Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Money does grow on trees.

There's a great old black walnut tree in the backyard. In the summer, it provides shade for lounging in a hammock with a book and a glass of ice water. In autumn when the nuts begin to fall, it becomes a bit more of a nuisance. Every other year there's an abundant crop. If you've never know the joy such a tree can provide, envision your lawn covered with hundreds of slightly squishy green and black golf balls in addition to the usual leaves. Walking outside becomes treacherous, even more so at night.

Picking up all of those walnuts isn't difficult, but it is tedious. If you don't wear gloves, they stain your hands. There are worse ways to spend a sunny afternoon than crouching, scooping up the walnuts, and tossing them in bins, but it isn't my favorite task. Fortunately, the walnuts themselves are a valuable commodity.

As a result, there are folks who offer to clear yards of walnuts in exchange for permission to sell the nuts. It's a good arrangement for everyone involved. Most people view the walnuts as a minor nuisance and are happy to have others do their yard work for free. It's a business that requires few start-up costs. There are buyers eager to process and resell the nuts once they've been collected by these middlemen so there's a near certainty of at least a small profit.

Every fall when I was in elementary school, the same elderly couple came to our door to ask if they could collect our nuts. They spent the day gathering them and then hauled them away in the back of a battered truck. Even after the man suffered a stroke, they continued to come each fall. It was clear that they needed the money. I don't think that they could have earned more than a few hundred dollars each year from this business, but for someone trying to scrape by on Social Security, that meager amount might make a big difference in comfort.

They haven't been back in several years, but others come in their place. This year, the guys who wanted our nuts came long before most of them had fallen, and so my mother and I were left to gather most of the walnuts. We have gallons and gallons of the things, and I've researched where we might be able to sell them ourselves. It won't make us much money, but since we've already gone to the trouble of collecting them, we might as well take them down the road to the buyer to get what we can for them. It's an unexpected source of alternative income, but in the future my mom will probably leave the job to others.

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