Monthly Archives - November 2020

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

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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.

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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.

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