In January I recorded a podcast interview with Ben of Homesteads and Homeschools and it was just released this week. Ben is also known as @bpangie, The Liberty Hippy, here in steem. I really enjoyed the interview with Ben. He is a good guy and a smart fellow and his podcast is doing a great service. I recommend subscribing to his podcast if you like this interview.
This is the first interview that I’ve done whose audience is not folks on steem. Although inevitably some of Ben’s audience may come from steem, many do not. And so it has been a perfect opportunity for us to get our message about Homesteaders Co-op, as well as steem, to folks that may not have heard of steem yet. I believe this interview makes a good first impression not only of Homesteaders Co-op, but also of steem.
I shared more of the background story about how Homesteaders Co-op got started and how the initial idea was born. I didn’t leave much out – so you may just learn more about our beginnings! I also shared how our steem communities have inspired our project.
I’ve transcribe the interview below for anyone that would rather read than listen. It is also nice to have this message in text format that we can use in part or in whole for our outreach efforts.
This post is an update to our fundition project
Ben: Alright so today we have Noel who runs the homesteaderscoop.com. You’ll find him on steemit under @homesteaderscoop among another name he may give you here in a little bit (@sagescrub). He is out on the west coast getting this website setup for us and he’s to tell us a little bit about that today. Its pretty interesting. I think its something we can all take something from and learn something on top of the idea of community here. So Noel, welcome to the show here.
Hi Ben, thanks for having me.
Yeah no prob, thanks for coming on – I appreciate it. What are you doing now? What’s your setup right now? You got a little bit of a garden, homestead…
Yeah, so my partner and I are in Southern Oregon and we are doing a half rent, half care taking for the property we are living on in exchange for a home and garden space. So it allows us to garden while we are looking for our long term place. I grew up in suburbia so homesteading is not in my upbringing.
I grew up in the country. I’ve lived in country and city. Suburbia is one of those things I couldn’t get a grasp on it. You weren’t close enough to have the amenities you do in the city but you’re not spaced out enough where you can enjoy a little bit of quiet and solitude. Suburbia was always tough for me. So what are you guys gardening or how big of a garden do you have right now?
Well our garden is.. how would I quantify it? Its pretty decent size but its also not huge. We are in the same spot we were in last year and we grew pretty much a little bit of everything like potatoes and carrots and greens and a lot of herbs and my partner is into flower farming and I am into perennials. Looking ahead for our future property, or even just sharing with friends I am starting a lot of trees from seed because they take so long to produce. That’s my long term focus. Short term focus is growing and wild-crafting as much of our food as we can.
Very cool. Are you guys hoping to stay in that area or are you open to moving around some?
Oh yeah we love it here because there’s a lot of like minded people and a lot of older back-to-the-landers from the 80’s and 90’s that we look up to and respect. There’s a lot of modern day hippies that live around here. So there’s a whole wide range of community that we can relate to. Its kinda funny, because I went wwoofing for a few years and I was seeking out Permaculture homesteads that I could learn from and contribute to and a lot of places that I went I was used to being the weird person or one of the few that was into Permaculture or learning about that. Where I am now people don’t look at me funny when I talk about Permaculture.
Hey you know it works. That’s good stuff. I am sure there’s a bunch of knowledge that can be had from all those folks too. Definitely when you get out there and you’re ding things on your own, having people to learn from is easier to learn from someone than a book or a youtube video.
Yeah growing up I didn’t have this sense of community that I have learned now. And even outside of this community just in general I’ve found the farming and gardening communities are just really welcoming and loving. That’s what really drove me to go in this direction is connecting to people in an industry that’s just all about love and care and nurturing, for the most part. Versus working in a corporate or desk job and you’re helping the people at the top get fatter and its all about competition and greed and scarcity.
Yeah I definitely think there’s a sense of community in terms of the farming world or agricultural world. You’re relying on yourself to get the plants in the ground and at the same time there’s help there and you can help each other. There’s the self reliance and at the same time there’s a little bit more than that. Alright so moving on to the Homesteaders Co-op. Can you tell us a little bit about what that is?
Sure. And maybe I’ll just give a brief introduction how it started. And if you want any clarification just let me know, because in regard to the Steem blockchain which is a social community platform for blogging that’s rewarding cryptocurrency…
Actually I’ll rewind a little further because what my partner and I were thinking of doing a year and a half ago we were considering income opportunities for generating income on the homestead. Actually we’ve been trying quite a few. Last year we started four or five small businesses just to throw feelers out there and Homesteaders Co-op was one of them. A year and a half ago we were thinking about the possibility of doing a paid membership website where we would teach people what we are learning about homesteading coming from a suburban background. From a perspective of someone that didn’t grow up homesteading. And so we liked the idea because we had a lot of people that were interested in – just in friends and family – in what we were going through.
