Dec 312010

I have a five gallon bucket half full of seed packets, some going back to 2008. We’ve all heard the stories about viable seed found in the Pyramids. But how do you check your seed to see if it’s viable? As always, Steve Solomon has the answer:

“Do a germ test on every packet; the packets that germ well now will germ
well next spring. Put 10 to 20 seeds in a folded moist paper towel in a
sealed plastic container held at 75° (for most sorts of seed). If you get
more than 70% germ within ten days, assume it is good seed for next spring.”

I was getting ready to toss them but this seems like a much better idea.

Dec 302010

Post by Mike Skehan*

One ton of CO2

In a surprise move today, the EPA determined the Human species would be extinct by the year ….     Wait, wait, that’s not true.   Besides, if it were, there’s nothing I can do about it.

Let’s back up a moment, because total failure is just too big to wrap my head around.  Let’s talk about ‘Carbon Neutrality’.  Each of us consumes carbon that’s been created over millions of years, and converts it into something else – like CO2 gas that’s not so good for our atmosphere.  This all contributes to a warmer planet, leading to all sorts of change on a global scale, that…  Wait, wait, even that’s too big for me to grasp.

OK, let’s try this.  The Internet provides all sorts of ‘Carbon Footprint’ calculators to determine how much of this carbon we each consume, in my case, a family of two, traveling a modest amount, and not being a vegetarian, it’s about 20 tons of CO2 per year.  Now this isn’t helping one little bit.  I wouldn’t recognize a truckload of carbon dioxide gas if it ran over me. Still too big a concept.

How about just me?

I burn electricity to heat and light my house and drive to town about once a week.  I eat food from Bellingham, which I carry home by the bag load.  Most of the energy required to make the electricity, gasoline, and food comes out of the ground from things that died millions of years ago.  At the end of the day, I released about 110 pound of gas into the atmosphere.  To be carbon neutral, I either have to consume less energy or find an alternate way to produce the heat, light, fuel and food that I demand or find a way to offset my habits, like convincing somebody in Brazil to not cut down his 40 acres of rain forest.  Well, here I go again into fuzzy math land.

I guess to be carbon neutral I either have to quit eating, or find other food sources that don’t have to be fertilized in Oklahoma, and trucked to Fred Meyer’s.  Riding a bike to town would be helpful, and maybe living in a straw bail house with skylights and having a coppiced wood forest in the backyard would get me down to near zero.

But what about my neighbor?

Continue reading »

Dec 282010

Solar powered rain catchment and shelter (Actually, the county should get a few of these).

A hand powered table saw.

Quiet wind turbine.

The air powered car.

A BioPod sewage treatment system.

Or, maybe just one of these.

Since I don’t have a rototiller I should have an Orcas Broadfork or go to this workshop and make one. Save some money.

I can’t decide if I want one of these or the other kind.  Maybe I should get one of each. Perhaps I could build one or two.

Need one of these as well.

Oh well. I’ll settle for a nice shirt.

Dec 232010

There’s been nice feedback and curiosity about our Transition Team meeting. The group is informal and ad hoc. Our particular purpose is to form a community of people who are interested in self-reliance and sustainability as it relates to life on Lummi Island. There won’t be regularly scheduled meetings. We’ll gather when there is a clear demand. In the meantime small groups or individuals can pursue transition initiatives as they see fit. Hopefully, it will be a case of “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” The important thing is to communicate what we are doing via this blog and the bulletin board that we hope will soon appear. This communication could consist of requests for assistance, vetting of ideas or donations to get a pet project going.

It takes awhile for a world view to shift. I think the labored negotiations with the Lummi Nation have finally begun to increase awareness of our potential isolation. On the Ferry Forum islanders are starting to discuss alternatives. Gooseberry Point has been the favored destination because it is the shortest (water) distance between two points. Some, maybe most islanders, feel it is the easiest and most logical route. The problem is that once arriving at Gooseberry Pt. it’s still a long way to anywhere through the jurisdiction of a sovereign nation. It is only the luxury of having a private auto and cheap fuel that makes it seem easy. For a people who can drive 500-800 miles a day on a car trip, twenty miles to town doesn’t seem like much. But, in the future, it may be a an unbearable distance to negotiate. Who wants to predict that public transportation from town to Gooseberry Pt will improve in the future? Who wants to predict that the Lummis will provide islanders parking spaces for pool cars, car shares, vans or whatever?

