House Portraits, Gold Recovery, and Other Business Startups

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A reader in Kansas began painting house portraits like this one to supplement her family's income.

The following are business startups that readers established after reading articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.  

Painting House Portraits 

Reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS can put just about anyone in
tune with his or her own talents or special abilities–and
help that person discover how to use those skills to bring
in cash and make life a little easier and more pleasant. I
know, because I would probably never have made my own
enterprise a success without your inspiration.

After flood water ruined most of my family’s tools and
supplies, I did something about my long-held dream of
painting a series of “homescapes” to exhibit at our small
town’s banks. The three institutions I contacted all agreed
to let me display my paintings, and–although I was still
scared–I was suddenly in business. Then Gary Nelson’s
article “Paint House Portraits” helped to further convince me that my plan would work!

My initial investment of about $35 covered supplies,
business cards, and posters. In a recent three-month
period I invested $75 in frames, oil paints,
and canvases … but in that same 12 weeks I’ve
earned $300 in cash for my efforts. It isn’t enough to pay
all the bills, of course, but it sure helps.

I’m doing all sorts of homescapes now, including one of our
daughter’s apartment and one of our chickens’ house. (Anna
Marie is really pleased with my “portrait” of her home. The hens
don’t seem to care one way or the other, but do go right on laying.)
Furthermore. I’m exhibiting
my work at a local shopping center this weekend, and
smiling more than I have in a long while.

Mary Denney — Valley Center, KA 

Computer Gold Recovery

Last year my next-door neighbor graduated from college and
went to work as an electronics engineer, leaving
behind a pile of computers he had purchased at surplus
sales. (My friend had been making his spending money by
breaking up and selling scrap metal.) Well, I volunteered
to clean up that pile of junk and haul it away with my old

I’d purchased the truck for $500 after reading Evan Green’s
I Pick Up Profits With a Pickup“, and it had regularly helped my wife and me earn about
$200 a month from hauling and odd jobs.

I initially just put the pile of computer rubble in the
side yard, planning to strip it for copper and aluminum
when I had some free time. But when I got a chance to look
at that rubbish more closely, I was in for a surprise:
all the contact points were plated with gold! I immediately
checked out some library books in order to learn how to
rescue the precious metal, and–after spending $50 or $60
for chemicals and test tubes–started my own “gold rush.”

Since then I’ve made a practice of driving Old Dependable
around to surplus sales and buying up obsolete–but
not really useless–computers. Now, I’m earning between
$3.00 and $10.00 an hour scrounging gold, and what with the
other cash I garner with my pickup, my wife and I are
making it on our own! We’re far from rich, but at least
we’re eating.

C.R. — Los
Osos, CA   

Making Gingerbread Houses

Two years back, with Christmas rapidly approaching, our
budget was tighter than ever. I didn’t have the cash
necessary to buy my husband the Stickler wood splitter we’d
seen advertised, so I did the reasonable thing: I set
to work looking through the pages of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for that
special home business that would make my purchase possible.
It wasn’t long before I came across the excerpt from Ona
Evers’ book Sparetime Dollars From the Kitchen. I read the article a number of times, but though the proposed business sounded easy enough, I
couldn’t make up my mind about what to sell.

A short while later I decided to construct a Christmas
gingerbread house for my two preschoolers, and the only
recipes I found made five or six houses at a time …
which would be more than I had planned and more than my
children could eat. Nevertheless–figuring I could give the
extras away as presents–I went ahead and baked up a

Then that article came to mind again and I
decided to sell my surplus gingerbread creations. I took a
few of the confections to a local grocery and left them
there on consignment. My next stop was our small town’s
bank, where I happened to mention my enterprise to the
teller. At her request, I showed her a house … she
bought it, instantly. And that was only the beginning of my
good fortune. By the end of the day that friendly
bank worker had gotten me 20 orders from other tellers at
the bank’s main branch. As you can well imagine, I was
pretty danged busy during the following weeks. I spent
less than a dollar per house and sold the spicy cakes for
$5.00 apiece, making enough money to buy that wood
splitter … and became determined to start baking earlier
the next year.