At the same time I stumbled across the Steem website which I had just signed on to and realized there was this really beautiful homesteading community on there. And so I thought that would be a great place to do a proof of concept and try out some ideas before going out there and building a business and a website. And so I started blogging and it was just a really beautiful experience because I was welcomed by this homesteading community and gardening community and permaculture communities on that platform that really encouraged me. Encouraged me to grow in a lot of ways, in terms of the way I communicate and communicating more from the heart, which is really beautiful in contrast to our dominant culture which encourages you to communicate from a place of fear and scarcity. After that I realized I don’t really need to create a website because here’s this blogging platform where I feel really part of the community and really encouraged to share. And I’m already being rewarded in cryptocurrency, which is not necessarily going to make a living but its encouraging me to keep sharing. And so I did.
Fast forward another half a year later, last summer, my partner and I decided to start a seed business focused on Permaculture and wildcrafting. And a long term goal for the seed business was to share perennial seeds. The short term goal was – I mean we don’t own property, and we have a temporary garden space right now, and we were in the middle of summer. But we didn’t want to let that hold us back from starting the business and just give it a shot and throw it out there and see what happens.
In terms of working with what we had and the seeds we were passionate about, we put together a small seed catalog focused on food, medicine and beauty. And we call it Seeds of Abundance because its plants that produce abundantly through food, medicine and beauty – and also seeds. And there’s a wild aspect to it. We were really inspired by Fukuoka who wrote One Straw Revolution. And just really inspired to garden more naturally. So the seed business was inspired by that. We decided to launch it and sell it for cryptocurrency for steem currency. Because we felt encouraged by our community and we felt in a lot of ways its very idealistic – its very free. There’s no transaction fees, there’s no one taking a cut of the transaction. So we thought, well, it’s kind of like mother nature and its kinda like seeds so it goes hand in hand. And seeds are meant to be free, as far as nature is concerned.
And yeah, sorry I am rambling, but just to summarize a little more and get back to Homesteaders Co-op. I started working on that website and I have a background in web design and programming before I got into homesteading. So I dusted that off and worked on a website and found a way to accept payments for the cryptocurrency. So my partner said “Hey, all that work you put in, why don’t you share that with other people?” And I thought oh my gosh, that’s a beautiful idea because not only can I share the work I’ve done and encourage other people to sell their products in this community market format, but also… So yeah, I decide to share it and went to work on expanding it to be a marketplace for homesteaders. So that’s how the idea was born. Its actually evolved so much from there.
Yeah its definitely shaped up. I looked at it a couple months ago is when it came to my first attention and talking to you. Its grown! I remember seeing a handful of vendors on there and now there’s quite a number. Do you guys… so its not just STEEM right? I can use US dollars or is it just cryptocurrency at this point?
We started with just STEEM and then we expanded to dollars. Interesting thing about that… well our vendors are accepting PayPal or credit cards through PayPal, but originally we were just using STEEM. And originally it was going to be more of a business. I was going to charge a monthly fee in order to operate. I was considering that or commissions. But at a certain point around the time we were beta testing or shortly after that I had a problem charging a fee to vendors because first of all its going to be a while before we have a lot of sales. And I know that’s going to be money out of pocket for our vendors. And most homesteaders are on a shoestring budget so its a contradiction.
I had a big ethical dilemma early on and there’s that whole part of me that was trained for greed and profit from a young age that was contradicting the ideals of wanting to share something beautiful with a community. For a little bit there I was in a really tough spot emotionally and ideologically. Finally decided that I was inspired enough to keep working on it and give it away for free without charging commissions.
I realized that I really wanted to embody sharing this with my friends and community and see where it goes and follow the inspiration and if one day I don’t find a way to make it work sustainably, I can always charge fees later. But in the meantime, I was letting that passion for sharing drive me forward.
The beautiful thing that came out of that – a lot of things but – in terms of transactions, we didn’t have to be a middleman in transactions, so our website is basically a venue and it creates a venue for customers to find vendors and purchase a product. Once the customer goes through to purchase the product, the transaction goes through directly from the customer to the vendor. That’s both with STEEM and PayPal. We never touch that money. Its a lot more private, its a lot more secure. If our website ever gets hacked, there’s not passwords or private keys to be stolen. The vendors and customers take that responsibility on themselves.