Nancy Ging pointed out in her post on the Ferry Forum that Lummi Island has significant infrastructure deficiencies. Number one is that we have no safe year round port. Second, we have no obvious landing spot for barges. One could argue that we ought to turn the island around one hundred and eighty degrees, move it like John Locke did with the mysterious island in the TV show “Lost.” Or, we could try and turn back the clock to a time when Lane Split, pretty much at sea level and with road access, wasn’t covered with houses. But as my dad, who came of age during the depression, would say, “If a bullfrog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his tail when he hopped.”

We are the victims of poor planning based on the presumption that the island could forever be a bedroom community of Bellingham and a weekend destination for Canadians and assorted mainlanders. Everything was sold off for development. No working waterfront, save for the ferry dock and the old ferry dock location, were maintained for the good of the community.  We ended up with very little property that, under current regulations, can be used for commercial activities. This creates challenges if we are going to have to deal with a different kind of ferry service and attempt to develop more job opportunities on the island.

It’s going to take a lot of creativity and innovation to solve all the potential problems we face. Clearly, the more things we can deal with on island, (food, water, medical, heat, fuel, transportation) or through communal effort (resupply, distribution, education, recreation, home health, repair and maintenance) the better off we will be and the less we will have to rely on ferry service.

Sadly, without the reliability of thirty minute ferry service and affordable and available fuel the island life will not be suitable for everyone. On the other hand, it will appeal to others who have not yet arrived. In the meantime, it’s going to be an exciting place to live with lots of interesting changes.

Dec 222010

Ed & Karen Scott at the Lummi Island Ferry Dock Floats 1953

Ed Scott writes: “Back in the early 1950’s, the ferry crew installed and maintained two long “floats” beside the Lummi Island ferry dock.  They had a long ramp, going down from the dock, with wheels on the ends, so the ramp could raise and fall with the tides. They weren’t for long-term moorage, and were mostly used by fishing boats to load and unload. There weren’t many  “pleasure boaters” back then, like there are now, but some would tie up, and run up the dock to the Beach Store, to buy supplies. Seldom would boats remain overnight. As you can see, it was a perfect spot for island kids to catch “Bullheads”, and I spent many summer days sitting on the floats. Behind us are the old ferries “Acorn” (still in WWII gray) and the Chief Kwina.

Eventually, the floats were removed, and someone told me the reason was due to liability concerns the County had about someone being injured and suing.  I suspect there has always been a concern by some islanders, about making the island too accessible to outsiders. It seems like the time may be coming when more access may become appropriate.”

Dec 212010

Nancy Ging posted the following on the Ferry Forum site. I’m going to re-post it here to make sure everyone sees it.

Lots of interesting ideas and the beginning of planning for energy descent.

“I’ve been trying to ponder our ferry problems from a long-term perspective, trying to see what direction might be appropriate for us to aim to avoid future situations like our current predicament. From a long-term view, it seems to me that a big part of the severely limited alternatives we are currently dealing with comes down to infrastructure inadequacies.

