Service, Sustainability and . . . Bags

I talk often about service. What happens when we realize there is no God and that others aren’t here for us to compete with but to share with? Not to take from but to give to? What happens we no longer perceive our selves as separate from the collective?

The community sewing room where bag-making workshops are held. That’s me folding the bags on a wooden frame – the next step is to grommet them.

Well, love, broadly speaking. And service – in the many forms it assumes – is another way of saying (a perhaps more helpful way at times because it’s less dramatic) “I love you.”

Service – like love – is responsive to present circumstances. Somebody who is well-fed but lacks transportation is not helped by a free meal, just as somebody who is hungry and has no money to buy food is not helped by a road trip.

(Yes, there are more complex systemic problems underlying hunger and poverty, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid responding to the particular instances we encounter. Indeed, it is often in relationship to those particular circumstances that more long-term and sustainable solutions are revealed)

We are consumers, inevitably. This is a feature of being human, not a bug. We are what we consume. Consumption becomes us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be more thoughtful or creative or cautious or restrained in terms of what and how and when we consume.

One way to rethink our habits of consumption is to give attention to the possibilities of reuse and repurpose. What is left over? Is anything ever truly “useless?” Is there another end to which X can be put? Manufacturers tend to envision a narrowly tailored use for products and market them accordingly. When we’re done with that use, can we find another?

We use a lot of feed bags on our homestead – mostly for chickens but sometimes for horses. Folks around us do as well. Pigs, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits . . . animals gotta eat. The bags the feed comes are¬†generally sturdy fifty pound bags. When they’re empty, they’ve accomplished the purpose the manufacturer foresaw.

But we are just getting started.

Some folks use these empty bags as leaf-filled foundation seams in winter. Others use them as a way of not buying plastic trash bags. Just load them with trash and take them to the dump / transfer station/ or whatever it’s called in your town. These are viable and effective applications of the reuse principal.

But there is another way, one that keeps those bags bagging for a long time to come. We turn the fee bags into shopping bags with handles for humans to use when go food shopping at the coop. Or are lugging books to and from the library. Or supplies to school. Or to a friend’s house for a party. Et cetera.

Bag-making workshops have been a staple of our community for a long time. I was actually a reporter for the local daily and covered some of the early meetings. Folks get together in the basement of the community center where there’s a communal sewing space, set up a de facto production line, and over the course of a few hours reconfigure feed bags to a more general and long-term use.

It’s fun and practical. What else can we ask for in life?

We remove the thin plastic liners, shake out remnants of grain (a big plus for the long songbird population), turn the bags inside out, fold them into rough squares, grommet the bottoms, add handles (reconfigured garden hose or something similar) and voila! Sturdy and cool-looking bags.

During the last workshop, we made two hundred bags in a little over two hours. I worked the grommet machine (somewhat ineptly).

Two hundred bags repurposed from old feed bags. Even though I was helping – where “helping” means needing a lot of help from more experienced bagmakers – we made all these in just over two hours.

The bags are donated to local entities – shelters, coops, libraries, second-hand clothing stores, and so forth. Some are given to friends. Last week in the cashier line I gave one to the woman ahead of me who’d forgotten her own bags.

In time, small steps equal a journey. And walking together – be it gardening, protesting, making bags – is a happy and fructive way to walk.


If you are interested in learning how to make bags from feed bags, starting workshops in your own community, or otherwise learning about bag-making, Bagshare is a good starting place.

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