I think its a lot more rewarding and empowering for people to transact just like they do in the farmers market because when you got to a farmers market and buy some veggies from a farmer, there’s not a market manager coming in the middle saying “Hey, hand that money over and I’ll take 3%”, or whatever, before it gets to the vendor. That’s the way that e-commerce works in the case of etsy and amazon and everybody else. They take the transaction. It makes sense because they have to be sustainable, but it creates the culture of profit being the first driving priority, which eventually evolves into a money hungry company if it grows big enough, that’s only caring about the vendors or customers that are making them a lot of money.
So for example – what we are doing helps to alleviate problems, like edge case – the little guys that are being ignored, for example we have vendor outside United States that can’t use etsy anymore because etsy stopped allowing international withdrawals by paypal. And they only make a few sales a month and so they have to use a wire transfer to get their money since they can’t use PayPal and the wire transfer eats up all their profit. So its like, there’s no point. Unless, you know, they have to look at it another way – they’re forced to get bigger. That’s what everybody does, they focus on the profit because that’s what is encouraged.
And that’s one of the things that struck me about this. More acts as a facilitator between the two different parties. It lets you do your business on your own and theres nobody gets in the middle demanding that you adhere to XYZ. That’s one of the things I thought was unique and interesting. Along the lines of decentralization and the whole idea of the blockchain and make things more personal. That’s something I really appreciate, seeing that people can actually get along and do things voluntarily and not be forced into paying exhorbitant fees just to get your own money.
Yeah there’s a lot of experimentation going on just in general in blockchain and a lot of it is really exciting because without less control and less force being in the picture, we are or we can be a lot more inspired and follow our ideals without feeling fear. There’s a lot of new territory so there’s a lot of experimentation going on and we’re glad to be a part of it. Just following that model as we evolve our community, community is following that model as well and opening up to having less control in terms of the structure and how we operate. So we have contributors that are helping to run our blog and market our community marketplace and as we go along its becoming more of a community feeling and less of a company feeling.
Part of that evolution is operating in a hybrid gift economy. We will be creating more opportunities for gifting and purchasing by donating or giving gifts away for free. In terms of sustainability we’re going to be exploring ethical advertising and gifting advertising to companies that we believe offer value to our marketplace and our customers, rather than putting whatever pays the most in front of their face and saying this is what we want you to click on. I like the idea of choosing advertisers that can offer real value and asking them to contribute something in terms of knowledge or information and we can say we really believe in what they are doing and their ethics align with our ethics. Those are all things we will be exploring in terms of different ways of feeling rewarded, compensated. Its really inspired a lot by gifting that is happening on the steem blockchain. Its very much inline with what you might see in your family or tight group of friends, gifting each other things because they love each other or they care for one another. Maybe a close group of gardeners. And we see sharing seeds and silver rounds and care packages and things like that. Its not for money – its for the joy of giving and the joy of seeing the excitement of those things being received. So we want to encourage more of that, but at the end of the day people have to make a living too. So its not like we want to live in a false world where its only ideals. Obviously there’s the money aspect, so we want to encourage both sides of things and not just be in a black and white, cut and dried world where things are all about profit.
Yeah, I think that’s something there. Because you do, you have to make money to get buy. But at the same time, you fill in little holes, whether its bartering or gifts. Or things like steemit… you said earlier you’re not going to make a living off it, but its something. Have ways to fill those little holes can be really helpful. If you go buy seeds for your garden, you’re going to drop 50 bucks, 100 bucks on seeds depending where you get them from. So if you can find a way to trade for those or get them from someone else instead of a big company, corporation that does all that. I appreciate that. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what products they have. Homesteaders Co-op, you guys talked a little about perennials seeds, what else you got going on there?
Good point, thanks for reminding me, that’s the exciting part. Oh yeah and first of all, its an international marketplace. Like a lot of the blockchains, we are opening to crossing borders. We have over 20 vendors now in 8 different countries. Roughly half of that is in the United States. And the other half are spread across countries like Australia, Canada, Mexico, Spain –
Speaking of Spain we had a couple vendors join us that started a women’s Co-op in Spain and I was really excited to hear about it because they are all single mom’s living in an eco-village living as sustainable as possible, as close to zero waste as possible, supporting each other. But they don’t have a lot of opportunities in the local market because they live in kind of impoverished area. So they are really grateful to have a place to sell to a larger audience.
So you have people like that that are selling internationally, then you have folks that are selling within their own country. And you have all kind of mixtures, so we’re just leaving it open. The vendors specify where they ship to, how much their shipping costs are and what kind of products they offer which can be virtual downloadable products – for example…
We have one vendor in Canada that has an e-book for raising chickens and its quite in-depth e-book and its only $8 and it teaches you everything you need to know about raising chickens. And we have physical products. We have like you said, seeds, people selling honey. Actually two vendors selling honey in the United States and in Portugal. And we have a couple vendors selling naturally dyed clothing using herbal dyes – and they are really beautiful. We have someone making handmade pouches and purses and a natural wreath maker from homegrown flowers. And much more than that as well.
