Apr 162010

When the passenger ferry was threatened there was lots of concern about how one would get to the doctor and I argued in a previous post that this could, perhaps, be an advantage since it’s my belief that hospital based medicine as practiced in the US is virtually worthless. This is a difficult concept for people to get their minds around—that is, in a post peak oil world where instant medical gratification might not be available, we might be healthier as a community and a country. The fact is, we have nothing to brag about when it comes to health.

Some people are familiar with the concept of natural health; most are not. If you have a suspicion that your “medical care” isn’t working and want to educate yourself on alternatives the Natural News web site is a great place to start. You can sign up for their very educational newsletter, which is free, and begin to sample their arguments and gain knowledge about other ways to be healthy. Health care simply cannot be delegated to someone else and as part of the concept of self-reliance we all need to take responsibility for our own health and well-being.

The Natural News is quite aggressive in their editorial outlook. Here’s a sample from the writing of editor Mike Adams:

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Apr 152010

By the time most of the community gets on board with something (and in this case I’m referring to the realization that it might be a good thing to eat organic) the system has been corrupted.
Michael Pollen in his very helpful book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
explains how the “Organic” label has been hijacked by big corporations. Most of us who have followed natural foods for many years—co op and health store shoppers—realize that all those great little companies like Cascadian Farms in the Skagit Valley sold out long ago to the big guys. (In Cascadian’s case it was General Mills).

Recently, Whole Foods has been in a flap over bringing in “organic” food from China. The charges and defenses can be reviewed in The Elephant Journal.

I think Whole Foods arguments are lame and meaningless when you think of the absurdity of shipping frozen vegetables from China to the US. They argue that there is real oversight of the organic process in China. I doubt it, given the lack of oversight that we see in any other activity in life in America. Michael Pollen’s argument is that “local” is the new “organic.” This point of view is elaborated on by my friend Travis O. who farms organically in Hawaii. Here’s Travis:

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Apr 142010

(Which I missed due to a family emergency)

“A message to all members of Transition Whatcom

WOW!  700 – 800 of us showed up on Day 1 of The Great Unleashing, with 180 returning on Day 2.  But that’s just a ‘quantity’ report.  Quality? From the TWIGs’ point of view, the weekend proved stellar, surpassing our wildest dreams. I (Rick Dubrow speaking here) have never expereinced such a community-building event in my life….. we, together, have branded a memory in my cerebrum that can never, ever be erased.  The TWIGs adore you all and, given the length and intensity of your standing ovation for us at the close of Day 2, the feelings are mutual. Ahhhhhhhh, mutual symbiosis. The stuff of life and sustenance.

Feel free to upload or view some of what went on by clicking on the ‘forum’ page on the NING site — .  In fact, be watching the www.trasitionwhatcom.org site as well as photos and the like start abounding……. virally.  Share the love.

For those of you who couldn’t make Day 2 and want to get involved with a working group that was birthed there, here’s the list of groups and their conveners.  A convener is that person responsible to bring their group together for their first official meeting.  Or, perhaps, you WERE there on Day 2 and want to get involved with two or more working groups.  Either way, contact the convener to find out more about the group and when/where it will meet. (If you WERE there at Day 2’s working group session and you’re already on the convener’s list, there’s no need for you to do more; the convener WILL be in touch with you about the upcoming meeting).

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Apr 132010

Growing veggies is kind of a fling, a flirtation, a seasonal thing. It’s a springtime infatuation, then a summer romance which withers in the fall. There’s some messing about in the dirt, some caressing of seeds, occasional dates to water and fertilize and sometimes conflict with weedy competitors.

Fruit trees, on the other hand are a long term commitment requiring patience and understanding and a willingness to listen. Fruit trees are needy and a bit finicky. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved. Playing the field with veggies seemed a lot more fun. But, then, there’s cherry pie in July,  the crispness of apples in the fall, the fun of making cider and, best of all, plum chutney. Fruit trees are a long term companion.

I needed counseling and turned to Cloud Mountain Farm who offer a twice monthly Good Orchard Newsletter for $50 a year, my own personal fruity Dr. Phil to tell me what to do and when to do it.

