictions anywhere on the list is a good omen for all of us.  Hopefully, it’s a sign more things will eventually be added to the list someday.

Personally, Amy and I are holding out hope that things like salsas will one day be found worthy to sell from home.  My wife can make some good salsa.  And not just salsa, but there is so much more she’s good at making that would be wonderful to share with customers if only they were on the list.  I know many of you home business owners can relate to that.

The other thing the 2017 amendment did was add to the list of locations you’re allowed to sell at to include “online farmers markets.”  Here again, this is another great development, particularly, for farmers’ markets and those who sell through a farmer’s market since so many consumers do their shopping online these days.

For Cottage Food sellers who don’t sell through a Farmer’s Market, the amendment doesn’t change things much.  In fact, it probably makes things a little worse, because while you still have to conduct business by direct-sale-only methods, Farmers Markets can now attract a much larger customer base (perhaps even stealing away some of your customers) because of the convenience factor incentivizing them to shop online with them instead of the hassle of having to meet up in person with you.

On this point, I’ll go ahead and share with you how we’ve gotten creative, having a desire to tap into an online customer base without using a Farmer’s Market, while still complying with Arkansas law.   You have to get creative.  Again, as a disclaimer, I’m not a lawyer (even though I did speak with one before trying this), so don’t take my word for it.  You need to do your own research.

What we’ve done is gone ahead and created a catalog on our website of all our products, without using an online farmer’s market, but we’ve limited it strictly to marketing purposes, at least for our Cottage Food items.

Instead of allowing customers to complete their transactions on our site—(note: according to the law as it’s enforced by the ADH, the restriction is on “internet sales,” and my understanding of a “sale” is defined by a formal transaction)—our customers submit tentative “requests” for an item.  We then follow-up with them to arrange for the whole required “direct, in-person sale.”

Would it be easier to complete our sales online?  Absolutely it would.  Unfortunately, that’s not what the law allows us to do, so a “marketing/submit-your-interest” setup is the best we can come up with short of doing the online farmer’s market.  I imagine it’s no different than advertising on social media, letting people respond to that, and working out a time to meet up in person.

For those who can take advantage of the online farmer’s market, the 2017 amendment is great.

The 2019 Amendment
After 2017, the most recent amendment that we’ve seen is the 2019 amendment (under “Act 775”) which adds to the list still one more location Cottage Foods can be sold, namely “Pop-up shops.”

What is a pop-up shop?  According to the Act, a pop-up shop is:

 “…a cottage food production operation selling items in an unaffiliated established business for a limited time period with the consent of the owner of the unaffiliated established business and the owner or employee of the cottage food production operation being present at the point of sale.”

In other words, a “pop-up shop” is you selling your stuff on-location at some other business, with their permission, and with your business’ direct participation, for a limited time.

The 2019 addition of pop-up shops, in my opinion, is even greater news for Cottage Food sellers than the 2017 amendment, for the simple fact that it probably helps out a far larger number people than the other changes.  With pop-up shops, anyone can setup practically anywhere, assuming that location is its own brick-and-mortar business.  I’m assuming brick-and-mortar is what they mean by “established.”

The exact wording of the law is “unaffiliated established business.”   I take that to mean “any brick-and-mortar business that isn’t your own.”  Folks, that gives you a lot of options.

Sales at pop-up shops still have to be made directly.  You’re not selling through the business.  You’re just selling at the business.

The other thing you need to know is by running a pop-up shop, the law states you open your home kitchen up to inspection by the department of health, should they require it—which, in my opinion, is a bit of a contradiction to the original law exempting a Cottage Foods Production Operation from permit requirements in the first place.  Regardless, if you want to run a pop-up shop, you accept the strings that come along with it.

All of that is a broad overview of Arkansas’ Cottage Food law up to 2019.

I promised I’d share one other interesting development that has come up in 2020 with the rise of COVID-19, that being the shut down and limited access to many farmer’s markets throughout the state.  I imagine even for those who rely on the use of pop-up shops, fairs, other special events, or even setting up from their own home are experiencing a major hit in customer traffic.

I haven’t seen all the guidelines for special arrangements coming out from those in charge, but I did see an article put out by UofA’s Division of Agriculture that speaks to the issue.  In my opinion, it provides a much needed easing of conscience when it comes to trying to balance a strict “letter of the law” v. “spirit of the law” approach to compliance.

The article, written back in March, put it this way, :

“[Another] pressing issue may be access to a market or selling your items. Most communities have shut down their farmers’ markets or limited sales because of the prohibition on more than 10 people gathering. Right now is not the best time to invite customers to your home either.

If you feel compelled to continue your Cottage Food sales, consider using online advertising and create points of distribution for pick up with customers for a specific time.”

Kristin Higgins, Mar. 31, 2020
“Selling Cottage Food During A Pandemic”
Arkansas Division of Agriculture

Notice closely how that was worded: “consider using online advertising” (that goes back to the strategy I mentioned before) and “create points of distribution for pick up.”  I presume that to mean “…in addition to (or other than) your home, a farmers’ market, a county fair, a special event, or a pop-up shop.”  I presume that could be the use of a commuter lot, or your church parking lot, or a curb-side pickup option to make your direct-sales and handoffs.