And we have a lot of people excited to vend as well and a lot of people are signing up. So we are growing fairly quickly. But I am also just appreciating this opportunity because we definitely want to get the word out there more, for growing more. But we don’t want to grow too big because we want to stick to the homesteaders niche, because we don’t want to be the next etsy or grow in that direction of getting as big as we can. We want to find that nice balance of growing so there’s a thriving economy, but not getting so big so that that it causes us to sacrifice our ideals.
But that’s the other thing in terms of decentralizing and being inspired to decentralize into a community effort versus a top down pyramid, I’ve been inspired to want to share our website with other marketplaces. We are still building a solid base for our website, but I’ve been looking for opportunities and the right individuals to share our website with. For example I would love to see a community driven artists co-op that is enabling artists to sell their artwork. Or a handmade toy marketplace. I am sure there’s lots of opportunities. So instead of trying to be everything, it would be really cool to enable other community driven marketplaces. And being community driven, they could really have the opportunity to thrive.
Yeah, one of my thoughts going through my head – you have the homesteaders thing, but you can break that up and share it out. Because its community based – I am sure there’s communities all over.. all sorts of things that I might not be interested in, but someone else is interested in. That’s the beauty of having it be so specific. You’re passionate about this. So if I am making basketballs, you might not be that interested in it, but someone else can do it. The community and culture can build around this. That’s what I like about the idea, the specificity of it and who it speaks to.
Yeah, it would be great to see that happen and then have a distributed network of marketplaces that are autonomous by their own communities. But even those marketplaces can form a larger community that all support each other, rather than supporting the guys at the top. It could be a more – decentralized is a good word. Its interesting because, actually before I even got into this whole stuff and several years back I was gardening, before I was into homesteading. And I was swapping seeds with my neighbor and I thought there is a really big need for a peer to peer marketplace for sharing seeds online and having different opportunities for sharing seeds out there. There’s well known seed companies. There’s a few website where people can share seeds but they’re not really user friendly or even well known. I never explored the idea but recently after putting my seeds on this marketplace and another vendor started putting their seeds, and actually some really cool seeds, and getting sales. Another vendor said they want to share their seeds and it just donned on me.. this could be that website, even though it wasn’t intended to be. It could be a peer to peer seed selling and swapping website. And I am really excited about seeing if it evolves in that direction because having things be more open is cool because the community can decide which way it goes. I am sure there’s a lot of opportunities that I haven’t even thought of yet that can come up in the future.
Yeah, lots of growth potential there. That’s exiting to watch. It will be fun to watch it grow. I wish I had the time to get involved…
But you already are! I appreciate you so much!
Yeah, no problem. So before I let you go, is there anything we didn’t get to about the Homesteaders Co-op that you want to let people know?
Oh yeah, well first of all the website is homesteaderscoop.com – that’s just one word, no dashes. And check it out because there’s some cool stuff on there. If it is interesting to you, subscribe or come back. We are going to have more vendors and more products in the future. And if you really find value in it we do have a crowdfunding page in fundition. I’d be happy to share the link for your show notes. It also outlines some of our short term goals of where we want to take it in the short term, which could be interesting to read about.
Yeah, we’ll definitely get those links in there. And I was going to ask you earlier if you have a donation page or some way to help fund it. Sounds like you do.
Mmm hmm. And that is helping to fund through steem, other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or ether and also paypal. I am not really asking for a lot of donations right now, because right now I am feeling that we need to build this and make it really thriving and see where it goes. We’ve only been online for about two months now, but already this month – and January is not over – we’ve already made a couple hundred dollars in sales for our vendors and 100% of that goes straight to our vendors like I was saying. Its really exciting to see that and I’d like to see them rewarded more for their hard work because as most of your audience probably knows, homesteaders are super hard working and always constantly questioning what ideals they want to or don’t want to sacrifice, because at the end of the day there’s only so much time and so much money.
Most of us are homesteading because we believe in the world we want to live and lead and leave to future generations. Right now my drive is empowering and supporting those kind of people – and also getting their products and messages into the hands of people that care about it. I feel that our marketplace and the economy that we are building is not just about the products, its about the message too. We have so much to learn about – I mean… its better to focus on the solutions than the problems, because there are so many problems. There’s a bunch of people here, and probably a lot of people in your audience too, are trying to make the world a better place and doing the best with what we’ve got. That’s why community is so important, because we can’t do it alone. Yeah, that’s our message.
Good deal. I can subscribe to that. Alright, thank you!