So, by Halloween of this past year, I was back letting that
same teller know I was ready to take orders again for
two sizes: small houses for $3.50 and medium ones for
$7.00. I sold my kitchen handywork to folks at other
business places as well (typically, one person collects
orders for me from the rest of the firm’s staff, then my
“agent” gets a free house in return for drumming up sales).

By the time last Christmas rolled around, I had made and
sold 78 small, 68 medium, and two large custom cake
dwellings. My expenses for gingerbread ingredients, cotton
batting and candy canes to decorate the houses, and plastic
wrap to protect them came to about $130, and my net profits
amounted to $600! The money I made from my enterprise
during its second year is now socked away in our building

Gloria Charbonneau — Gifford, Ont., Canada 

Tree Cutting Business

The article “A Small Discovery” started me thinking. If some folks just give away
refrigerators and other appliances they don’t need, how
many people, I wondered, would allow a willing worker to
harvest hardwood timber from a field or pasture they wanted

It cost me $1.00 for an ad in a local paper to satisfy my
curiosity … and was I ever satisfied! Eight people
called to say they’d like me to cut their trees for them,
and one fellow even offered to pay me for doing it.
However, the success of my ad left me with lots of
available free wood and two small problems: no chain
saw and no pickup. So I started calling the generous people
to ask them whether they [1] had a chain saw they weren’t
using, [2] had or knew of a truck for sale at low cost, or
[3] needed any winter firewood for their own use. 

It seems the Lord helps those who have the nerve to ask.
Five of the folks had fireplaces and needed wood. One man
offered me the use of his chain saw for two weeks in
exchange for a cord of firewood. Three more agreed to
pay me $50 a cord to cut and split their own timber for
them. And, best of all, that fifth gentleman had a ’59
Chevy Apache–in need of two tires and a
battery–which he gladly traded for two cords of wood.

I spent $45 to buy used tires and a battery from a junkyard
and got to work. The first three cords went to pay my
“debts” for the truck and chain saw. And now–after an
initial investment of less than $50 and a few weeks of work–I
have a pickup, a brand-new chain saw ($350), money in my
pocket ($150 to $200 a week), and a booming business. And
I’ve got plans for this spring too: I’m going to buy a good
tiller and go into the garden preparation business! How am

M.A. — Louisiana 

Designer Sewing Business

Catering to fashion-conscious customers in an alteration
shop five long days a week wasn’t my idea of a good way to
earn a living in Aspen, CO. So, while holding that
job, I was constantly looking for a new–and more
pleasant–way of using my sewing skills and my time.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS came to the rescue with her article “it Pays to Be
an Old Sew and Sew”. After ruminating
on those ideas for a few days, I made a couple of decisions
that turned earning a living into a pleasure instead of a
bore and burden: I decided to sew at home, and to work with
interior decorators making custom pillows, dust
ruffles, bedspreads, comforter covers, tablecloths, and
other items.

To begin, I simply made a list of the decorators in the
Yellow Pages and visited them all, taking along
samples of my work, a price list, and my new business
cards. My initial investment was a mere $15 — $12 for
the cards and $3.00 for the printed “catalog.” Orders
quickly started coming in, both from decorating firms and
from private customers whom the decorators had referred to

As soon as I was self-employed, I realized that I could
arrange my own work schedule … and I’ve really used
that benefit to advantage. I sew four days a week from 8:00
a.m. to 3:00 p.m., with a lunch hour during which I enjoy
either running or cross-country skiing (according to the
weather). Once a week I go to town to pick up and deliver
orders, get supplies, do personal errands, visit friends,
and just plain have a nice time. I like working with
professional people, and I’ve been averaging $100 a week
doing what I choose, with almost no money invested. It
would be difficult to imagine a better way to work toward

Maria Bachman — Grand Valley, CO