Obviously, that’s not the law as it’s written.  I’m sure the article’s author knows that, but there’s an acknowledgement these are unusual times and there’s got to be some flexibility.  Just don’t push your luck.  We all still obey the law as closely as we can if we want to stay out of trouble.  COVID-19 will eventually go away.  When that happens, I’m hoping the right people can seek more permanent changes in the law to provide greater allowances.

My personal wish list would include more allowed items to sell and more allowed locations to sell them at.  In fact, I’d be happy if UofA’s “points-of-distribution” idea was the norm.  If nothing else, what I really would like is the ability to complete actual transactions online with my customers rather than just making arrangements for direct-sales, which is no guarantee of a sale since customer’s can often change their mind when they realize the hoops they have to jump through to pick up their item.

Oh, the joys of balancing public safety and personal freedom!

If there are any changes in Arkansas’ Cottage Food law, I’ll try to put out an update

CS Lewis on Being Gracious when Socialists Take Power

I try not to be very political online.  That’s the honest truth, and it's not because I don't have an opinion on the subject, but because I don't find online debating (which usually is the result of sharing your views with the world) particularly fruitful or constructive in most cases. Personally, I like to reserve those discussions for in-person conversations with folks who I can interact with in real-time, and who can hear my tone and I can share my heart with on an issue, and vice versa.  Yet, I know many people online who I don't necessarily have opportunity to meet up with in person who I'm seeing react to the current political landscape, and our country’s continuing shift in a more liberal direction, with expressions of sincere concern. As a conservative evangelical, I share their sentiments.  I’m also unnerved by the proposed agenda of those on the political left, and even more unnerved by the proposed agenda of those on the far political left.  It's not a direction I want the country to go in, especially not for the future of my children. What I want to do in this post is to offer a word not just to counter potential discouragement with encouragement, but a word to try and help counter your anxiety with action.  Rather than us ringing our hands at all the "what ifs" of an increasingly socialist America, what can we be doing practically on an individual level, or on a family level, in the event our country does move further in a socialist and secular direction? Obviously, when it comes to the future, none of us ultimately know how things will turn out.  Even so, the past can sometimes be a good indicator of the future, especially as a society tries to repeat things that have already been tried before.  The example I'm thinking of is the time when conservatives in Britain and the great Winston Churchill, nearing the end of World War II, lost their country’s general election to Clement Attlee and the liberal, socialist-leaning, Labor Party. You may remember from 9th grade history class that in the wake of World War II, Europe was completely shell-shocked.  Its economy was hurting; its infrastructure battered; its supply chain interrupted; and its population ready to move on.
Exactly what nations like Britain would be rebuilt into was the pressing question.  As it turned out, a socialist vision of a national welfare state in which the Government would lead the charge in all aspects of the nation's recovery ended up being a very attractive option for voters.  The Labor Party campaigned on the promise of providing better controls on food rationing, and the offer of state-funded programs and services including healthcare, childcare, education, housing, unemployment and disability benefits, supplemental retirement pensions, etc.  Basically, their campaign promise was for government to  take care of its citizens literally from "the cradle to the grave." All the while, Winston Churchill and the conservatives ran on more of a "for King and country" platform.  Churchhill’s attitude was: "I know we’re struggling right now and our country is tired, but we’ve got to button up this war.  We’ve got to keep pushing back against the overreach of bloodthirsty dictators. We've stopped Hitler's Nazi Germany.  To some degree, we've kept Stalin and the Soviet Union in check with the Grand Alliance.  Let’s now hammer the remaining nails in Japan's Imperial coffin."(*Not An Actual Quote) As I’ve already mentioned, the British people were tired of all the waring, so Attlee's Labor Party took power and started implementing everything it had promised.  By the time it was all said and done, a lot of Britain’s were helped by the new social programs. The only problem with all of the Labor party’s new government programs was they had to be paid for somehow—that took the form of increased taxes.  But, of course, if the private sector and a free market haven't been allowed to do its thing, which at the time they hadn’t, the people could hardly be expected to have the money needed to pay those taxes.  So, back and forth the political pendulum swung. Not long after the Labor Party opened the door to their welfare state, Winston Churchill was elected again to a second term advocating for a more “traditional and free” Britain, as opposed to a socialist and dependent Britain. The point is, the Labor Party’s socialist dream wasn't all a bed of roses.  In fact, for many of Britain's citizens, the government's controls on things like the rationing of food is something that got old quickly, especially since the war was over.  Rationing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in peacetime. Interestingly enough, one of those British citizens who grew weary of the rationing was none other than C.S. Lewis, one of the great Christian writers and apologists of the 20th century. Just to get it out on the table, Lewis was also the kind of guy who tried to stay out of politics.  In fact, the story is told when Churchill was elected for a second term in 1951, he was invited by the Office of the Prime Minister to receive honors, but he declined the invitation, explaining:
“I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour will be highly agreeable…[However] there are…knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there. I am sure the Prime Minister will understand my reason, and that my gratitude is and will be none the less cordial."