At present, we don’t have any regular way to get necessary supplies to the Island except in our private cars. The only barge landing belongs to a private business (the quarry). It is frequently unavailable because it’s in use, and it has poor road access to the rest of the Island. There’s no place that I know of on the east side of the Island to even beach a landing craft and be able to get a truck or pallets off it and up to a road. We have no protected small boat harbor facilities, and we have no way to safely land passenger and vehicle boats on the same days.
Public transit service is woefully inadequate from Gooseberry to town. The schedule is impossible for commuters who work normal business hours, and buses are not practical for people who need to haul the amount of groceries and other necessary supplies from town that our households do.
I think we Islanders need to do some serious thinking about alternatives and what infrastructure we need in order to have more options for meeting our needs. For instance, maybe we need a couple of commuter vans–just for ferry riders–to get people to and from their work places morning and night. Maybe we need a shopping/errands bus with luggage/storage space to make regular and frequent trips from Gooseberry to Costco, the Co-op, Hardware Sales, the mall, a few banks, and the medical district–in other words, places where Islanders frequently do business. Perhaps these could be done as a co-operative to reduce costs? Or maybe there’s a business opportunity if the Co-op and Costco would agree to put together phoned in orders and someone with a truck could regularly swing by to pick them up and deliver the orders on the Island, thus allowing a single truck trip to replace a couple dozen or more individual car trips.
Maybe we need a way for Island food producers to band together in some sort of co-operative arrangement (similar to Whatcom Grows, for example) to deliver weekly produce/egg/meat/poultry boxes to Island customers.
Maybe we need to put together some seed money and classes to help more Islanders become commercial food producers so we don’t have to haul so many groceries from town in the first place.
I’ve heard people are already working on what might be done regarding on-Island medical services. I hope that’s going well.
Maybe we need a place on the east shore where a landing craft could offload a truck and get up to the road with goods or service vehicles. Maybe we need to purchase shared cars to leave in town so we can get to town in a van as a group, then individually pick up a cooperatively owned car to do our errands, dropping off our purchased goods off at a private warehouse (with cold storage) where a truck, barge or landing craft would deliver the accumulated goods once or twice a week to the Island. Another business opportunity?
Given that the economy is continuing to tank, property values are continuing to decline (giving the County less to contribute), fuel prices are continuing to rise, etc.–given all this, the cost of our vehicle ferry seems highly likely to continue to increase for the foreseeable future. It just seems sensible to me that we begin to look for ways to get our needs met closer to home in a way that requires fewer vehicle trips to town and allows us to begin to move toward greater reliance on a smaller, less expensive passenger-only ferry.
I’m not saying that any of the options above are viable or should be pursued. I have no idea what would work. And I’m not saying I’m happy about any of this. I do think the handwriting is on the wall, though. Things are as they are.
I hope we’ll do some creative brainstorming soon about how we can get by comfortably with much fewer vehicle trips to town in the future. I look forward to seeing what we can come up with.”
It’s my impression that there is a lot of horsepower on this island and I’m not talking about cars or horses. We haven’t needed to be self-sufficient or think about operating in a sustainable way. That’s why I can make the argument that the ferry crisis, if you are willing to look at it from a long-term view, was a gift to the island. There’s no question that we’d all enjoy and probably prefer continuing cheap rides to Gooseberry Point in our private passenger vehicle with or without a passenger and paying up to $3 a gallon for gas forever and ever. That’s just not going to be the case. We need to begin taking some serious action and giving serious thought to all the “what ifs.”
The gift is that it forces us to get real and think about and begin planning for contingencies. Way too many people are going to be caught with their pants around their ankles. Lummi Island has a chance to get ahead of the (declining power) curve.
So, back to the horsepower—there’s an amazing amount of talent on this island and I’m positive that more and more great ideas will be generated. Keep them coming.
Dec 192010

Here’s a  short, illustrated talk on the subject of our addiction to fossil fuel:

In this one hour lecture Toby Hemenway explains why agriculture is not sustainable and the importance of permaculture. We hear a lot about permaculture. This lecture puts it into perspective:

Dec 162010

A group of us assembled the other evening to kick around ideas about resilience and sustainability for Lummi Island. We talked about the Transition Town Movement and, more or less, decided that since Transition Whatcom was following that 12 Step program for the county that we didn’t have to reinvent that wheel. Transition Whatcom will work their way toward the goal of producing an Energy Descent Plan for the county as a whole. Because we are an island we have some particular problems that the rest of the county doesn’t need to deal with.

The direction of the discussion was to come up with projects that would have an impact on the island’s ability to weather an uncertain economic future, the possibility of fuel and other commodity shortages, ferry service reductions and the various ramifications of climate change. Many ideas were thrown up against the wall (or in our case a flip chart). Below I’ve categorized these ideas and invite your comments. After that we will poll readers of this blog to try and establish some priorities.

That said, I want to point out that this is an informal group with no officers, board, by-laws, secret agendas or mandates. Anyone is free to participate. Likewise, no one has to wait for any approval to move ahead on whatever they deem to be a great idea. In fact, many of the ideas will inevitably lead to individual action. Other ideas will require some group thought or action.

So, here we go (and I will attempt to do this without allowing my own individual biases to prevail):

SKILLS INVENTORY — Which could include an on-line data base and a hard copy Island Yellow Pages (such as has existed in the past). Find out who knows how to do what and the kinds of equipment they have.

