sprouted in about 2001, on a small, cluttered desk in a small cabin, next to a little cob studio, in a sizeable garden, bounded by creek, forest, and neighbors, human and wild.
Can technology and the internet bring us together to make stronger communities? Or will greed and profit rule the day? We’ll see. This work comes to you in the hope of helping to cultivate common soil so all may feed and flourish.
In addition to books, we bake bread, tend the garden, try to raise our kids, make and build things, teach, and trade with friends and neighbors. We live well, below “the poverty line,” but reap rich rewards in time, friends, and freedom.
The ideal that inspires all this is a craft economy: a way of life by which we count what we do not in dollars but in beauty, in the goodness of work, food, fellowship, and grace, and despite the demands and requirements of global trade, global finance, and global war. We participate as we must, often reluctantly, and do our best to live equitably and simply.
If you’re interested, below are more involved stories about how things happened.
The first book was Build Your Own Earth Oven. I (Kiko) was trying to find a way to make sculpture and make a living. I took an earthen building workshop with Ianto Evans and the Cob Cottage Company in order to learn how to build my own cheap house. We learned much, much more — including how to build a simple wood-fired, earthen oven. At the time, however, I had no place to build a house. So I started building ovens, a simple kind of sculpture that also made wonderful bread. People saw pictures and wanted their own, so I taught some workshops. I wrote up notes for folks to take home; then I added pictures and drawings, made a pamphlet, sold 1,000, expanded text and drawings, borrowed $5K from my brother, sent the files to the printer — and boom! Hand Print Press.
As I learned about working with earth, new ideas and projects took root in the mud, most of them educational or community-oriented, resulting in two more little books: Dig Your Hands in the Dirt, and Make a Simple Sundial.
All mud, art, and making go back to one idea. I first learned it (as most do) from my mother, who learned not only from her mom, but also at New York City’s famous “little red schoolhouse,” where learning by doing was the core curriculum (her teacher was “Miss Doing”, really!)
In the midst of a long career as an artist, Mom spent several years directing the Boston Childrens’ Museum visitors’ center, where she helped develop ground-breaking programs for hands-on learning. I spent many Saturdays helping her teach paper-making, weaving with straws, rope-winding, etc. Mom later turned her hand-drawn project notes into a best-selling book called Making Things, A Handbook of Creative Discovery. Nearly 30 years later, Little, Brown let it go out of print, so I picked it up for my own kids’ generation. It turned my two-book operation into a real (if small) publishing concern.
In 2010, colleagues Max and Eva Edleson expanded our industry from one to two cottages. Max re-built the website, and he and Eva wrote and published Build Your Own Barrel Oven, which introduces another variety of wood-fired oven to feed what seems to be a growing hunger for simple, wood-fired, communal hearths. Max and Eva now have two daughters of their own, a farm, and a business called firespeaking — enough that they no longer have the time to manage the website.
Since I started building ovens more than 20 years ago, there has been a wonderful proliferation of books about building, materials, and much more. Whether it’s building or baking, gardening or fermenting, there is joy in participating in the tangible, physical work of learning about life. And while books can’t replace experience, they seem to help. People read, and take away inspiration. We have heard from many who went from having never built a thing in their lives, to building ovens, homes, gardens, businesses, and new kinds of lives, more free from 30 year mortgages, hateful jobs, artificial food, and toxic competition for illusionary goals.
So: let’s have more handcraft, art, food, agriculture, community, and culture; stories and photos, lessons and dreams, art and beauty and community and joy and gratitude and grace!
In the same way that we are more than the books we write, you the reader are more than your money. When you buy a book here, you’re supporting families — not only mine, but also the folks who print, store, and ship the books (Kim, Perry, Phil, Chris, Jill, Eva, etc. — who cover everything from estimating to printing to warehousing and shipping).
Chelsea Green Books, which distributes some of our titles, is owned by all their employees and works in a similar spirit.
We’re not trying to compete with Amazon. We’ve set up this site mostly as a service or a signature, a kind of security for anyone who buys our books and might want to know where and who they come from. And while we’d rather not spend the time in front of a computer, we recognize that every purchase requires a real person, and since purchasing has shifted to the web, we’re participating as best we can.
The truth of economy (from the Greek word for “home”) asks us to recognize that we don’t really make our own lives but receive them as a gift from a source greater than ourselves – no matter how great our “economic growth.” The business has been a huge gift to us, from the experiences (and families) that gave us the skills and information to participate in things we love to do, to the fraternal loan that paid for the first print run of the first book. It supports us in making our own homes and shelters, growing as much of our food as we can, raising our kids, and working in our communities. Whatever gifts we offer, whether books or stories or connections, all is thanks, in recognition that the wealth we enjoy is not ours to keep, but to share.
(Web) Site Design
We tried to organize the site to be clear, transparent, and as useful as possible.
We’re hoping to reach more people in more places with useful do-it-yourself and learning-by-doing information while also allowing ourselves, as much as possible, to live rurally, farm, and make useful, beautiful things.
All feedback is appreciated.