C.S. Lewis, Dec. 14, 1951 “Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy,” p. 147

So, Lewis wasn't a political guy, and he didn't want to be known as a political guy.  He was a theologian, and his loyalties were first and foremost to the Lord and his kingdom, as appreciative to Churchill and the conservative party as he was.  With that said, Lewis did sometimes reference politics in his letters back and forth with his fan base in America.  On several occasions he mentioned the rationing happening in Britain. It was the pattern of many generous Americans to send gift packages across the pond to the people of Britain that included items and products that were simply too expensive to buy, or were outright unavailable to buy, in Britain’s socialist economy.  Being a world renown author, C.S. Lewis was blessed to have several American fans who would regularly send him such care packages. In a thank you letter to a Ms. Vera Matthews, Lewis once explained some of the things he found most helpful to receive in the mail:
“It is difficult to find any words in which to acknowledge your continued kindness…In sending to those behind Mr. Attlee's Iron Curtain, you can never go wrong with meat, tea, and soap - soap for washing clothes that is; why it should be so I can't imagine, but [bathroom] soap is never as scarce as the other kind."

C.S. Lewis, November 24, 1947 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 812

In a letter he wrote to a Mr. Warfield Firor, Lewis expressed:
"I am completely at a loss when it comes to thanking you for your last parcel…A ham such as you sent lifts me up into our millionaire class.  Such a thing couldn't be got on this side unless one was very deep in the Black Market…And as for the cheese, I found I'd almost forgotten what real cheese tastes like." "I and all my friends are very deeply grateful; you have given an amount of pleasure which you, in your happier country, cannot realize."

C.S. Lewis, October 1, 1947 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 806

Not long after that, in a second letter to Mr. Firor, Lewis wrote:
"[When I thanked] you for your grand present of the ham, that letter was written before tasting it; and now having done so, I feel that common decency demands further and heartier thanks." "The fate of the ham was this: we have a small informal literary club which meets…every Thursday for beer and talk, and - in happier times - for dinner.  And last night, having your ham to dine off, we had a meal which eight members attended…the college kitchen supplied soup, fish and a savoury: and we had a delightful evening.  This by English standards is a banquet rarely met with, and all agreed that they hadn't eaten such a dinner for five years or more."

C.S. Lewis, March 12, 1948 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 838

At the end of his March 12 letter, Lewis included a list of those who attended the rare dinner party, and I was tickled to see included another famous author we've all heard of who enjoyed Mr. Firor's ham and cheese gift, namely J.R.R. Tolkein. Then there was the generous gifts of a Mr. Edward Allen.  Lewis thanked him writing,
"Thank you very heartily for not one, but two parcels: one containing stationary, and the other, which is so heavy I can hardly lift it, containing food.  The latter I have not yet opened, but we are licking our lips in anticipation of investigating it later in the day."

C.S. Lewis, March 29, 1948 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 846

Here's another one:
"As I contemplate the label of your splendid parcel of 10th April - 'Crisco, beef, ham, and so forth,' six lines of it, I fall, at least in mind, into the sin of Gluttony!..."

C.S. Lewis, May 3, 1948 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 852

Just one more:
"Once more I have to send you my inadequate, but very sincere thanks, not only for the 'tuxedo,' but for the impending food parcel…The extent to which your folk have come to our rescue is amazing, and moving; I knew in a general way of course that very large quantities of gift food, clothing etc. were coming into Britain, but I was none the less surprised to read in a recent debate in the House of Lords that every household in the kingdom benefits by American aid…and has done so for the past two years.  You may well be proud of yourselves."

C.S. Lewis, May 29, 1948 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 854

The point of all these letters, and the point I'm trying to get across in quoting them, is the example of generosity that was extended to those affected by hard times (including hard times arguably complicated by a socialist  government), by those less affected by it.  For struggling Britain's in 1945 and thereabouts, that was the generosity of free and loving Americans  who were more safely and stably positioned on the other side of the Atlantic to offer assistance. Fast-forward to modern times—now America itself appears to be going down a more socialist road, and the question on a lot of people's minds is what can we expect (and not just 'expect,' but what can we 'do') in anticipation of walking in Europe’s footsteps? I'll tell you, one of the things we can do is plan to be generous! In other words, don’t expect the government to care for people.  Let the Church and let everyday Good Samaritans help care for people.  It's not the job of Uncle Sam to meet everybody's needs.  If a person can't care for themselves, let the Body of Christ step up and do what the Body of Christ is uniquely commissioned to do.  Whether that's feeding the hungry, or teaching kids to read, or giving somebody work, or keeping an eye on an elderly neighbor – whatever the need  – before expecting government to meet that need, consider how you can meet the need yourself. Obviously, it makes it difficult to meet others needs when you yourself are apart of the group who has the needs.  But assuming you're fortunate enough to be removed from a certain hardship, or assuming it's in your ability to remove yourself from a certain hardship, be a Ms. Matthews”, or a “Mr. Firor”, or a “Mr. Edwards” in your sphere of influence and be about sending care packages to others. My advice to all those reading this, regardless of what direction our country goes in, is to create an ocean of separation between you and dependency on the welfare state.  Instead of relying on government to provide your healthcare, your child care, your education, your housing, your income in seasons of unemployment or retirement, determine to meet as many of those needs yourself, or with the help of your family, your friends, or your church first. If socialism is in our future, as many on the left desire it to be, one of the best practical things you can do is to create a hedge of independence, as much as you're able, from that welfare system.  The less you are dependent on government the more you're in a position to help others who have no other choice but to depend on government. Can socialism help people?  Sure it can!  Just understand it can also make people dependent, and in making people dependent, people are left miserable.   Can you in your greater independence help everybody?  Of course not!  But, those you do help will truly be helped.  Not by giving them hand-outs, but by giving them a hand up.  Or, in the words of Winston Churchill
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings.  The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