They start each newsletter with the monthly tasks:

March Tasks
•    Watch bud stages for delayed dormant sprays timing
•    Continue dormant pruning
•    Lime, fertilize fruit trees

And offer interesting tidbits of local history:

Century Orchards
There are many century old apple and fruit orchards scattered around Puget Sound. The San Juan Islands had over 10,000 acres in tree fruits in 1900. Whatcom County had somewhere around 5000 acres that were apples, some pie cherries and plums. There were two packing plants, the Kale cannery in Everson and The Deming Delight Cannery that was housed near the Fairhaven shipyards. They produced three products at the Deming Delight facility; apple sauce, apple rings and apple chunks.

When (the owner of Cloud Mountain Farm) first came to Whatcom County in 1975 there were still many century orchards around that were rich in old varieties. You could find Winter Pearmains, Blue Pearmains, Snow Apples,Kings, Gravenstein, Golden Russet, Ashmead’s Kernals, etc. Talking to many of the farmers at that time they simply stated their families had their dairy cows and 5 or more acres of tree fruit. Today unfortunately few of these trees are left.

Cloud Mountain provides the technical information and very often complement it with with the same information in layman’s language. So far I think the investment has been worth it just to let me know what organic sprays to spray and when to apply them.

There’s a lot to learn about fruit trees and Cloud Mountain also provides much free information on their website for those in a serious relationship with fruit trees.

Apr 122010

It’s not too early to begin thinking about canning. The reason is that there will be a lot more gardens in the country this year than last. Vegetable gardening is hot. This will cause more people to want to put food by. Shortages of supplies is a real possibility. Last year, during the canning season, it was hard to find a good selection of jars. So my advice is to buy your supplies now: jars, lids, rings, sugar (we use agave syrup in most recipes), pectin, vinegar, spices,  a water bath canner, a pressure canner if you are going to do things like beans, and the Ball Blue Book.
It’s also not too early to think about forming small canning co-ops, two or three families, or more, who can share this equipment. A pressure canner, for example, is a fairly expensive appliance.
There are, of course, other ways to preserve food using salt, oil sugar, alcohol, venegar, drying, freezing, cold storage and lactic fermentation. I don’t know much about these techniques but intend to learn. Canning is great, but I fear that to protect against botulism we might be cooking much of the nutritional value  out of the food.
On the other hand, it’s pretty nice to be able to open up a jar of pickled beets in February.

Apr 102010

Backyard Fiddlehead

If you happen to see someone with a garbage bag walking bent over through a field don’t be alarmed. They are probably stalking fiddleheads, the unfurled fronds of the bracken fern. They are quite edible and great delicacies in certain parts of the US and around the world. You saute them in oil or butter. In Japan they love to pickle them.


This time of the year burdock is fairly easy to dig. With soft, wet soil you have an easier chance to extract the long root from the ground. You are looking for first year plants. If they have a woody stem with a few of last year’s burrs on them they won’t be tender. The roots look pretty ugly and dirty but with some diligent scrubbing you will expose the whitish root. When you get a batch of roots you can make gobo (the Japanese word for burdock) and garlic. Cut the burdock into rounds and steam them until tender. Marinate with chopped garlic, olive oil and tamari (or soy sauce). Very tasty.

Big Leaf MapleYou can also eat big leaf maple blossoms. Some people say to eat them before the blossom before it opens. I haven’t tried that yet but have eaten the open clusters raw or sauteed in a stir fry. They give you a bit of maple syrup hit. Our big leaf maples can be sugared. Might try that next spring.

Of course, nettles are still in play for awhile yet. We made a terrific soup with nettles, potatoes and leeks, turmeric, Italian seasoning and a bit of cayenne. I toss nettles into a sink and fill it with water and swish them around with some tongs, then use the tongs to move the nettles to a steamer or a frying pan. In this case, sauteed the nettles with the leeks then dumped the whole pan of nettles and leeks into the previously cooked the potato pot. Finally, we blended the whole mess. Probably the best soup I’ve eaten in a long while.

Apr 092010

Russian Dacha

In contemporary Russia 66% of the country’s households (35 million families) produce over 50% of Russia’s total agricultural output.  This is typically done on small allotments known as a dacha. Urban families flee to their dachas on weekends and in summer. On these small plots they use a kind of permaculture technique growing annuals and perennials, fruits and vegetables. The word dachnik is used interchangeably with gardener.
This is often referred to as the ‘dacha movement’ but the gardening tradition in Russia goes back 1000 years.

