Mar 312010

Dung Repository

George Washington was not only the father of our country. He was also the father of American composting. Weak soil at Mt. Vernon led Washington to experiment with putting organic material back into his soil. He devised a “dung repository” to process manure. “The “repository for dung” was designed to compost animal manure and a variety of organic materials to “cure” into fertilizer for use in the nearby gardens and orchard.  The building illustrates George Washington’s dedication to finding ways to increase the fertility of his soil and to convert Mount Vernon into a model of progressive farming.  The original 31 X 12-foot, open walled structure was built in 1787 and was reconstructed in 2001.  Archaeologists revealed remnants of the brick foundation walls along with the virtually intact cobble stone floor, and they have been incorporated into the reconstructed building.”

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Mar 302010

I don’t think that we, as islanders, have a “Plan B” to take effect if something were to happen to the Whatcom Chief. Whatcom County has a Plan B (we think) which would consist of a passenger ferry to Fairhaven with good weather trips to be determined for the Chief to haul critical vehicles back and forth.

The question remains should we, as an island community, have our own Plan B, a contingency plan to prepare us for the unexpected? And, if we do need a back up plan, what organization or group should put the plan together? Could this be a role for PLIC? Or, would it fit as part of our Fire Department’s Disaster Preparedness program?

The ferry has always seemed to me to be a rather tenuous connection. A number of things could happen (i.e. maintenance issues) which could take it out of service for a short or long term. Making a deal with the Lummis is only one problem. Even if a lease gets signed for Gooseberry Point something could happen to the ferry. The declining fortune of the national and local economy is going to affect the County’s future ability to replace the ferry and the docks.

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Mar 292010

A 9:45am on Saturday, April 3 island citizens will gather at the Grange to be assigned sections of the island to clean up. This might sound like work but it’s actually a lot of fun. It’s more like a treasure hunt. I think it was last year that someone found a bowling ball along side the road. What could be more fun than that?

To get us pumped up for island clean up you should view a short film by American director Ramin Bahrani. This movie follows the journey of a plastic bag (voiced by Werner Herzog) “searching for its lost maker, the woman who took it home from the store and eventually discarded it. Along the way, it encounters strange creatures, experiences love in the sky, grieves the loss of its beloved maker, and tries to grasp its purpose in the world.

In the end, the wayward plastic bag wafts its way to the ocean, into the tides, and out into the Pacific Ocean trash vortex — a promised nirvana where it will settle among its own kind and gradually let the memories of its maker slip away.” This enormous accumulation of trash is called the North Pacific Gyre and covers and area of 10,000,000 square miles . It’s an abomination for which we should all be ashamed.

Our job is to keep those plastic bags and bottles drifting around Lummi Island from making it to the Gyre

Plastic Bag by Ramin Bahrani

Mar 272010

I don’t have too many shopping fantasies. There is one. I’d like to get in a boat and cruise over to Eastsound on Orcas Island and visit Smith and Speed Mercantile and load the boat with their high quality hand tools. The store is owned by some Orcas Island homesteaders who, according to their website, walk the walk:

“We live off the grid on Orcas Island, meaning we are powered by solar, we use little fossil fuel on our farm and the only line that enters our house is the phone line.  We do most of our farm tasks by hand. Whether it is using the broad fork to prepare our garden beds, or the one man cross cut saw to cut our firewood or the Austria hand hammered scythe blades with a curved wood handle to quietly lay down the grass in our field.  Having used all manner of powered equipment we are convinced it disturbs the peace within your land, your body and mind.

Our focus is on hand tools because we value the place a good hand tool holds as the conduit between man and nature. It allows us to create in the natural world. We think feeding your body good food, and the way it is achieved is just as important.  The work with hand tools is another way of staying healthy- so you and the earth remains healthy- all prosper and benefit.”

Good quality hand tools aren’t cheap. On the other hand, they’re worth it. I’m on my third digging fork in a year having bought two from the Lehman’s catalogue only to have them break tines when turning sod.

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Mar 262010

We will soon be leaving an era where people pay memberships to fitness clubs and buy large contraptions to keep in their homes to help them stay in condition. My guess is in the future we will stay fit by walking and working. Power tools are wonderful in their efficiency. They let us do more work faster than we can ever do by hand. But I have a soft spot for hand tools. My favorite is the scythe.

I have a lot of grass  to mow and this time of year it grows pretty fast. My grass, so called, is a variety of plants which if allowed to mature will turn into a beautiful field of grasses, daisies, dandelions, dock, yarrow and others unidentified. By mid-summer, uncut, our “grass” will be two to three feet high and create a mowing problem that will overwhelm my lawn mower. It’s reasonably fast work for my scythe.
So I can practice with the scythe, I intentionally let sections of grass grow to maturity. I pile the cut grass and let it rot a bit and use it for mulching.

Scything it is a very enjoyable activity. It’s great exercise but not terribly fatiguing. It requires concentration, a bending of the knees and a rotation of the torso.