Winston Churchill, Oct. 22, 1945 Speech Delivered to the House of Commons

As much as it depends on you, learn to live independently, and in your independence, learn to live generously.  I'll end with the following quote by C.S. Lewis, again writing to one of his generous American friends.  This one is dated sometime after the Labor Party lost their own reelection bid bringing Churchill and the conservatives back to power.  Lewis writes to his friend,
"I’m afraid it would be sheer dishonesty to pretend that we now have any kitchen needs; this [conservative] government has done a magnificent job in getting us on our feet again, and a few weeks back, we solemnly burnt our Ration Books. Everything is now ‘off ration,’ and though at first of course, prices went up with a rush, they are now dropping. But cheer up, if our friends the Socialists get back into power, you will be able to exercise your unfailing kindness once more by supplying us, not with little luxuries, but with the necessities of life!"

C.S. Lewis, Sept. 25, 1954 “Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy,” p. 509

The takeaway is “be ready, faithful Christian.”  “Be ready, Good Samaritan.”  No doubt, America's political pendulum will continue to swing back and forth, and a socialist, progressive agenda will eventually be pushed to the forefront.  When that happens, prepare to be generous.  Show the government they don’t have to tax you and your neighbors more to care for the welfare of others.  You’re capable of helping people just fine on your own.  Just be sure you do so.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

What I Learned About Small Business from a Ferengi Bartender

When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows on TV was “Star Trek.”

It didn’t matter what series it was, I loved them all—The Next Generation—Deep Space Nine—Voyager—I even enjoyed the old Original Series from the 1960s with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest.

Until I went off to College and found slightly more important things to occupy my time, I was a big fan.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I wasn’t just a fan, I was an all-out Trekkie with the whole VHS movie collection, action figures, board games, and tech manuals.  Yes, I was that kid who studied how transporters theoretically worked.

On a few occasions, my mom was gracious enough to drive me and some of my friends to a few Conventions whenever they came to Little Rock.  I had the chance to meet William Shatner (Captain Kirk), Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troy), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar), and probably a few others.  I tell you, I was a total geek!

Since childhood, I’ve become a lot more cynical of shows like Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction genres.  That’s probably due to several different reasons.  One of the things that started bothering me as I grew up (including as a Christian), is all the secular ethics and humanist ideology that’s woven into the Star Trek franchise.  I won’t go into all of that, but there’s plenty to take issue with.  For the most part, though, I have good memories from watching the show, if for no other reason than it was an entertaining story.  It was also a thought-provoking story that challenged me to think.

For example, one of the things that got me thinking was the show’s apparent critique of ideas like capitalism and free enterprise, in which wealth and progress are the right of private owners to pursue at their own risk and their own reward.  In the Star Trek universe, that’s all considered obsolete to the morally-superior, socially-evolved “Federation” that’s achieved a post-scarcity world in which you can replicate whatever you need, making the need for money no longer an issue.  In the words of Captain Picard,

“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives.  We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

That statement reflects the view of most of, if not all, the protagonist Star Fleet heroes.

In contrast to that, however, are societies not yet as evolved.  There are alien races that still have a long way to go to reach the Federation’s progressive standard, such as the ultra-capitalist “Ferengi.”  The Ferengi are the big eared, big nosed caricature (much like the Dwarves of Middle Earth) that represent the classic Jewish, money-loving, wealth-building stereotype.

If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you know the Ferengi are the ones depicted as constantly chasing after the Almighty Dollar, or the Almighty bar of gold pressed latinum.  They’re also often depicted as disparaging of women and ruled by an antiquated list of 285 commandments, or “Rules of Acquisition,” directing them in how to achieve the goal of their greed and self-interest.  Again, that’s an apparent parody of Judaism with its own 613 Commands of the Torah, and the Bible’s alleged views of racial elitism and male chauvinism.

I find it interesting how the show’s creators evidently saw a cross-over between capitalism and Judeo-Christian beliefs, but I also think their caricature is totally unfair.  Granted, if a caricature is meant to be an exaggeration of how things are in their extreme, I admit, there is a danger for the capitalist business owner, or the Bible touting disciple, to become like the Ferengi.

But listen, like the Pharisees of the Bible or the Tycoons on Wall Street, while we want to be careful not to become radical versions, I think there’s plenty to admire in the fundamentals that such groups live by.  Even in the loathed Ferengi, I personally have found a lot to admire.  You’ve got to peel back plenty of layers and discard all the ways they get it wrong, but foundationally, I think I’m actually a Ferengi at heart.  What do I mean by that?

Well, for starters, I’m on board with the idea of personal responsibility, taking risk, and making a living for yourself in the universe. I don’t buy in to the socialist thinking of the Federation that places the expectation on the whole society to put food on my table.  No, I place the expectation on my own shoulders to put food on my table.  Sure, there’s got to be some mutual dependence on society, but that can’t be a total dependence on society.  Personal responsibility is a good thing.

With that in mind, I actually have more respect for characters like Quark, who is the Ferengi Bartender on the Deep Space Nine series, who manages his own accounts and serves real food to his customers, than I have respect for all the lemmings in matching uniforms who are stuck eating artificial food and must rely on Chief O’Brian to keep the replicator going.

I can appreciate Quark’s entrepreneurial, self-reliant spirit.

I also happen to have a lot of respect for the Ferengi idea that husbands and fathers are naturally positioned to provide for their families in the workplace, and that wives and mothers are naturally positioned to manage the home.

