Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Every time Grace sells a potato bracelet, she stashes her earnings in a container in her bedroom closet so she won’t spend it. That way, someday she’ll have enough money for medical or veterinary school.
“I’ve always loved animals,” Grace told me recently when I stopped in to ask about her home-based jewelry business.
Grace makes the bracelets by dehydrating chunks of potato that are then painted by squishing them around in a plastic bag with paint. Netting 66 cents per bracelet, it may take Grace a while to achieve her goal. But, at age 11, she has the time, ideas and talents to get her there.
“She’s always making something,” laughs her mother, Nichole Harms, from their home in rural Oregon County, Mo. With a natural flair for color and design, Grace is the youngest member of the newly formed Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-Op where she sells her homemade potato bracelets and necklaces, clay earrings and colorful woven potholders. Her work sells quickly, attracting attention in the new co-op with her handcrafted signs.
“Put a new, stylish hair barrette to your grocery list! This barrette was made and tested, so it works fine!!” reads one sign colored with sunshine and smiles.
Besides being a Marine veteran and mother to Grace and 14-year-old Christian, Nichole is also their teacher. What started as a summertime experiment two years ago to allow more time with dad Travis, a railroader, has turned into a fun, fulltime adventure for the family.
“We just fell in love with it,” Nichole said of homeschooling.
Both children are excelling in their home classroom, Nichole said, adding that Christian struggled with math in public school, lagging behind his classmates. He’s advanced several grade levels in just two years at home.
Nichole said she has nothing against the public school system, and even taught nutrition in area public schools through the University of Missouri Extension before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Homeschooling is just a better fit.
When Travis, who also served in the Marines, is away for long periods of time with his railroad job, Nichole and the children put in extra study hours so they can enjoy time with him when he returns.
A quick tour of the Harms’ classroom reveals they have just finished studying about Asia, are learning Spanish and have created a timeline of U.S. history that stretches along one wall, complete with detailed pencil drawings of Dolly Madison and Louis Pasteur.
When Grace isn’t studying geography, history or foreign languages, though, she’s busy creating. She started selling her crafts about 18 months ago at a local farmers market, but has been drawing and painting much longer. A blue ribbon by her bed indicates Grace won first-place in the “Who Needs Trees” art contest three years ago. Her winning painting of a young girl in a tree house, though, has been carefully stored in a hope chest for the future. Another of her award-winning paintings, a still life, hangs near the desk in her bedroom, also artistically decorated by Grace with polka-dot curtains and lively throw pillows.
Grace said she got an idea to make clay items to sell after reading an American Girl magazine article about two girls who make all sorts of clay earrings. Another article in the local Rural Missourian magazine told of a grandmother making dried potato items with her granddaughter.
“I started with clay pots, but I wasn’t very good at it,” Grace said. “I just couldn’t get the hang of it.”
Grace credits her cousin with teaching her to weave the potholders she sells for 75 cents each, of which 30 percent is retained by the co-op to cover overhead expenses. Grace also donates time in the store toward her co-op membership dues. Her multi-colored potholders fill one shelf.
“She’s younger than me, but she’s actually better at making them,” Grace said of her cousin’s weaving.
Grace has designated three funds for her earnings – one to save, one for fun and a third that goes back into her business.
To see more of Grace’s artistry, visit the Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-Op facebook page.Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.