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Old Professions That Are Making a Comeback

Old Professions Make A Comeback
Photo: jsroberts.com.au

The sustainable food movement has inspired a return to traditional food crafts and preparation: canning, pickling, cheese-making, home brewing. Meanwhile, a similar trend has infused careers and occupations. These resurging professions can reflect a rejection of mass-production and indicate a move back toward more carefully considered and developed products and services.
 
They may have old-fashioned sensibilities, but it’s not a movement of Luddites: many who adopt the old ways still take advantage of modern technologies, if only to promote their endeavors online.
 
Should old professions be forgot, click ahead to learn about seven that will not.

By Colleen Kane
Posted 16 Dec 2010

Farmer
Photo: Trip Sullivan for Baltimore Community Foundation

Not since the back-to-the-land movements of the 20th century (the last one ending in the 1970s) has farming gained so much interest among younger people who didn’t grow up on farms. But now that the preaching of Pollan has gone mainstream, more Americans are reconsidering their food intake and production. As a result, urban farms are springing up in cities all over America, on rooftops and in empty lots. While the methods are similar to pre-pesticide organic farming methods, the ethos addresses numerous modern concerns.
 
Farming had long ceased to resemble the pastoral family model that’s still portrayed on butter cartons today. Food production is dominated by large-scale, industrialized monopolies. The goal of these new farms is to decentralize, to source food more locally and on a smaller scale that doesn’t damage the environment. Another aspect is the obesity epidemic: getting children involved with producing their own healthy food in hopes of breaking this harmful trend.
 
Baltimore’s Great Kids Farm is one such program. The organization teaches children about farming as they cultivate organic fruits and vegetables year-round, and it prepares them for agricultural, culinary, and environmental careers. They also run a CSA ($500 for 24 weeks of produce), supply local restaurants, and sell at farmers’ markets.

Letterer
Photo: Ed Janssen

Branding used to be created by hand by professionals. In the digital age, however, anyone with a computer can make a sign or design a logo—but that doesn’t mean it looks good. “Brands and logos are becoming homogenized because designers are often just tweaking fonts that everyone has access to,” says Elizabeth Carey Smith, who runs the Brooklyn design studio The Letter Office. “Lettering gives companies an opportunity to create something truly unique.” Another benefit she points out is that other companies can’t steal the look easily.
 
“There are so many graphic designers out there, so those of us who have spun off into lettering have created a niche by resurrecting basically what used to be the primary craft of the trade,” she says.
 
Letterers don’t eschew technology entirely, of course. “The way that I work always starts off on paper. I use various pens and brushes and really explore the letterforms of the word or company name, looking for compositions that express what the company wants to be to its audience. I then refine these on the computer, and add to what I've done with color, image, and other components to create a whole identity system.”
 
Lettering is often done by freelancers, so they set their own hours. Rates vary, but creating a logo, which can take anywhere from four hours to a few weeks, can run about $1,000.

Shoemaker
Photo: jsroberts.com.au

James Roberts of Melbourne, Australia makes footwear and leather goods by hand, using methods and tools much the same to those used a hundred years ago. His shoes start at $800 AUD (about $790 USD), with boots and custom work going much higher—and he has a waiting list of six months plus. Numerous other leather-workers ply their trade on Etsy.com’s online marketplace, crafting custom shoes, boots, and bags. There, a pair of custom-made men’s or women’s shoes can command $500 a pair, and bags draw $100 on up.
 
In this age of mass production, shoes come cheap. Why the interest in bespoke, even in such a down economy? For many, it’s about quality and luxury. “Handmade shoes are now in the realm of luxury goods when they were once the only option,” says James. “So to keep the profession alive, I strive to make the shoes fit that small luxury market and thus raise the quality and craftsmanship of every step in the process that I can.”
 
James uses all leather for his shoes’ uppers, linings and soles and stiffeners, he hand-sews the shoes, and he dyes his own leather. “A day in the workshop is hard work. I usually have a few different tasks that I aim to get done that day. Sometimes it can take all day hand- stitching the soles on.” He spends anywhere from 40-70 hours making each pair.

