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My major in college was home economics. To many, that term might evoke thoughts of cooking and sewing, and people my age would remember when it was a course in high school that only the girls who were not headed to college would take. Home economics is so much more than that. It involves the skills to run a household efficiently, which is what permaculture is all about
The classes I took at Ohio State did involve cooking and sewing, but also nutrition, clothing design, household management, child care and family dynamics, and education. Even the doctors and nurses in training were not taking courses in nutrition at the time.
Recently I’ve seen information about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities that involve what I would consider, home economics. We use all of that in managing our households and homesteads. Nutrition is quite a science and knowing how things work and how to make them better involves technology and engineering. As for math — you definitely need it when you are calculating how many canning jars to wash for the 25 pounds of snap beans you plan to can. I actually prefer the acronym STEAM — the A is for the arts, which is just as important as the other four areas.
My initial interest in home economics was sewing. I was a teenager and had not yet needed to cook the family meals or manage a household. I did, however, have a need to make clothes that fit. You can find more about home economics and the blue jeans I make for myself at Homeplace Earth. I believe sewing is like welding. If you have the machine and are skilled at using it, you can take scrap (fabric or metal) and make anything you want.
During about 1992, I noticed that the adult ed program at the high school included a welding class. I thought it might be a helpful thing to know about, so I signed up. Although I never did welding after that, I made this bench grinder stand in the class. I remembered seeing something in Mother Earth News about how to make one with a wheel, brake drum, and pipe.
Believe it or not, all those things were just lying around here waiting to be used. The pipe with the metal plate attached was left from a previous owner. We filled the wheel with concrete to make a heavy base. That would have been done after the welding and, thinking back, I don’t quite remember how we did it, but the concrete is there.
Years later, we wanted to make one for our son as a gift. Since I was not welding and we no longer had those raw materials available anyway, I came up with a new design. I bought a round metal pan, the kind you would use to drain oil from your car into, for the base. The post was an old 4x4, which was held in place in the pan by scraps of 2x4s screwed to the post and the inside of the pan. I filled the pan with concrete, covering the 2x4s. A piece of 2x12 was cut from scrap wood that we already had and attached to the post with angle irons to make the base for the bench grinder. (Sorry, I don’t have a photo of that one.) Two projects with different materials and construction techniques; both serving the same purpose wonderfully.
I consider making a bench grinder stand just as much a home economics project as making my own blue jeans or cooking dinner for my family. Home economics is an exciting field that we can study and enjoy for the rest of our lives.
Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.