How to DIY When You’re Poor

 

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If you spend any amount of time on social media, you see some really cool ideas for DIY projects. Pinterest seems to be that place we all go for inspiration and then end up just feeling bad that we don’t have time, energy, or creativity to be that awesome. For low income and disabled people, the frustration is compounded by the lack of accessibility and ability. Even the cheap projects or ones that use junk often require tools or equipment,  and sometimes being able bodied,right?

I have possible solutions,though!

Where to Get Free Tools & Supplies

  • freecycle or craigslist – Find your nearest group at the respective websites : Freecycle.org and craigslist.com.
    On Freecyle, once you join, you can post something like this: “WANTED: Thing You Need” , with a description of what you’re looking for. If it’s a tool you think you’ll only need for one project, you can specify that you only need to borrow something. On craigslist, same thing but you usually have to find a category for what you’re looking for. Both Freecycle and Craigslist are great places for finding materials that someone might have leftover from another project (like, for instance, PVC pipe just waiting to be turned into a hanging indoor window garden ).I often peruse the FREE section of craigslist to see what people are cleaning out of their homes. I just scored an old crib with missing parts — perfect for upcycling as a trellis in my garden.

    If you have transportation obstacles, be sure to mention that in your post. Some people will generously drop things off to you or at a location easy for you to meet at. Of course, use your best judgement and common sense when telling strange people you meet on the Internet to come over or meet somewhere. You’re all adults,though. We don’t have to say more than that.

  • Yard Sales & Thrift Shops - I have a lot of crafting supplies and tools. I would say that 90% of them were purchased at thrift shops,yard sales, rummage sales,etc.Again, transportation is the obstacle here. There are also sometimes when even spending $5 on yard sale finds is out of the budget but if you can, these are the best places to find an amazing assortment of tools & supplies to build your DIY crafting arsenal.

    One thing I do to help add a bit of thrifting money is to sell my family’s used clothing at a local consignment shop. The checks I get every other month aren’t huge but it gives me a little extra to set aside specifically for going to sales.

    I also have gotten into the habit of going by houses that have advertised a yard sale after the sale has ended. People typically will put a free pile curbside rather than haul it back into their garage or load it into the car to dump off at the Salvation Army.

  • Local Hardware Stores-  By local, I mostly mean locally owned. From my experience, the people who work at small hardware stores are more than happy to drill holes in something for you or cut a piece of wood to your specifications. It’s iffy in a big box hardware store but it never hurts to ask.
  • Find a Tool Share – There are community groups where people borrow tools from one another and others that have a “library” of tools that they lend to people. These may be tricky to find but I would start with Googling “tool share” and your area. Some communities have had very active tool shares for decades but never brought it to the Internet. If you can’t find anything online, call local carpenters, hardware store,mechanics, bike shops and ask if they know of any tool sharing groups around you.
  • Sewing Machine Shares- They exist! I’m fortunate to have one here. If there’s one in your area, your local fabric store will most likely know about it.Give them a call.

Where To Find Help With Projects

If you aren’t physically able due to disability or the aches and pains that come with aging  to do some parts of a project, here’s some ideas of organizations that might be able to help.

  1. The Girl Scouts – ok, any scouting group but I like the Girl Scouts.
  2. 4-H
  3. Local Office of the Aging /groups that help the elderly – they often have volunteers with a wide range of interests and skills
  4. Local school shop classes or a vocational school
  5. Veterans groups

I am positive there are many more I missed or don’t know about. Please let me know in the comments if you know of any and I’ll add them.

Why “Grow Your Own Food!” Might Not Be So Easy For Poor People -Part 1

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It seems pretty simple. Having a hard time eating? “Grow your own food!”, they say. “They” are usually well meaning and coming from a place of only good intentions, otherwise I’d be whipping out my, “Honey, you better check your privilege!”  speech. Which I guess is what I’m doing right now but I want to try to do it gently, in more of a pointing things out kind of way and not the tongue lashing kind of way. People living below the poverty line often feel that the ,”YES, you CAN grow your own food!” sentiment is just another way some people make poor people feel bad about being poor and blame them for not doing more to help themselves.

Growing your own food is undeniably one of the best ways to get fresh, nutritious food economically , and bonus points- ethically & eco-friendly. I will always advocate for self-sufficiency in food when possible. But when someone suggests that a person struggling with food security just simply grow their own food, they’re making the following assumptions:

  1. The person has access to land,space , and the soil it takes to grow food
  2. They are able bodied.
  3. They have time to devote to a garden.
  4. They have a budget to acquire seeds & supplies for starting a garden.
  5. They know how to do it.

Digging deeper (that pun was not intended but it does seem like I didn’t try to hard to avoid it), I want to talk about each assumption separately.

Land & Space To Grow Food

Americans who live in urban areas are more likely to live in poverty than those who don’t live in the city.217 million people receiving food stamps live in urban areas compared to about 62 million in rural areas.  Typically, the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods are not the greenest places on earth, which contributes to the food desert clime. In urban areas, the best places for growing food would be balconies,window boxes, fire escapes and rooftops. Not everyone has access to those spaces. If they do have an area they can claim as their own, they may have to consider getting permission from the building owner (who unfortunately, more often than not, is going to give the idea a thumbs down) . Is their hard work only going to be vandalized or destroyed? Is it practical?