Again, using the Quark character as an example, I that it’s great that he’s committed to supporting his mother back home with the proceeds he makes from his bar.  That happens to be one of the sub-plots of the show.  Quark loves his “Moogie,” as he calls his mom, and would rather he work than her, so that she is free to focus on the home.

Obviously, I’m against the extreme of such thinking in which women are denied the right to work altogether and are viewed simply as men’s servants both in the kitchen and the bedroom.  I’m also opposed to the belief that men have no responsibility on the domestic side of life in caring for the kids, or in keeping up with general house chores.

But, offering no apology, I am a complementarian in regard to my belief that men and women are different, and are gifted in different ways, and are responsible to different degrees.  That’s not to say our ladies shouldn’t be working, but it is to say I think our guys should be putting on “the pants,” rolling up their sleeves, and getting to work all the more as the primary bread winner for their families.  Whether that’s working for someone else, or being self-employed, I think young men especially need to hear the call to turn off their star ship video games, come out from their parent’s basements, and strike out in life and start making a living.

The other thing I’ll say about my respect for Ferengi characters like Quark is their commitment to a set of established “values.”  If you watch the show, you’ll hear Quark constantly quoting his memorized Rules of Acquisition as a way of guiding all of his business decisions.  The way he runs his bar is anything but careless. Rather, every strip of latinum is managed, and every business opportunity is approached, by a prescribed set up principals.  Again, he’s always quoting these things.  Here are some of my favorite:

  • #3—“Never pay more for an acquisition than you have to.”
  • #8—“Small print leads to large risk. ”
  • #19—“Satisfaction is not guaranteed. ”
  • #57—“Good customers are as rare as latinum—treasure them. ”
  • #141—“Only fools pay retail. ”
  • #194—“It's always good business to know about new customers before they walk in the door. ”
  • #214—“Never begin a negotiation on an empty stomach. ”
  • #218—“Always know what you're buying. ”

In my opinion, all of that is good business advice. Now, to be fair (and any real Star Trek fan will be quick to point out), there are plenty of other Rules of Acquisition that I didn’t list that are totally inappropriate and anything but good advice.  But, hopefully, you see the point I’m trying to make.  Making decisions is a lot easier when you have something guiding you.

I think every business owner would do well to have a list of Core Values that governs it.  Rather than just operating aimlessly in whatever industry, it’s a good thing to have some direction.  Personally, I think the Bible provides a wonderful set of values to live by. Just be sure you’re following those as God intended, and not some radical version of it.

As someone who’s started his own small business with the homestead, I am trying to be “a good Ferengi” in how I take responsibility for our work, how my wife and I complement each other in that work, and how we try to honor our own guiding principles in Scripture.

In that way, I tip my hat to Quark, the bartender on Star Trek.  And if visiting his bar, I’d order a  non-replicated sandwich and commend him for his efforts as a small business owner.  I’d then give him the Gospel and share with him the good news that a more rewarding Master to serve isn’t latinum, but the Lord, and a more rewarding motive to live by isn’t greed, but to be gracious to others.  Perhaps, in time, assuming he was willing to get rid of his gambling table and put more clothes on his Dabo girls, I might even offer to make him a homestead partner.

Special Needs and Routines on the Homestead

Our son Isaac has Down syndrome and our farm belongs to him as much as it belongs to anyone in our family.  All the chores, the sores, and rewards are just as much his to share and take pride in as it is any of ours.

As Special Needs parents, one of the things we try to do is spread awareness and be an advocate for our son.  Part of that means, we give a great deal of attention to equipping him with every advantage and resource he needs to overcome the unique challenges he faces.  But, truly, it is more than that.

What we’re also spreading awareness of, and trying to advocate for, is not just our son’s special needs, but just as importantly his special gifting.  In other words, our attention as Special Needs Parents isn’t just on our sons’ disability as much as it’s on his abilities.

Our son’s identity as a person consists of a lot more than his Down syndrome.  Yes, his Down syndrome is part of it.  But, I can tell you, he’s definitely his own character, and has his own personality, and his own interests, and is discovering his own niche in the world.

That’s what we want to see.  Whether it’s at church, school, outside activities, or, Lord willing, one day in some kind of work context, we want Isaac to enjoy the same experiences and to have some of the same opportunities as his siblings will get to have.

But before we expect to see that level of inclusion for him outside the home, we want to see it happening in and around the home first.  Before any child can become a valued and contributing member of society, guess what, they’ve got to first learn to become a valued and contributing member of the family.

In my opinion, the home is the training ground, designed by God, to lay the foundations of character and general life skills that are needed to prepare one for the real world.  The foundation of a child’s education isn’t reading, writing, and arithmetic, as important as those things are.  The foundation of a child’s education is the formation of good habits and a strong character that prepares them for those other subjects of learning.

I appreciate the following quotes by Charlotte Mason who was a respected educator in the 1800’s who had a lot to say on this subject:

“The formation of habits is education, and education is the formation of habits.”

Charlotte Mason, "Home Education"

“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.”

Charlotte Mason, "The Original Home School Series"


In other words, a really good solution to avoid having to handhold and spoon-feed your kids as they grow into adulthood is to teach them to be independent and self-managing in their own established routines.

