My last post on Entrepreneurial Envy got me thinking about all the nutty hobbies I’ve tried over the years that could potentially generate money on the side if I ever chose to be the crafty type.
My most recent splurge was taking a couple of cheese making classes and learning all about how to make cheese. I got inspired to learn about cheese by reading posts about cheese making at a great sustainability blog called The Greening of Gavin.
By the time I was done with the classes, materials, supplies, and many gallons of mistake batches, my husband said: “Wouldn’t it have been a lot cheaper to just buy a hunk of cheese from the local cheese monger?” Why yes, yes it would have.
I find food chemistry absolutely fascinating. Being a chemical engineer, I think fermentation is darn cool. I also really like to learn about how things are made. If the apocalypse comes, I’d bet you’d want me and babci in your community. This is the most I’ve ever spent on a hobby, but I really loved the experience, the staff at cheesemaking.com, and learning about how food is made. If you ever want to learn about cheese, this is a great place to go as a beginner. Their 30 minute mozzarella kit’s only $25, so you don’t need to spend a ton to learn the basics.
I would love to explore this hobby further, but I really need to have a pH meter and fridge to age the cheese properly or things end badly (as I learned with my cheddar). I’ve reached my limit on spending for this hobby for now. Also, hard cheese requires a long chunk of time to get through the first phase of cheesemaking (like 6-8 hours). Making hard cheese is way more difficult than I ever imagined. The reason is that your primary raw material (milk) varies a great deal from lot to lot. If it rains a ton, the milk will have a different butterfat content than in drier weather. Different cows have different fat content and free range cow’s milk will taste different depending on what they happen to be grazing on at any given time. If nothing else, I now have a healthy respect for the craft of cheesemaking. There is a great deal of care that goes into every batch of artisan cheese. If I ever have a lot of time on my hands, I would love to get good at it. A lady I took the class with was caring for her elderly mother and was cooped up in the house a lot, so this was a perfect hobby for her.
Digression in progress: One of my classmates in college got a job at frito lay and his entire job description was “Increase the recycle content of Pringles.” What I mean is that only a certain amount of chips get made without being broken on the first pass of production. This is often called first pass yield. It’s actually somebody’s job to figure out how to reprocess those broken chips into new chips without sacrificing the quality of the end product. So, I guess not all food chemistry is as fun and sexy as brewing beer or fermenting cheese.
I actually would love to have chickens at my mom’s, but my husband says they’re dirty and eggs are only $1.90/dozen. I begged, I pleaded, and I lost. (I also wanted bees and I lost that battle as well). Our yards are not that big and he was actually thinking about the neighbors. But what neighbor wouldn’t want the sound of a rooster in the morning? Okay, maybe most of them. So, for now, my secret dream of being a homesteader will have to wait until I get a place with more land.
What I do now is I live vicariously through one of my girlfriends who does have chickens. The sassy little hen pictured here is one of hers. She also jokes about her $300/dozen eggs. You see, just as her little chooks started laying, the foxes came in for an easy meal. Well, many feet of electric fence later, she has eggs and they are delicious. I think another friend might be starting up bees, so hurray for that.
This is one of the first hobbies I embarked on. The startup cost on this hobby is pretty low ~$250 and it pays for itself with your first window. For a while there, all my friends were getting windows as wedding presents, like this one. My girlfriend picked the design and colors, but I put it together for her. I actually made it in a extended stay hotel room back when I was on the road all the time.
This is definitely one of those hobbies where time under your belt helps. The first window took an eternity. There was a lot swearing, a lot of wasted glass, and plenty of bloody fingers. By the 6th window though, I was rockin and rollin.
I stopped doing windows when I got pregnant because of the lead work, but I’m looking forward to getting back into it. I want to make inserts in my kitchen cabinets, but it’s really hard to make things for myself because I love giving them away, so for now the windows are on the back burner.
Economy of Scale
What I did learn from most of these hobbies is that there is definitely a cost advantage to making larger production runs. I also have an immense appreciation for artisan chefs and bakers. Their prices may seem high, but for what you’re getting, they are not making a killing. When a gallon of raw milk cost $6 and most cheeses have a 50% yield and have to be aged for months, it’s no surprise that many cheeses are $10-$20/pound. Making things yourself isn’t always cheaper. It’s not practical to make everything yourself. Hence how businesses popped up in the first place. I like that people are trying to buy more things locally to support their immediate community.
Hobbies do take up a chunk of my budget, but usually I’m supporting a local business by learning something new. I have this rule that I like to learn one new thing a year. It may be tiling a bathroom, installing flooring, mushroom hunting, or refinishing furniture. (This year, it’s blogging) Over a lifetime, that adds up to a lot of skills. The goal is that by the time I retire, I have enough skills to keep me busy and maybe I could even make a few bucks in the process.
If you’re sitting there and saying, “I’m not handy, I could never learn to do that”, you’re wrong. What I’ve learned from my years of insanity, is that you can learn to do anything if you put enough time into something. In the beginning, it’ll probably take you 10 times longer than it would a professional, but with enough practice, you eventually get proficient. My husband has a different set of things he learns (I’m afraid of doing electrical and plumbing work) and I remember him telling me that the first window he replaced in our house took him 2 hours, but by the 8th one, he was down to 30 minutes installation time.
What have you tried and why? What drives you to try new things or hobbies?
In the end, all you need is the desire to learn, time, and sometimes some money. Many of the things I’ve done require no money, like foraging for wild food.
Perhaps this is why I struggle with figuring out where my weekends have gone, because I keep dreaming up these ideas. You can imagine what I’m like to live with. Whenever I come up with a new thing, I get the eye roll and “you need another hobby like you need a hole in your head.” Luckily people understand my thirst for knowledge and tolerate the little kicks I go on…and usually when I’m doing something new, other hobbies drop off the to do list, because it’s just not possible to do everything.
Do share your stories as well..that’s the best part of my blog..everyone’s comments.