Scavenging, Gathering and Repurposing

This article was originally meant to be part of the Cooperative Enterprise Plan, the details of which are just becoming available on the front page or through the menus.  Since it offers insight into the potential a farm cooperative has in being established at low cost, supporting the community, developing a sharing economy, using available resources to teach and learn, and operating more profitably, I decided it needed greater exposure on this site.  It has been reconfigured accordingly.

I read an article saying that to sound more professional, one should avoid the word "Stuff".
One thing people have in abundance is Stuff.  Stuff in the garage, stuff in the shed, stuff in the basement, stuff in the attic.  There's more stuff behind the shed.  There's a guy down the road with so much stuff he keeps 2 of everything in the front yard.  There's so much stuff around, we would do well to get our hands on it in order to put it to use rather than let it crumble in the corner for a few more years.  Some of this stuff has utility.  Some can be put to use immediately, other items will save us a little further down the road if we store it properly.  We have a long list of potential projects and gathering this unused, neglected, unwanted Stuff will give us a headstart.  

A farm can make use out of a wide array of stuff.  Tools, materials, containers, sheathing, posts, even a roll of twine will come in handy.  There are items which may seem to be total junk that can be adjusted to fit our needs.  A few years back I put up a few business cards and index cards on some public bulletin boards asking for free glass.  A month later, I had enough glass to cover the south wall of a greenhouse 8 feet tall, 40 feet long.  Purchasing new glass for a structure that size would have cost in excess of $2000.  

There are instances when stuff can be had with no prior warning.  Back in college I was working in a restaurant that was changing their coffee service from cups and saucers to mugs.  I found this out when the new mugs arrived.  The old cups were to be discarded immediately.  I was living in a fraternity at the time and could make good use of the cups.  It took zero begging, and my car was parked right beside the dumpster.  As soon as the new mugs were in place, the old cups were on the way to my place.

Rather than gather everything undeer the sun and make the place look like Sanford and Son, thinking things through can give this project greater effect and make people more keen about the kinds of things for which to keep an eye out.

The goods need to offer some combination of

The goods will need a place to be stored once brought in.  A small enterprise with only a kitchen will have limited space, making this project inappropriate.  If the group has a farm with several acres, a great many things can be appropriate.  Employing building materials from amongst the gathered goods offers covered storage, which puts most items in the salvageable category.  Neat, organized indoor storage space allows the collection of clothing, books, and other items which would suffer damage in an outdoor covered space.  If we have storage space, categorizing materials can help determine if it is suitable to bring in.

Building materials top the list of useful goods.  Lumber in particular can be used to build storage structures, shelves, vegetable supports, worktables for the workshop, potting benches for a greenhouse, and collection boxes for Cans to College.  Lumber is GOLD.  If the quality and condition of the lumber is acceptable, it can be used for finer items.  Picnic tables make use of complete boards.  A bookshelf would be handy in the media library.  A desk for office use.  With a couple hundred people involved, there will be several with sufficient woodworking skills to teach interested students, young and old, how to build furnishings at all levels of complexity.  Of course, we'll need tools to do this.

Lumber is just the start.  Glass, as I mentioned above, is far more abundant that you might think.  The need for energy efficient homes over the past couple of decades has seen millions of windows and doors replace with new units.  While glass is ideal for use in greenhouses, it can also be handy for storage buildings, community rooms and gazebos, chicken coops, solar dehyrators, solar ovens and heaters, table tops if thick enough, cabinetry and furniture building projects.  Home repairs comes to mind as needing glass.  We've got it, let's keep some around so we can fix a busted window at home.  A broken window will cost you 20 bucks just for thinking about it.