We’ve found as a family that one of the best places  to teach our kids (including Isaac) the kind of daily habits and routines that foster independence is on a farm.  If you think about it, what better environment is there to establish routines than on a farm, with all its chores, and planting schedules, and milking times, and putting up the animals before nightfall, and all the rest.  Farm-life is a great catalyst for teaching daily responsibility.

I once heard Bob Doman, the Director of the National Association of Childhood Development (NACD), an organization that helps out a lot of Special Needs families, say:

“In general…the more [chores a child has] the better.  If I had my druthers I’d try to raise every child on a farm or a ranch where there are lots and lots of chores to be done…The job we have as parents is to raise our children so they are happy, successful adults…When you give your child chores, you’re giving them responsibility…I see kids, as they get more and more chores, become more and more mature, more self-confident, [and more capable].  Chores are wonderful.  I would encourage parents to structure and schedule as many chores as possible.”

- NACD Video, "Should My Child Do Chores?"

I also like what Dennis McGuire, who has done great work for the Adult Down Syndrome Center in Chicago, has said speaking on the importance of habits and routines, or what he simply described in one of his articles as established “grooves.”

“There are numerous advantages to grooves. They give an important sense of order and structure to peoples’ lives. They also help persons, who process things more slowly in a fast-moving world, have some control over their lives. Routines help to organize and manage daily living tasks which increase independence. Once an activity is learned and becomes part of a daily routine, there is rarely a need for “prompting” or supervision from others.   The ability to follow routines at set times each day can be of great benefit.”

Dennis McGuire, "The Groove"


Special Needs or not, learning to live with a sense of structure and order can make all the difference in a person’s development.  In the case of our son Isaac, we’re seeing that ring true.

Along side his brother and sister, Isaac helps out with the animals, he helps in the garden, he helps stack wood, he helps check for eggs, he helps dig posts, and set the table, and fold laundry and put away the dishes, and on we could go.   In all these examples, and many more we could mention, he is learning independence.

Of course, our kids do have plenty of  time to play as well.  Playing is just as  important a part of development as chores are.  But don’t underestimate the benefit of consistent, daily responsibility.  For us, that’s out on a farm, but whatever your context, include your child and teach them to be more independent.

Getting Ahead Financially Using the Science of a Rain Barrel

You know how rain barrel systems work, right?

You start with a barrel, typically a 55-gallon drum.  You could go smaller with the 30-gallon size, or larger with one of the big tanks.  We've got a 1500-gallon tank on our homestead which we’ve used to collect water in over the years.  It's now been converted into an animal shelter.  But whatever size barrel you choose, the important thing is that it's watertight and made to hold large volumes of water.

You then hook the barrel up to whatever rain collection source you've MacGyvered.  For most people that’s going to be the gutters on their house. Whenever it rains, your barrel fills up for you to use for whatever future need you have.

If you put a good valve on your barrel, you can use it to water your garden, you can use it to supply water to your animals, or, when we were using our 1500-gallon tank before we hooked up to our well, we used the rain water for potable household use with the help of a couple filters.

It's a pretty simple, pretty common, pretty reliable system.  A lot of people out there use rain barrels.

Well, guess what?  If you can wrap your mind around how a rain barrel system works, you can wrap your mind around getting ahead financially.  The same principles apply.  Except, instead of storing up a water surplus, what you’re doing is storing up a budget surplus, which, like the water barrel, can get you not just to the next time it “rains” (i.e. your next payday), but, ideally, if managed well, can get you a lot further down the road than that.  So much so, in fact, that if you had to you could even skip a couple of those income periods and be just fine because of the financial “rainy-day fund” you’ve stored in advance.

I think it helps if you think about your finances in three parts, at least in respect to the idea of getting ahead:

  1. Determine What Size Barrel You Need.

I’m convinced a lot of people have trouble making progress in their finances because they've never given sufficient thought to this question.  They've never defined, and they've certainly never calculated, what their needs actually are.  And, understand, when I use the word "needs," I don’t mean to put that contrast to a person’s “wants.”  There is a difference between needs and wants, but here I’m just lumping them together because I understand, realistically, life is more than just survival.

Another way to put it is, you've got to start by determining in hard numbers what “standard of living” (encompassing both needs and wants) that you envision your family operating on.  Is it going to be a 55-gallon drum, or a 1500-gallon drum?  Do you need a net-cash flow of $40,000 a year or $140,000 a year? A lot of that depends on the family. Some families can get by with a lot less than others.

On this point, I'll let you in on a little secret.  One reason a lot of people feel they can never get ahead financially isn’t because they've underestimated their barrel size but because they've overestimated it.  Don't get me wrong, you can easily underestimate what your family needs and settle with bringing in a lot less than you really should be.  But, there are a lot of people out there ambitious to bring in a lot more than they really need to because they’ve chosen a standard of living  unnecessarily and unsustainably higher than it needs to be.

Many people choose to have a bigger and more expensive house than they need.  They choose to drive the newer model car and accept the normalcy of car payments.  They choose to eat out on a regular basis.  They choose to furnish their home with expensive Pottery Barn décor and flat screen TVs.  They choose a lot of the amenities, comforts, and conveniences that are just luxuries they could honestly do without.  As a result, they size up their barrel so large that it requires a lot of work to keep it filled.  They then complain they can never get ahead because getting ahead for them means  being able to afford new forms of pampering.

I've found the winning strategy that would serve a lot of families well is to select a more modest standard of living that doesn't require such a large cash flow, which makes filling and maintaining the barrel a lot easier.