Butcher
Photo: Ray Girard

Sara Bigelow left her job in PR to become a butcher, and now works 11 or 12-hour days as one at The Meat Hook at Brooklyn Kitchen. She took about a 30% pay cut in this career switch, but says she did it for the love of the craft—and it doesn’t hurt to get fed grass-fed beef daily.
 
She explains the recent growth in her field: “I think people are interested lately in working as a butcher for a couple reasons: it's being sold as a sort of ‘sexy’ profession because of the primal/artisinal/tradesman cache of working with your hands and creating food; food itself (what we're eating, how it's prepared, where it comes from) has become an important issue, particularly in big cities but also nationwide—therefore being involved in the food world has become more appealing; finally, there is more opportunity for someone interested in working with food generally and meat specifically to do so.”
 
Sara says the work of the new butchers is similar to those of the 1940s, before large-scale meat production and processing plants took away part of the butcher’s job. What’s different about the new crop, she says, is “[We] educate anyone who's interested in the provenance of our meat, and why what we're doing (working with small, local farms, selling grass-fed beef, etc) matters.”

Beekeeper
Photo: Anthony Lee | OJO Images | Getty Images

Beekeeping is another traditional craft seeing a bump in popularity due to rising concern over locally and sustainably produced foods. However, modern beekeepers are also in it to help combat the dwindling of the nation’s bee population.
 
In many ways beekeeping hasn’t changed, in that it still involves breeding honeybees, maintaining their hives, and harvesting their honey. But another new aspect is that it’s being taken up again in cities as it becomes legalized, and that modern beekeepers find themselves campaigning for its legalization. The New York Times reported that beekeeping became legal in the past two years in many municipalities from New York to Salt Lake City, and that many more are considering lifting their bans. The New York City beekeeping club now has about 900 members, a number double that of just a year ago.
 
Typically, beekeepers don’t do it for the money, and most do it as a hobby. But there are jobs in beekeeping, and others still have the prospect of selling honey ($3- $6 per pound), pollen, and beeswax products. Some also rent out their hives to other beekeepers ($40- $100). Some lose money or break even, but depending on the amount of hives one keeps, it can be profitable.

Traditional Animator
Photo: Disney Enterprises

Comparing the enchanting, painterly look of hand-animated classics like Max Fleischer’s “Superman” or Disney’s “Snow White” to the cheaply outsourced look of later cartoons, it’s understandable why new technologies in digital animation were swiftly embraced.
 
Although Pixar is the reigning monolith of animated films, don’t write off traditional, hand-drawn-and-colored, 2D animation yet. No less of a titan than Disney (who owns Pixar) has advocated for traditional, after a five-year hiatus, with their two well received recent films, 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog,” and 2010’s “Tangled.”
 
And no less of a film critic than Roger Ebert validated the aesthetic choice when he heaped on the praise in his review for The Princess and the Frog: “This is what classic animation once was like! No 3-D! No glasses! No extra ticket charge! No frantic frenzies of meaningless action!”
 
That’s not to say that 3D won’t continue dominating the market, but the rumors of traditional animation’s death have been exaggerated. It’s a safe bet that if Disney won’t let 2D fade, it’s safe in the age of CGI.

Barber
Photo: Alexa Miller | Workbook Stock | Getty Images

The New York Times recently covered “The Barbershop Renaissance,” chronicling an uptick in retro-styled barber shops where men can get a shave and a haircut for …well, for more than two bits, but for less than they would at a frou-frou salon ($30-$40 for a haircut and $25 to $40 for a straight-razor hot shave). It’s manly, yet stylish, yet practical.
 
The interest is also in evidence elsewhere, on Amazon with its new category “classic shave,” eBay, where a representative cited in the article says “sales of merchandise returned by the search term barbershop were up 77 percent, sales of Barbicide were up 60 percent, and sales of items found by searching for the words vintage barbershop sign were up 251 percent.” Finally, the number of issued barber licenses increased by 10 percent.
 
The barbers of the Times’ renaissance are distinguished from their predecessors, the everyday barbers on a Main Street, USA, in that they’re being consciously retro in a desirable way, unlike the barber cited by a source in the Times piece, who gave him a cut evoking Keanu Reeves circa 1993 when he was aiming for a 1960s Don Draper.