Several men and one woman gathered in the woodshop at Tillers International farm near Scott’s Michigan to cooper a piggin. Tillers International is a non-profit organization in rural Scotts, Michigan. At their Cook’s Mill Learning Center they teach classes in cheese, soap and broom making, blacksmithing, stone masonry and natural fiber dying among other things.
“Coopering is making things out of staves,” Peter Cooper says. “Staves are individual pieces of wood that are fitted together to form a circle. And, those are used to make containers. So, you’ll see buckets and barrels and butter churns.”
The students in the coopering class are making piggins out of western red cedar.
“A piggin is a one handled bucket,” says Cooper, “And, we’re going to be starting from scratch, splitting it out of the rail. And, then we are going to be shaping the staves and then, making the bucket.”
“Tillers was started 25 or 30 years ago, with the intent of recycling public domain technology to serve the needy people of the world,” says says Chuck Andrews, another volunteer instructor.
Dick Roosenberg, executive director of Tillers says, “We created Tillers as a means to preserve the historical rural technologies, especially farming technologies; but, several of the technologies that support that as well. And, we’re also really then looking to study those, understand them and make them accessible to contemporary needs both here in the United States in small scale farming; but, especially overseas in international development.”
Thomas Hale came from San Diego, California to take the class.
“I like the historic value of it,” he says, “and I do the Rendezvous Reenactments and the bucket making fits right in with that. So, I just want to keep up the old skills.”
Not finding anyone in California who could teach it and after an internet search and a few phone calls, Hale decided that Tillers was the best deal for what he wanted.
“I really like this place,” he says. “I’m actually staying in the guest house. First thing I woke up to this morning was a rooster crow. You just don’t get that in San Diego.”
“Later this year, I’ll be coming back doing timber raising and blacksmithing coopering tools," says Josh Matelski from Madison, Wisconsin. "I saw this on The Woodright’s Shop on PBS a couple of years ago and thought it was an interesting place to come learn something that you normally don’t find at a community college or something like that.”
An interest in early American History brought Fred Rogers from Niles, MI to the class to learn a craft “that we used to do stay alive and make our lives better.” Jessica Johnson, an intern at Tillers, is from Kentucky. She will be taking her love of woodworking skills to a farm in Liberia, West Africa to work on agriculture development.
"We have several events, including the fall harvest festival in Sept. that are great opportunities for people to come out and see us,” Dick Roosenberg says.