I spent some pretty big bucks on a Shindaiwa Brush Cutter, a noisy, powerful, smelly machine that, with the proper blade attached, can cut down small diameter trees. It can also do a number on grassy fields, black berry bushes or be used as an edger/ trimmer. But believing that gas will not always be available for the Shindaiwa B 450 I decided to invest two hundred dollars in a high quality tool that will do many of the same things as the brush cutter or lawn mower.

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Mar 252010

Bullock's on Orcas

The Transition Movement is based on the principles of “permaculture” a word derived from permanent culture and permanent agriculture. Permaculture really isn’t a technique. It’s a process, a philosophical approach to achieving sustainable systems. I’ve read a couple of books on permaculture and it isn’t an easy system to access and understand quickly. The permaculture folks use lots of words like “holistic” and “integrative” and “ecosystem.”

There isn’t a master plan involved in permaculture but a way of thinking about living in harmony with what’s available to you. The gist of permaculture, I think, is to try to create and environment where you use everything and attempt to make use of what is close at hand. Permaculture starts at home. You also try to assist nature to do what it wants to do anyway.

Here are some simple things that are permaculture ideas: having a garden, composting, using green manures, collecting rainwater, making kindling bundles, using leaves and grass for mulch, using seaweed for fertilizer, building with local or on site materials, creating food forests.

Orcas Island is the home of the Bullock Brothers Permaculture Homestead. Peak Moment TV made a 28 minute documentary of the Bullock Brother’s operation. Over the years they have evolved into a nursery and permaculture design service. It’s fascinating to see what they have accomplished.

Mar 242010

I’ve learned in recent conversation with Lummi Islanders that some of us are still using the weed killer Roundup.

I confess I have a gallon in my garage. I don’t know how to get rid of it. Haven’t used any for five years. Garden guru Steve Solomon mentions in his books that he occasionally uses Roundup and because of that endorsement I assumed it was okay. In fact, on Steve’s continuous newsgroup Roundup has been soundly debated. You can follow the discussion here.

All the latest studies indicate that Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto, is dangerous to human health and to the eco system at large. A summary of the evidence can be found at the Biosaf Information Centre or at Wikipedia.

Roundup is important to Monsanto in production of Genetically Modified Seed. As a result Roundup has entered the food chain with Roundup Ready Seed, plants that can be sprayed with Roundup and not affected.
On a more personal level, Roundup is dangerous for children and pets.

We don’t really need to use it. Boiling water, vinegar, a propane torch, rock salt, sea water and hoeing are all ways to control weeds if that’s something you feel compelled to do. And, lots of those weeds (dandelion, dock, butdock, etc.) are edible. No need to poison them. Eat them or juice them or compost them.

Mar 232010

Expertise in gardening comes from experience. There are only a handful of expert gardeners on the island. I’m too new at this to be considered one of them. But I learned a long time ago that reading and research is a type of experience and can enhance expertise.

The internet is a constantly amazing resource, like having all the world’s encyclopedic knowledge at one’s fingertips. A terrific source of information on gardening is the Journey to Forever on line library which lets you read many of the classics of farm/garden literature.

Every gardener should know a bit about Sir Albert Howard whose research started the organic farming movement. You can read his books on Journey to Forever.

Likewise, reading Lady Balfour’s work on soil and worms provides background on how organic gardening philosophy developed over the years.

One of my favorites in the collection is Seaweed and Plant Growth by W. A. Stephenson who explains the benefits of applying seaweed to the garden.

There are classic texts on the earthworm, books on tree crops, weeds, compost, humanure, farm devices, poultry and bio-gas production.

In addition, Journey to Forever links to several vast collections of books, pamphlets and articles of wide interest to the gardener.

Skim a couple books from this library. It will be worth your time.

Mar 222010

One of the great concerns expressed during island lobbying efforts to retain a car ferry on Lummi Island was that people would not be able to get medical care. In this period of national debate regarding health care reform, may I be so bold as to suggest that less medical care might be a very good thing. (Let me note immediately that I have a well-established bias that leads me to conclude that conventional or allopathic medicine is quite useless when faced with chronic illness, that is illness other than acute, life threatening infection and/or trauma. (Conventional—hospital based medicine—is also pretty good at orthopedic work and cosmetic surgery). I documented the course of my disillusion with conventional docs in a book called Diagnosis Unknown, now out of print but available used through places like or free if you are clever with The Google).

We’ve clearly reached a state of Peak Medicine anyway when 40,000,000 or so of our citizens can’t get much medical care of any kind and when huge dollar amounts are spent by the public at large on “alternative therapies.” (Presumably HCR will “cure” some of this. We’ll see).

My thesis is that most people get too much treatment, go the the doctor for every small ailment and, as a result, often get more than they bargained for in terms of misdiagnosis, over diagnosis, diagnosis unknown, mistreatment, side-effects or hospital caused illness. When JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, reports that medical errors may be the third leading cause of death in this country you’d think that someone other than me would quit going to the doctor.