Of course, it's not just choosing a practical standard of living, but it's also estimating those extra “special needs costs” that inevitably come up in life.  I’m talking about those special emergency, special savings needs that every family has, from unknown medical needs, to kid’s college needs, to retirement planning needs.

You've got to think about all those numbers.  Every family will look different.  Obviously, the further out your planning the more your numbers will be approximations, but the point is you’ve got to pick the right size barrel.  So, get a piece of paper and calculator and map it all out in hard numbers.  Yes, it takes some metal energy.  Yes, it involves math.  But, listen, if you want a handle on your finances, you’ve got to run the numbers and size up your barrel.

  1. Tap into a Suitable Stream of Income.

If you're working with a rain barrel, what’s the best way to fill it up?  You've got to connect to a good water source.  If you’re working with finances, you’ve got to connect to a good income source.

What qualifies as a good income source?  I would say two things: (1) the reliability of that source, and (2) the volume potential of that source.

In terms of the reliability of your income, by that I just mean, do you have a steady job?  Are you working for a stable business, even if that business is your own?

I’ve met people who are the “holding out for management type,” or the “I’d rather be my own boss type,” who seem to be content just sitting on their backside waiting for the skies to open to pour forth blessings freely into their lap.  If that’s you, you can certainly sit on your porch and wait for the big rain to come, but just understand you could be waiting a while.

Rather, it may be a better idea to start collecting gradually, but with the guarantee of the light rains that come and the regular morning dew that you can count on.  It may take longer to fill your barrel, but you will eventually fill your barrel if you learn to be consistent.  Honestly, if you don’t learn to discipline yourself with a lower income, it won’t do you any good when you do earn a higher income since you won’t know what to do with it.

Then, once you have learned the importance of steady reliability, it’s not a bad thing to focus on the volume of your income, because while you don’t have to have a hard rain to fill the barrel, a hard rain does speed up the process.  Thinking about how much you're earning, and how you could be earning more in less time, is a valid thing to consider.

How can you make more money in less time?  The way I see it you have two options, and there’s nothing that says you can’t try doing both of these things at the same time:  (1) Deliberately position yourself in the path of higher earnings (i.e. pursue a raise), and/or (2) add a second or even third source of income to what you already have (i.e. get an additional job).

In terms of pursuing a raise, my best advice is not just to wishfully expect a raise, but to take the initiative upon yourself to stand a little higher, or to stretch a little further in your work, to warrant a raise.  Don't expect your bosses, or your customers or client if your self-employed, to just divert funds to you for no reason.  You need to take the steps to make yourself more valuable.  The more you put yourself where the water is most likely to fall, the more you're going to collect.  Set up shop where the rain falls. Don’t expect the rain to come to you.

In terms of finding that second or third source of income, that’s as simple as working an extra part-time job or side gig.  Hook up to as many different gutters as you can feasibly hook up to.  I say “feasibly,” because you can only stretch yourself so far.  Don’t overdo it.  If you're going to work multiple jobs, I'd encourage you to do so only as long as it takes to accomplish whatever “getting ahead” you’re trying to accomplish.  Don’t assume that the extra money is always worth the extra time.

Ideally, if you’re trying to bring in additional streams of income, what you want to do is get to the point where some of those streams turn into a passive income.

What is a passive income?  A passive income is one that brings in an income somewhat automatically and works independently of you having to clock the time.  I mean, there is time involved, but most of it is automated.

What are examples of a passive income?  Rental property, investment dividends, the sale of certain products or commodities, etc..  There are lots of different things that can generate low time-required, passive incomes.  Just stay away from pyramid schemes out-there.  Those drive me crazy.  But options exist, if you can just tap into the right ones.

So, tapping into suitable streams of income is key.

  1. Plug as many holes in your barrel as possible.

The best time to do this is when you're young, before you ever get started, when you're first picking out what size barrel you want for your life.  Pick a barrel (standard of living) that doesn't leak much.  Pick a barrel that has the best quality valve you can have that you can control how much you allow to flow out of your possession.

Even the smallest drip, or the smallest financial waste, if left unattended, will eventually drain the barrel.  Ideally, you already know that and have taken steps to avoid the leaking before the leaking ever happens.   My guess is, though, for a lot of people out there, they weren’t careful in what barrel they chose and their earnings are gushing out as fast as it’s coming in.  If that describes your finances, you will never get ahead.

You've got to plug the holes. You’ve got to identify where all the waste is happening and fix it.

I'm convinced one of the biggest sources of waste in a family's finances is the amount of interest they spend on cars, credit cards, and the dreaded 30-year mortgage.  If you've still got your calculator out, just add up how much you're paying the bank in interest alone from all that you're borrowing, and think about how your life would be different if, instead of paying the bank, the same amount was being saved or invested.

Interest is usually one of the biggest holes that needs to be plugged, but there are others too.  Just think about your utility bill, your TV bill, your grocery bill, your gas-guzzling car's fuel bill, and on and on we could go.  Just audit sometime all the different places your money is going and ask yourself if it's really all necessary.

Put a valve on your spending and apply a little more control in what leaves your barrel.   That usually takes the form of a good, solid budget and a little bit of accountability to stop you from spending more than you should be spending.

