These are just a few of the headlines that blared off Google’s News feed last week:
- “World economy to shrink by 1-2 percent in 2009”
- “Unemployment rises in 99.7 percent of metro areas”
- “Rescuing the Economy Just Got Harder”.
Pass the St. John’s wort, please.
It’s hard not to despair about the state of the world these days – and not just when you turn on the news. We all know someone – if not many – affected by the “worst recession since the Great Depression.” Depleted retirement accounts, foreclosed homes, lost jobs – personal calamities and real human anguish. And the downturn isn’t just touching those corrupt day-traders, bankers, and mortgage brokers, or hitting the realtors, developers, and fresh faces on Flip This House, who were getting drunk off the housing bubble a couple years ago. It’s taking out teachers, bureaucrats, factory workers, and seemingly half the state of California too. So, we can probably all use some good news about now.
For those of us who weren’t quite so inebriated on the manic consumerism of the last few decades, it’s not hard to find silver linings. So, here goes – five reasons you might want to celebrate a little.
1. Seed companies can hardly keep up with their orders.
Philadelphia-based Burpee Seed Company estimates that $10 in seeds can produce vegetables that would cost $650 in a grocery store. When the economy started its collapse, they marketed the “money garden” – six easy-to-grow seed packs for ten dollars. Not surprisingly, Burpee’s business is up twenty percent from last year.
Burpee’s not alone. Washington-based Irish Eyes Garden Seeds is getting a hundred calls a day – a 20 to 30 percent increase over last year. At Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a small company in the Ozarks, sales are up two and a half times. They’re having trouble keeping their catalogs stocked, and their most popular seed varieties are sold out for the season. Oregon’s Territorial Seeds is experiencing the same phenomenon. It’s official – the backyard garden is the hottest thing growing this spring. Even the Obamas are doing it.
2. Americans are rediscovering their kitchens.
Epicurious.com predicted that one of the hallmarks of 2009 would be “a return to families cooking together and eating at home more than they have in decades,” and they seem to be right so far. Sales of cookbooks, cookware, and cooking magazines are up. Websites devoted to helping newbies navigate the kitchen are thriving. And people aren’t just tossing jars of pasta on noodles or popping boxes in the microwave; they’re cooking from scratch. Staples like white flour, dried beans and legumes, and eggs are flying off grocery store shelves. And according to market researcher Nielsen Co., canning and freezing supplies were the supermarket sales category with the highest annual growth rate (as of last November) – a trend they haven’t seen since the 1930s.
3. Libraries have become hip.
Libraries across the nation are reporting more visits and higher circulation. Lawrence Public Library director Bruce Flanders says his numbers are in a “rapidly ascending trajectory.” Library card requests rose 27% in San Francisco in the last months of 2008. And CBS Evening News reported that nationwide more people applied for library cards last year than anytime since libraries started keeping records in 1990.
At New Urban Habitat, we’ve been sweet on public libraries for a long time, not just for all the money individuals save by borrowing books, DVDs, and computers rather than buying their own, or the resources we keep out of the landfills when we share. Libraries are also refuges for the lonely-types of the world – punk teens, new parents, retired grandfathers, and information seekers of all kind. And librarians are downright edgy. They read banned books, thumb their noses at the Patriot Act, and they’ll answer just about any question in the stratosphere, no matter how bizarre. Plus, as Dale Carnegie knew, there’s no better place to retool your resume than a public library. (Now if only library budgets were also in that rapidly ascending trajectory.)
4. Craftiness is chic
According to Entrepeneur.com, “tough times tend to spur creativity”. And sure enough, crafting is cool right now. Craft and Hobby Association reported that in 2007, craft sales reached nearly $32 billion, and almost 57 percent of U.S. households engaged in crafting. Crafts – especially sewing, scrapbooking, and knitting – are just getting more popular as the economy sours. Etsy.com, a site where small crafters sell the wares, reported a more than three-fold increase in sales in 2008. And despite the general gloomy reports coming out of the publishing industry, craft books are making big profits. It’s not just craftiness – the recession is inspiring people to hunker down and enjoy other old-fashioned activities, like board games and playing music together.
5. Bike service shops are booming
Car lots might be vacant these days, but some bike shops are teeming with customers. Bike industry news is mixed. Sales for higher-end models and mountain bikes are down. But shops offering utility city cycles – entry-level, commuting, hybrid, and cargo models – are faring much better. And service-oriented shops in bike-friendly locales are rolling right along. The $4 a gallon gas last spring inspired quite a few people to dust the cobwebs off their old bikes and teeter them in for tune-ups. And recession-era frugality has kept that trend alive. People may feel uneasy laying down the cash for a new bike right now, but even with plunging gas prices, folks are discovering it’s cheaper to tune up that old cruiser than to keep the station wagon on the road.
So, let’s raise our glasses (of homebrew) to the resurgence of bikes, crafts, cooking, gardens, and libraries. As we’ve all known for awhile, they are nourishing to people’s bodies, minds, and souls, not to mention their pocket books. The more people who love them, the better.