“Russia’s household agriculture — possibly the most extensive in any industrially developed nation — suggests that in developed countries highly decentralized, small-scale food production is possible on a national scale. This practice therefore warrants close attention, since the degree of self-sufficiency in a number of food staples attained by Russian house- holds points to the reemergence of a distinct, highly localized food regime, on a nation- scale level.”

As the United States moves into a transition period away from cheap oil we have a lot to learn from other countries such as Cuba and Russia. Clearly, it is possible to raise much of our food in our yards.

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Apr 082010

I’ve been reading Michael Lewis’s book The Big Short, an astounding reportage on the stupidity, malfeasance and amorality of the people who apparently control our government—The Masters of the Universe on Wall Street. It’s important, I think, to not forget why we are very close to having economic collapse. It is clearly due to the unparalleled greed of those too-big-to-fail financial giants: Goldman Sachs, Citibank, B of A, Merrill Lynch, AIG et al. Others like Rolling Stone Matt Taibbi have documented this in very vivid style.
(Tell us what you really think, Matt):
“So it’s time to admit it: We’re fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we’re still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream.”

The Big Short tells the story of subprime mortgages, derivatives and credit default swaps through the eyes of several contrarian investors who worked diligently to try and figure out what was going on with the sub prime market and began to make bets against it. They made fortunes. And at the end of the game, the “smart” guys who derived a scam they really didn’t understand began to bet against themselves to cut their losses. It’s an awful story, well-told by Mr. Lewis.

Investor Rick Ackerman points out that, “…the illusion of prosperity seems likely to persist, especially with the stock market’s relentless rally, now entering its 14th month, to distract and disconnect us from the real economic world.” Most of the country is in a state of denial.

Chris Martenson, author of The Crash Course*, talking about Treasury auctions notes: “… in only two short years, 2009 and 2010, as much new Treasury debt will be auctioned off to the public as was outstanding in 1995.  Since government borrowing never gets paid down, at least in modern history, it means that the last two years have seen as much borrowing as happened over the period in which electricity was strung to every house, the highways were built, and our population tripled.  What can we point to that was created over the last two years to rival those accomplishments?”

What we got was a situation which offers virtually no hope of recovery in the short term and perhaps in the long term. Again, if you haven’t gone through Chris Martenson’s Crash Course*, you ought to spend the time and then try to figure out what it means for you personally. You will then begin to understand why preparation for some kind of change is prudent and necessary.

*See link to The Crash Course at the top of this page.

Apr 072010

Kitchen Garden at Hagley in the 50's

Visiting my dad’s home place in Northern Virginia in the early 50’s I recognized I was seeing something different. This subsistence farm which had operated in the same spot since the 1840’s was a window into the 19th Century. They were still plowing with a team of mules, for God’s sake. My uncles and cousins had skills and knowledge that was entirely foreign to me. They knew how to garden, how to shuck corn, how to tie orchard grass into bundles, how to castrate a bull, how to shave with a straight razor, how to clean a gun and saddle a horse and how to fix virtually anything that broke. I suspect that they knew how to make whiskey. They understood animals and how to care for them. My grandma and aunts knew how to put food by, how to prepare three meals a day on a wood stove for a table of hungry men, how to care for chickens and how to knit and sew and make soap.
This was the end of an era which began The Great Unskilling, when people moved to the cities, then the suburbs and fell in love with labor saving devices and TV dinners and, in most cases, forgot all those necessary skills their parents had known. There was so little work that elaborate programs of exercise had to be invented to stay in shape.
Part of the Transition Movement is The Great Reskilling; relearning the skills our grandparents knew. I’m certain that Transition Bellingham will have reskilling events as they move along on their program which begins with The Great Unleashing this coming weekend. Transition organization around the country have have reskilling workshops and festivals. Lummi Islanders have, individually, many of these lost skills and it would be beneficial to share them with others.
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Apr 062010

Transition Whatcom will be hosting The Great Unleashing “an event that will engage Whatcom County in a collective and committed response (to Peak Oil and climate change), and will kick-off the process of creating a 10-20 year energy descent action plan.

THE GREAT UNLEASHING will be a two-day celebration and extravaganza that will motivate, excite, educate and engage our community in coming together to envision a vibrant, resilient, and dramatically less energy-dependent Whatcom County, and will unleash our collective genius as we start working towards a tangible and compelling plan to get us there.

