Last week upscale retalier Williams-Sonoma announced an urban homesteady line of goods they call “Agrarian”. A number of Root Simple readers responded to the news after I linked to a Wall Street Journal article about the Agrarian line. One reader likened the “Agrarian” items to Marie Antoinette’s 18th century cosplay mini-farm. Another hoped that mainstream acceptance of things like chicken coops and beehives might lead to fewer uptight home owners association restrictions. Yet another speculated that Ikea would come out with similar, but more modernist, options. But rather than delve into the cultural meaning of the Agrarian line (you are all welcome to do that in the comments), I thought I’d look at a few of their actual offerings in beekeeping, chicken coops, canning supplies and books.
Let’s start with the beekeeping supplies. The hives boxes they offer are very attractive but simply too expensive. If you want English style hive boxes like the ones Williams-Sonoma offers you can get them a lot cheaper at Brushy Mountain. The detailing on the Williams-Sonoma hives are better, but not enough to justify the price difference, in my opinion. Personally, I’d suggest saving even more money and going with the “migratory” boxes used by commercial beekeepers. Our local supplier, LA Honey sells them for a fraction of the cost of English style boxes. Three ten frame unassembled medium supers, a lid and bottom board run just a little over $100 at LA Honey compared with $500 for Williams-Sonoma’s three hive boxes. Hive boxes get smoked, weathered and banged up, so it’s not something I’d spend a lot of money on. Ditch the foundation and you’ll save even more money.
But it’s the veil in the beehive starter kit Williams-Sonoma is selling that bothers me the most. Like most of the other offerings in the Agrarian collection that veil is more about the image of the activity, in this case beekeeping, than it is about actual activity, i.e. beekeeping. This is, of course, the essence of modern marketing as pioneered nearly a century ago by Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays (watch the Century of the Self to go down that left hand path). Use that stylish Williams-Sonoma veil and I’ll guarantee you that you’ll have a few angry bees crawling up the inside of the veil. Inexperienced beekeepers, such as myself, are better off with more protection. It ain’t stylish, but this one piece suit from Dadant has saved my rear on more than one occasion.
|Dadant Bee suit. Prada it ain’t.|
As far as Williams-Sonoma’s beekeeping books go, I’m not a fan of the ones they are selling. I’d get a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping and The Practical Beekeeper Volume I, II and III: Beekeeping Naturally, both of which tell you how to keep bees without using chemicals and with minimal intervention.
An Upscale Chicken Coop
Williams-Sonoma’s “Alexandria” coop is mighty fine looking, but, like the beekeeping equipment, expensive. Just the coop will set you back $879. Add the $399 run and you’ve got some expensive eggs. Peaceful Valley Farm Supply has a decent looking $400 coop if you don’t feel like building one yourself. Update: Make sure to read Terry’s comment on this post for her thoughts on the sizing and weather performance of this coop. I completely agree with her.
Euro-style Canning Supplies
The canning supplies in the Agrarian collection are really nice. While the USDA only recommends using two piece Ball/Kerr lids, the attractive Weck jars Willliams-Sonoma carries have a number of advantages. There’s no BPA and the only piece you have to throw out and replace is the rubber gasket.
Of course if they were carrying our books I’d be writing a glowing review (just kidding, though looking at my taxes, maybe I’m not kidding!). There’s a few excellent books here, especially The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux. Many of the other books suffer from the “Century of the Self” problem mentioned above–they’re all about image, which equals too many pictures and not enough actual how-to advice.
That a major upscale retailer is selling chicken coops and canning supplies goes to show how much things have changed in the past ten years. I take this as a good sign. Perhaps some of those Weck jars will trickle down to my local hardware store. Maybe Rem Koolhass will design a chicken coop for Ikea (though I pity the poor chickens who will have to live in it). And, someday those uptight HOAs will be so thick in goats they’ll resemble a small Afghan villages. Thank you great recession!