Friday, December 28, 2007

Household value chain engineering

Lately I have been obsess with "ecogeek" (name of a blog) items such as the Aerogarden the NatureMill composting system. It has got me wondering how far the concept of household cost engineering can be taken, by purchasing inputs at their rawest and cheapest and milking every bit of value out them along the way.

Let's say I grow my own vegetables or mushrooms or whatever, then incorporate it with bulk-purchased staples into delicious, inexpensive meals. Then I recycle the waste into the compost, which gets the whole cycle going again. I'd really like to see how far I could take this.

A lot of the value, I am thinking, would be in reducing trips to the supermarket. However this kind of cottage industry could take up a lot of real estate, which is pricey.

Still, one can spend a lot of money eating out these days. Can you make a $9 lunch at home for $4? It takes planning though. How bulk can you go? What is the most basic of ingredients? If you start making your beer, you buy kits of hops and grains and the like, e.g., instead of ready-made beer. The next step is to buy the individual components in bulk and assemble your own recipies. Then you start growing your own hops perhaps? Finally you start the little hops plants from seed instead of buying seedlings. How far can you take it before it becomes impractical? You're not going to till up your yard to grow barley are you?

I am focusing on the food portion of the budget because that is where recycling is apparent (via the compost cycle), and the technology and tools are within most people's grasp, and it is possible to see a marked increase in quality. It's not like I'm going to be pressing my own bicycle tires at home or anything. It is also possible to make your own clothing, but clothing is very cheap nowadays. (See for inspiration on saving on threads.)

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