New cabinets go in, the old cabinets often get thrown out.  Sometimes with good reason, sometimes as a matter of taste.  It is not uncommon to remove perfectly good cabinets because they are an unneeded part of a renovation.  These have a huge amount of reusability.  Even the ugly ones...chickens need a place to brood!  I'm thinking it would be handy for folks to have their own locker on the farm for mudy boots, sunscreen, a hat, a coat, and a change of clothes.  We'll have folks within the group who have a desperate need for decent cabinets in their home.  Putting together a list of what people need would give us a better means of helping each other out.  
Tools are out there.  Hand tools, power tools, garden tools, carpentry and construction tools.  Here a few loose sockets, there a hammer, a circular saw that has been sitting on a shelf for years, an old lawn mower, a busted ladder, drill bits of every size.  I've given away a couple of perfectly good table saws-I just didnt have room for them.  Husbands have passed away, the kids have long since oved out, and the widow would like to see all those tools put to good use.  There are shop tools out there that can be had for the asking.  With hundreds of people doing the asking, we could assemble a respectable workshop for a very low cost indeed.  We'll not be using all the tools all the time.  A tool library puts them in everyones hands.  

Kitchen Equipment is right up near the top of the list.  All sorts of handy stuff out there.  Silverware, cutlery, cutting boards, pots and pans, dishes, serving dishes, appliances big and small.  Some of this gear can be put to use in the co-op kitchen.  There is always call for the right sized pot or bowl.  For comercial production, some of our equipment needs will have to be NSF.  For the items we can't use, extending the tool library to include kitchen equipment.  Need to borrow a roasting pan? How about a big pot for a family reunion?  Bring it back clean.  

When I was a property manager people would move out from time to time.  The most common items left behind were furniture, kitchen items, and for reasons I never did figure out, frozen polish sausage.  I took care of the sausage myself.  The kitchen items and furniture went into a storeroom.  On occasion a tenant would move in with nothing...just married, just divorced, recently returned from military service, fresh out of school.  Pick your reason, there are folks starting from scratch.  I filled several apartment with stuff other people left behind.  We'll have people in our group with a desperate need for furniture.  We will encounter a time when we don't have a pressing need for furniture.  If that couch is better than the one you have, we can trade.  Maybe you like the knobs on the dresser.  You better get them before someone else does.  
Furniture provides an opportunity to learn skills.  There will be repairs to make on some goods that come in.  Ugly furniture can be refinished easily and with little cost.  We've got all these young people willing to learn and older folks with the experience to offer.  We've got all those tools. This is a match all around.  Take an old table, refinish it, put it up on Craigslist.  We bring in some money from the sale to pay for the workshop.  You get paid to learn and to teach.  If the people get good at what they do, the door is open for a cottage industry repair shop.

Books and movies fill boxes at yard sales and flea markets.  A library of 3000 books would put a different book every week into your hands for your entire life.  A book swap would keep that library full of different books.  A little cherry picking of the titles, some of those construction materials, and a little help from some woodshop students can see Little Free Libraries spring up all over town.  Adding a small sign or sticker gives us some exposure: "This Little Free Library maintained by The Smallville Farm Co-Op.  Please report issues to 555-1234."

Coats and shoes.  There are programs out there already which helps provide winter clothing for kids.  Coats for Kids and Operation Warm come to mind right off.  Gathering old coats, shoes and boots costs us nothing.  I'll take them home myself if I have to, put them through the wash.  Any kid that needs a coat can pick out what they want.  Shoes and boots can be cleaned up and sanitized easily.  Put them with the coats. 

If we have the room to store it, we can make use of plenty of stuff.  The Repurpose Project in Gainesville, Florida is a creative reuse center which serves as an example of what can be done giving new life to gently used stuff.  They operate as a non profit, making donations tax deductible.  They move tons of stuff.  Rather than throw it away, they keep it around to be used in any way it can be.  They hold craft workshops for sharing ideas and creating works of art.  If you need it, they probably have it, and it's whatever amount you want to pay.  You can find the Repurpose Project on facebook.

Stuff does not have to be a manufactured product.  Compostable materials are in abundance in every home.  Everything from coffee grounds to kitchen scraps to  empty paper towel rolls can be composted.  Outside the home find leaves, grass clippings, and woody yard debris.  We've got the tools and manpower.  It takes very little to obtain the license to clear yards and haul the debris back to the farm.  We can get paid to make our own compost.

As part of a Co-op, a scavenging plan can be as complex as the group can manage.  Some of these scavengable materials would end up in the local landfill.  Society has invested a great deal of energy in creating it.  Seems a shame to throw it all out when it can save us all a bunch, help train our youths and possibly lead to folks starting small businesses.

Cooperative Enterprise, Plan Outline