The point isn't to live like cheapskates but to live within your means because it's by living within your means and spending less than what you earn that you start to get ahead.  Like a good rain barrel system, when you apply these principles, you begin to see the volume of your savings gradually increase to the point where you may even be able to upgrade your barrel.  Or the way I see some rain collection systems work, you can add a second barrel onto what you already have for all the overflow.  When the second barrel fills up, you can then add a third barrel, and then a fourth, and eventually have a series of barrels to be overly charitable with.

In my opinion, the great objective isn't to get ahead financially so we can better spoil ourselves, but to get ahead so that we can be of some practical good to those around us who are continuing to struggle themselves.

Circle E Farms Faith and Farming Interview

Circle E Farms Interview

Circle E Farms Faith and Farming Interview

About Circle E Farms:

In the below interview, we hear from Genry and Heather Ellison, owners of Circle E Farms in south Mississippi.  Genry and Heather, together with their 3 fearless children, raise cattle, chickens, bees and any other animal that may be “a deal” at the time.  The Ellison family seek to put Jesus first and to work hard as faithful stewards on their farm.

The Circle E Life blog was started to give encouragement and build faith in others based on the experiences the Ellisons have in their work.  Taking everyday tasks from the farm, and looking to God for guidance, they relate them to the Christian walk and how to live a godly life in this present day.

Follow Circle E Farms:  

1. Describe your farm/homestead.

We are a small family farm that is a work in progress.  Our goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible. We are working every day to be more efficient and profitable at the same time. We have a little under 100 head of cattle and work to produce our own beef, chicken, veggies and anything else we may need.

2. Why did you choose to begin farming/homesteading?

We started out not with the intentions necessarily to be what it is now.  We wanted to move out of the suburbs, to the country and raise our kids there. We wanted to have cattle and farm animals and be more self sufficient and it slowly evolved into what it is now. We wanted to teach our kids a strong work ethic and how to rely on themselves for what they need.

3. In your experience, what has been the hardest part of farming/homesteading?

The hardest part has been trying to accomplish everything that we want to get done in any given time period in a timely manner.  Most days, you start out with one plan and something will inevitably change that plan.  Something breaks down or comes up and you find yourself on a task you didn’t plan for and what you wanted to done gets pushed to the back burner.  Also, financially being able to do everything that you would like to do, isn’t always possible. Patience is the hardest part.

4. What have been some of your biggest mistakes or failures in farming/homesteading?

Planting pine trees and not planting posts!  We started out maintaining previously planted pines and further planted many acres in pine trees in hopes that would provide future income.  As our country has pushed industry out of the USA, it has become harder to get the tress cut and harvested for income. We are now learning that it is much more profitable to plant posts.  The more pasture that is fenced and put in, the better the profit is with cattle and farm land.

5. In your experience, what has been the best part of farming/homesteading?

There are many things that we would say are the best.  The life and values that we have given our children on the farm are second to none! Not only that, but this life has given a satisfaction like no other. Looking back on how far we have come,  how our land has become what it is, and harvesting and eating what we grew are all so rewarding.  Also, being a part of the cattle and farming communities has given us the opportunity to meet some really great people along the way.

6. What have been some of your biggest breakthroughs or successes in farming/homesteading?

We set out with a goal to be profitable after a certain number of years.  Achieving financial freedom and profitability have been one of our greatest successes. Setting attainable goals and working to achieve them, make the successes all the sweeter.

7. Describe what you believe are the key elements to successful farming/homesteading.

Hard work and following the leading of God have been the key elements to our success.  We also had a made-up mind.  There was no plan B and no looking back for us.  We put in the hard work, and continue to put it in and didn’t give ourselves any other option.  Knowing that we were in the divine plan of God absolutely made it easier.  We knew He had our backs and wouldn’t allow us to fail as long as we did our part. Being in God’s will is the key to success in anything  you can ever do!

8. What would your biggest piece of advice be for first-time farmers/homesteaders?

Our biggest piece of advice would be not to grow too fast.  It’s very easy to be eager and get in too deep, build too fast and then you can’t maintain it. You have to have goals but you have to work as you can and then build upon it.  We would also recommend that you take advice from those that have been in it longer than a year or so.  You need the wisdom of those that have put in the time and hard work.  Some try to give advice and they haven’t faced enough adversity to give true advice.

9. What role does faith play in farming/homesteading?

Without our faith in God, we couldn’t do anything.  He has blessed us in everything we have done. Our faith is what sustains us in the hard times and what propels us forward in the good times.  We are dependent on Him for the rain and sun. Our grass, the garden and in turn the animals, don’t grow with our trusting in Him to take care of.  We can’t make anything happen so we trust in Him and have faith “that He will give rain for our seed  that we sow and increase of the earth and that our cattle will be fed in large pastures.” Isaiah 30:23

10. What role can a farm/homestead play in serving the Lord?

We are able to help others by what we have been blessed with on the farm.  We are not only able to give from our garden and it’s bounty, but we are able to serve in giving in many other ways.  We are able to help provide opportunities for friends, family and church family to have access to quality beef. Having the farm, has opened up opportunities to minister and witness that we would never have had were we still living in the subdivision.  Being on the farm, has changed our perspective that our neighbor is not just the house next door.  Our neighbor is anyone that we can reach out to and witness to, minister or bless, in anyway.  Sometimes serving the Lord is done in word, but many times it is a dozen eggs or a jar of honey or even a bucket of snap beans.  Our hope is that He shines through us in every action and every word.

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