Buy local, from a ‘global marketplace’

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Jen O’Connor is the fifth generation of her family to live in the same home in the village of Altamont, which she has brought back to its farmstead roots and where she produces soaps and seeds that she sells on her Etsy store, called The Kirk Estate. She and her husband also have a band, The Parlor — named for a room in their 19th-Century home — that performs original indie pop music with an electronic edge that she calls “campfire disco.”

ALTAMONT — Want to shop local? Now you can also do it online.

Two artisans, each of whom live in Altamont, maintain stores on Etsy, where their goods are available year-round, and not just on craft-fair weekends.

Etsy calls itself a “global marketplace,” and features handmade and vintage items, as well as creative factory-made items. Sellers pay the website a listing fee for each item and a percentage on each transaction completed; sales are done on a secure portal; and customers can leave reviews of sellers to help guide others.

Etsy has 1.7 active sellers and 27.1 million active buyers and did $2.39 billion in business in 2015, according to the website.

One of the two local artisans sells soaps and seeds, while the other handcrafts wooden items.

The Kirk Estate

At her farmstead in the village of Altamont, Jen O’Connor makes soap the old-fashioned way, cold-processing it in small batches.

The process uses heat only initially, to melt solid oils such as coconut or palm kernel, but does not apply any continuous heat while the oils and the base are being stirred.

“It takes four to six weeks for it to cure but, because of that process, you’re left with a really solid, strong bar of soap,” O’Connor explained.

“It’s far more moisturizing than the soaps you can get at the supermarket,” O’Connor said. Commercial soap manufacturers, she said, “siphon off the natural glycerine that’s created, and make it into lotions and stuff to sell you again.”


The Enterprise — Michael Koff 
Essential oils and organic, locally grown herbs: The Kirk Estate’s soaps are shown before and after being prepared for sale. 


She grows all of the organic herbs — rosemary, lavender, and peppermint, to name a few — that she mixes into her soaps. All of the soaps are scented with essential oils.

For instance, in The Kirk Estate’s citrus ginger hops soap, “We use hops that we make here,” she said, and add hand-dried and ground grapefruit peels and ginger and grapefruit essential oils.

O’Connor also raises and sells seed packets of The Kirk Estate’s heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. Unlike genetically modified organisms, these are open-pollinated seeds that, O’Connor said, can be passed on from generation to generation. They will grow again, true to form, each year, she said.

The 19th-Century farmhouse in Altamont where O’Connor lives with her husband, Eric Krans, has been in her family for five generations, since 1904. She makes all of her products there and maintains 4,500 square feet of organic gardens of her own design.

Krans tends to the more than two-dozen fruit-bearing trees and bushes that help make life for the couple more self-sustaining and cares for their experimental vineyard and hops bines, or climbing plants, as well as for the farmstead’s machinery, buildings, and landscape.

Krans also works full-time as a program manager at the Albany Visualization and Information Lab of the Research Foundation for the State University of New York. Krans also built and ran the Veggie Mobile for Capital Roots, which delivers a variety of fresh, affordable produce from local farms and wholesalers to “food deserts,” or inner-city neighborhoods that do not have ready access to fresh food.

For O’Connor, The Kirk Estate — including its website and blog — is a full-time endeavor.

In their spare time, the couple also forms the indie-art-pop band The Parlor. She and Krans both write, arrange, record, perform, and produce their music, O’Connor writes on her blog.

She recently said someone had called their most recent music — which incorporates “a little bit of electronics” — “campfire disco.” You can imagine dancing to it, O’Connor said, “but at a campfire.”

The couple’s music CDs are available for sale on the website as well.

O’Connor and Krans have toured around the country playing music, formerly as part of a five-piece band, and hope to set up a tour for their two-person band this spring.

For those who live locally and prefer to avoid shipping costs, O’Connor can be reached through her blog to arrange for the occasional direct sale.

She does not sell at craft fairs; her focus, she says, is online and wholesale.

Her soaps and seeds are also available at Bella Fleur floral and gift shop, at 182 Main St. in Altamont.


Woodworker Howard Jackson

Howard Jackson taught math “for too long” at Albany High School but, since retiring, has been able to concentrate on the woodworking that he has “dabbled in” all his life.

“I grew up in a family of carpenters,” he explained recently.

His daughter convinced him to open an Etsy store, to be able to expand his reach to buyers further afield, and he recently sold seven lamps to a woman in South Dakota and another to a woman in Wisconsin.


The Enterprise — Michael Koff 
Retired math teacher turned Etsy entrepreneur: Howard Jackson of Altamont stands in his workshop behind two of his handcrafted lamps. The lamp on the left is a laminated redwood burl shade with a cherry base, and the one on the right, a mappa burl shade with an American black walnut base. Beneath the lamps are a group of jigsaw puzzles and Christmas ornaments. 


Next he plans to offer sales to international customers as well.

Jackson’s description of his design process is dry and self-deprecating: “Well, you know, with lamps, they’re pretty much similar in design: You’ve got a post and a lampshade. I add my own touches to it.”

Jackson’s lampshades are made of a plexiglass, or acrylic, base — for strength — covered with a thin wooden veneer that he has found a way to glue onto the base with epoxy and then cover with epoxy, to achieve a translucent effect.

“It took me a long time to learn how to get it to look good,” he says of the lamination process. “It looks ugly as hell when you first put on the veneer,” he said, even now.  

When he originally started experimenting with the process, he tried sanding the veneer to smooth it and improve the look, but that simply rubbed the thin sheet of wood off.

Talking to a boatmaker brought a breakthrough, Jackson said. The boatmaker told him to use additional layers of epoxy over the top.


The Enterprise — Michael Koff 
No two exactly alike: In addition to lamps, Howard Jackson makes an array of lightweight Christmas ornaments in the shapes of snowflakes and animals. 


The result is a sturdy product that “can stand abuse and can also be washed,” Jackson said.

His lamps come in three sizes, he said. The shortest table lamp has a shade that looks like Craftsman or Frank Lloyd Wright style, he says; he also makes medium-sized lamps, which are just a bit taller, and floor lamps.

He tells people not to use incandescent bulbs; “They get too hot.” All of his lamps can use compact fluorescent or light-emitting diode bulbs; the shorter table lamp also does well with a specialized bulb called a lightstick LED, he said.

For the base and for the edges of the shade, he uses a hard wood, either cherry or American black walnut. For the veneer, he usually uses any of a variety of woods, including curly maple, quilted maple, olive ash burl, redwood burl, and mappa burl.

Jackson also creates playful interlocking jigsaw puzzles in animal shapes and very thin, lightweight Christmas-tree ornaments shaped like animals or snowflakes.  

He brings his wares to the occasional craft show; his next one is Saturday, he says, at Christian Brothers Academy.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.