The doctor-and-pill business is a huge industry that is sustained by the public’s incessant need to delegate their health to someone else. Talk to any health care provider and they will assure you that they don’t want to prescribe so many drugs…but the patients insist. Patients understand that there is something very wrong with the health system save for the fact that their own doc is “very good,” whatever that means.

But in the end, the medical/pharmaceutical industry is selling, selling, selling. Two cases in point:

1. A New York Times opinion piece of March 10, 2010 by a research professor and president of a cancer research foundation points out that American males spend 3 billion dollars a year for prostate cancer screening. The writer reports that this commonly used screening test is virtually useless and results in unnecessary biopsies, surgeries, radiation or other “damaging treatments.” Clearly, men would be better off not having the test.

2. This report follows last year’s study on the over diagnosis of breast cancer leading to, again, unnecessary treatment. The result of these studies has been to call into question the wisdom of frequent mammography.

The public has been hoodwinked into believing that early detection equals prevention. Prevention actually requires lifestyle changes that most people are unwilling to make. They prefer a better life through chemistry.

So, hypothetically, if one were stranded on an island, unable to make frequent doctor and pharmacy visits,
one could conceivably be better off.

Mar 202010

A lady in her eighties, a retired English professor, writes a memoir of her depression childhood on an Iowa farm and reminds us how much our world has changed. Only a couple generations ago almost everyone grew up on family farms where large extended families worked together raising animals and food. Those my age, a generation younger than author Mildred Armstrong Kalish, were exposed to farm life because pockets of the milieu described in Little Heathens survived into the fifties. Likewise, the psychological overlay lasted as well. Consider this:

“One thing we children all understood: The adults were the ones who made the decisions and the generation gap was not to be breached. Childhood and early adolescence were looked on as a kind of unmentionable affliction, somewhat like the huge goiter that tilted Great-aunt Maggie’s chin way up in the air; it was there for all to see, but no one ever commented on it. The desired condition was to be any adult. We also understood that we couldn’t do or have anything that cost money. Nor could we ever suggest to the old folks that we were bored or didn’t have anything to occupy ourselves, for in no time they would have had restacking the woodpile, scrubbing the porches, or picking up fallen apples…”

One of the most frequently heard sayings of my youth was “Children should be seen but not heard.” My dad was raised on a depression era farm in Virginia, my mom in a log cabin in Montana. Continuous work was their way of life. Milk, plant, weed, harvest, haul wood, pump water and do it all over again.

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Mar 192010

I prefer to be optimistic and think that there is a way we can work ourselves through the various crises that face us. The Transition idea seems to be the most palatable of plans to make it through a future with less. However, there are many people who aren’t so optimistic, who believe we face a future of rage and riot as the result of severe economic disruption. History provides a strong basis for their predictions of civil unrest. Part of their thesis is based on human nature. As Canadian economic blogger Ilargi points out :

“Most people are far too complacent when it comes to the consequences of a shrinking economic system.   Many claim that we can easily downsize to smaller homes and smaller lives, since there’s so much we don’t really need anyway, that we will move in together and return to “good” conversations, growing our own tomatoes and all that. But that’s just not going to happen voluntarily, not on a large and wide scale. The human mind has no reverse. It doesn’t even have a steering wheel. We are built for one of two things: go forward or crash. It looks like there’s no forward left before a major crash happens first. It also looks like there’s not a whole lot of people who realize this.”

Every Monday morning I start the day by reading the weekly essay by James Howard Kunstler who has a pretty dark view of the future.

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Mar 182010

Alpine Sharing Garden

Alpine, Oregon has a “sharing garden.” Unlike our own community garden located at the Curry Preserve Nugent Road entrance, a sharing garden is not broken down into individual plots but shared in common by a group of gardeners. The sharing garden in Alpine has an interesting mission statement:
1. To provide the inspiration, guidance, and expertise needed to ensure a bountiful supply of locally and organically grown fresh produce, herbs and fruits to those in need.
2. To provide meaningful activities related to organic food production, storage and distribution by offering hands-on workshops designed to empower young people and persons of all ages.
3. To promote an awareness and practice of recycling and re-using a wide array of materials that can be utilized in gardens and food storage and to coordinate donations of such for use in the project.
4. To establish a stable network of experienced farmers, gardeners and food-storage experts in our local communities and neighborhoods and encourage their participation.
5. To identify and utilize local resources of surplus fruits and nuts for gleaning, winter storage and distribution.
6. To create community-scale “canneries” for storing surplus food for winter months.
7. To support and expand upon existing food banks.
8. To create a local and sustainable seed bank.
9. To document each stage of this project and create a manual to assist other groups and communities.
10. To create an interactive website , on-line message board, skills-bank and info-sharing blog to distribute information about the project.

Albany, California has a garden share program, a website where people with garden plots are matched with gardeners who have no place to garden.

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