Day 1: will have many activities, including a recorded greeting from Rob Hopkins, and keynote talks by the noted author and Transition U.S. board member, Vicki Robin, author Frances Moore Lappe (Diet for a Small Planet), and Transition U.S. board member, Permaculturist, and Executive Director of Daily Acts , Trathen Heckman. You can also expect a parade, exhibits, breakout sessions on numerous themes, and more.

Day 2: Based on our visioning, we’ll begin to form project groups that will address critical issues our community is facing and start the process of articulating an Energy Descent Action Pathway. This will be our roadmap to a future of greater freedom from oil-dependency, much greater local resilience, and a more satisfying personal and community life, and will celebrate and expand on the many positive actions already happening in our community.

Time: April 10, 2010 at 9am to April 11, 2010 at 5pm
Location: Bellingham High School
Street: 2020 Cornwall Avenue

Tickets are available at Terra Organica, Village Books and The Community Food Coop for $15. Kids under 12 are free.

Article in Bellingham paper.

Apr 052010

Seems like a crime wave swept the island last week. Two burglaries and a bike theft probably don’t sound like much to most communities but on our island they are extremely bothersome. This is a place where a good number of us don’t lock the doors and leave valuables in our cars. Many pundits believe that crime will increase as more and more people are dispossessed by a falling economy.

These recent incidents could be isolated. But it should get us thinking about how we would handle an increase of crime if it happens.  After all, we have no law enforcement on the island. There’s no one to call except 911(law enforcement response will be slow) or the ferry crew. (We personally had a great experience a few years back when an unusual bike was taken from our open garage. Discovered almost immediately, we called the ferry and the crew had already identified the kid who took the bike and were not going to let him on).

One advantage we do have is a tight community with good communication. I wonder how many people do not now know there have been two home thefts. Brown Betty gets out the word and we become more vigilant. Then hope like heck these crimes weren’t committed by any of our own.

But what happens if this kind of thing becomes a trend? Do we establish a way to deal with criminal events? Perhaps a cash reward sitting at the Sheriff’s office for the anyone who gives up the criminal contingent on arrest and conviction. Maybe we could get a couple of islanders interested in the Whatcom County Sheriffs Reserve Deputy Program.

An organized Neighborhood Watch is certainly something we should organize and fits in nicely with the neighborhood breakouts of the Disaster Preparedness Program. Something as simple as encouraging more people to subscribe to The Tome and Brown Betty would also be helpful.

I don’t have the answers but it’s worth some discussion.

Apr 032010

Bokashi is a different kind of compost which uses a fermenting process. I’m making some right now. It’s supposed to take two weeks. I bought two 50 lb sacks of wheat bran at Laurel Farm Supply, a gallon of EM1 which is a microbial inoculant and some molasses. You dump your bran on a tarp, mix 3/4 of a cup of EM and 3/4 of a cup of molasses in 3-4 gallons of water, then dump it on the bran and mix it up with your hands until it’s clumpy. (The EM provides the good bacteria and the molasses gives them something to feed on). Then you transfer the mix to a garbage bag and let it sit for a couple of weeks. It’s supposed to develop a white mold on top. It the mold is black then you have to spread the bokashi out and let it dry. This short video shows how easy it is to mix it up.


People use bokashi in lots of different ways. I’m going to use it in my potting mix. Last year I grew strawberries in pots and they all need re-potting. Another use of bokashi is with kitchen scraps. Bokashi doesn’t breakdown food scraps. It pickles them. They won’t breakdown until they are mixed with dirt. Kitchen scraps are a bit of a problem because when you dump them onto your compost pile they tend to attract raccoons and rats. I transfer our kitchen scraps to one of those plastic tumblers and let it break down for a bit before moving it to the compost. But bokashi offers a better solution. With the bokashi method you use two five gallon containers with a sealable lids. This blogger on Saltspring Island provides all the details

The always useful Wikipedia  provides additional info on bokashi including the fact that you can make it out of such things as sawdust.

You can add bokashi to your compost pile. You can also sprinkle it on your beds the same as with high quality compost. If you are pickling kitchen scraps you can bury it deeply in your beds (at least a foot) and plant over it or bury the bokashi between rows.