I’m an avid gardener but I haven’t always been able to garden, even in rural small town America. I once lived in an apartment building that had a beautiful yard that I saw as potential edible gardens. The owners did not and tenants were only permitted to have small flower pots on the outside stoop. In the house we rent now, our Grey Gardens is A LOT of work for low yield. I’m mainly able to grow all herbs,greens and a few veggies but it’s not nearly enough to put a dent in the food needs of my 7 person family.

Community gardens and CSA co-ops are an excellent solution to this problem but as Novella Carpenter’s experience with her Ghost town Farm ,and other city farmers like the people of LA who founded The Garden can tell us, space in the city is coveted and premium. Meaning, to create sustainable food sources in food deserts,  communities need to raise money to own a space to call their own or a benevolent property owner will have to see a reason to give a gift of land to the community.

Ability

photo via eartheasy.com

There’s a strong connection between being a disabled American and being impoverished. Roughly 30% of all disabled people fall below the poverty line. Disabilities is a broad term but a fair amount are physical and even disabilities not considered a physical disability could inhibit someone’s ability to garden.

Under this category, I would also include elderly people…and sadly, the statistics for the number of elderly living in poverty isn’t so great these days.

It isn’t impossible to garden with disabilities or once you reach old age but there are limitations and accessibility issues. Raised garden beds that are wheelchair accessible are a fantastic solution. Community organizations could help fill the need by contributing supplies and assisting with labor.

Time

A common misconception is that poor people don’t work, especially people who receive assistance like SNAP. For example,30% of food stamp recipients are employed full time .This isn’t a reflection of all people in poverty, since many do not seek assistance or make just barely over the qualifying limit but still live below the line.  Some work part time and are full time students.It isn’t uncommon for a family living below the poverty line to be a two income household or a single parent household working 2 jobs. Underemployment is just as dangerous a place as being unemployed entirely. Time and energy are already being spent on working and/or raising a family in many cases.Gardening?  “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.

Resources

There’s a popular homesteading page on Facebook that promotes growing your own food as a way to solve your economic hardships. After several posts with the “Poor people should just grow their own food!”, I felt the need to raise some questions, starting with ,”How?”. The response was a very simplistic: People who get food stamps can use their EBT to buy seeds!

Oh. Problem solved! 

Except… if a person on food stamps is buying enough seeds to actually provide fully for their family, that’s a huge dent in their food stamp allowance. Many people are not going to be able to put off food they can eat now for seeds. Many food budget decisions are short term when you’re poor because that’s the way it has to be. The creation more of seed banks and seed exchanges would benefit poor gardeners a lot more than their EBT card.

You can’t buy topsoil or potting soil with food stamps. You can’t buy garden tools with food stamps.

If the person has to resort to indoor gardening, EBT isn’t going to buy grow lights. Planting containers… nope, not those either.

It’s fantastic that the USDA allows people to use their EBT to buy seeds but to help people be self-sufficient food providers, there has to be incentives and programs that offset start-up costs for gardening. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. But you still have to give him a fishing pole.

Knowledge

Some people don’t know the first thing about growing food. That’s not just a poor people thing. There’s a gap in our American modern culture that has a huge disconnect with where our food comes from ,and with nature in general.  The bright spot in this deficit is the huge upswing of food education and ag-curriculum programs in schools. My children’s schools all have some type of food education and gardening program. These programs need to be in every school, not just for the gardening knowledge but for the nutrition education. It takes work,parental involvement and community support but it can happen.

The nice benefit that comes from community gardens is that the organizers pass on their knowledge to any adult interested and willing to learn and do the work. Peer education is an incredible free learning tool.

I’m not trying to rain on everyone’s real food parade here by pointing these things out. I’m just trying to raise awareness to the complexities of growing food. It isn’t as simple as just doing it. If a person CAN do it, then I am their loudest cheerleader. I’m just saying, not everyone can, so let’s just stop with the sentiment that says they can. If they really can and want to, everything should be done to cheer them on. If they can’t, so be it. Don’t keep preaching. It doesn’t help. Grow some extra food in your garden and donate it directly to a family or a local food pantry . That would be an excellent way to help.

Communities everywhere should facilitate and encourage gardening  and community supported agriculture to solve their local hunger and food security problem. I have asserted time and time again that we already CAN feed every single human being with the food that is wasted in the U.S. . Politics prevents this from happening.  With that in mind , it might seem like gardening is a moot point. If there’s already enough food ,why not just focus on managing that correctly and putting it in the people’s mouths? Why garden at all? The great thing that community and home gardens would accomplish is an end to dependency on corporations that grow and distribute the not-so-great food that’s in our system. Bringing food back into local communities and putting the power into people’s hands is best for everyone but everyone needs to work to make this happen. Poverty and food insecurity isn’t going to be eradicated by putting all the responsibility on the people in poverty. Becoming self-sufficient is a huge privilege and the obstacles to achieving it need to be kicked aside by those who already have the possibility of that privilege .

THINGS I MISSED: Additional talking points that I forgot or weren’t aware of

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originally posted on crazy dumbsaint of the mind

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