RESKILLING — Using the skills inventory come up with a series of (workshops, classes, tutoring programs, mentoring situation) to teach a       variety of subjects: gardening, food preserving, food storage, composting, beekeeping, thermal syphoning, welding, coppicing, charcoaling, fuel production, foraging, water catchment, animal husbandry, seed saving, plant breeding, etc. etc. Note: reskilling is an integral part of the Transition Town Movement and there are reskilling classes offered at Inspiration Farm.

RECRUIT YOUNG GROWERS TO THE ISLAND — Provide assistance with land and housing. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

CREATE A TIME BANK — Suggested in comments prior to the meeting.

START AN ELECTRONIC BULLETIN BOARD — Use this for ride sharing, exchange of items, time sharing, etc.

COMMUNITY WATER SUPPLY — Solar powered well; hand pumps; desalination.

CENTRALIZED ISLAND PROPANE STORAGE —From an earlier suggestion in the comments.

COOPERATIVE BUYING GROUP — To purchase food and supplies in bulk and get them to the island. Possibly to  be done in coordination with a store.

MATERIALS EXCHANGE —Location where surplus stuff can be dropped off and picked up.


PLANT FOOD PRODUCTION TREES —in common areas. Trust land etc.

EXPLORE HEALTH AND WELLNESS —It was noted that there are groups on the island working on this.

This list is not inclusive. It is just a start. Feel free to make any comments or additional suggestions.

Dec 162010

“At a well-attended meeting on Vashon’s ferry service, the director of Washington State Ferries (WSF) David Moseley painted a bleak picture of the financial state of the ferry system. And while he sympathized with Islanders who spoke of how possible reductions in Vashon’s ferry service would affect the Island, he made no indication that he would be able to address their concerns.”

Washington State Ferries Chief David Moseley has acknowledged that service cuts are necessary, and the promised second ferry boat for the Coupeville/Keystone-Port Townsend run might not arrive as scheduled — or at all.

A member of the San Juan Ferry Advisory Board editorializes: “Each of our four ferry-served islands has its own unique character and differing needs. The larger islands — San Juan and Orcas — do get the most ferry traffic, but not by as much as the population would indicate. It’s also geographically inconvenient that the longest route is also the busiest. And, of course, we need to balance mainland service with interisland service. Interisland service is what binds our community together, while the mainland service keeps our economy running.”

The Kingston Sun opines in support of foot ferries.

Dec 152010

For those who might consider Dmitri Orlov’s collapse scenarios fantastical, let’s consider an actual case study of collapse in the US of A. That would be Detroit, once the envy of the world as headquarters of the automobile industry. When Henry Ford announced the $5 work day, thousands came to take advantage of the opportunities which grew into well-paid career jobs with outstanding benefits. Then, it all fell apart. Now, Detroit has 25% unemployment and one wonders how good the jobs are for the 75% who are working. Detroit is a sad case but the bright note is that there is resilience there in the form of urban farming. This excellent video featuring and articulate former school teacher (now grower) tells whats going on in Detroit.

What struck me watching this video and trying to relate it to the future of Lummi Island is the age group we see working on these Detroit farm/garden projects. Somehow, we will need to figure out a way to provide land and recruit this kind of people in this age group to live and work on Lummi.

Dec 142010

“We all have to prepare for life without much money, where imported goods are scarce, and where people have to provide for their own needs, and those of their immediate neighbours.”
Dmitri Orlov, well-known in certain circles for his writing on collapse, gave a talk titled Definancialisation, Deglobalisation, Relocalisation at The New Emergency Conference in Dublin, on June 11, 2009. The whole thing is well worth reading but I want highlight some main points of the talk.
1. “No one in the mainstream dares to say we may be over economic growth for good.”
2. “We are running out of money as well as oil. The end of oil means the end of money.”
3. “We want to believe the economist’s lies, i.e., “…as soon as the economy recovers, all these toxic assets will be valuable again.”
4.”If you want to help save the environment and prepare yourself for a life without access to consumer goods, then doing so by buying consumer goods doesn’t seem like such a great plan.”
5. “… (make) resources, such as farmland, available to those who can put them to good use, for their own benefit as well as for yours.
6.”Let industries( like) the auto industry die; resuscitate (such things as) public health.”
7. “…just about every proposal we see involves avoiding collapse instead of focusing on what comes after it. A prime example is the push to develop alternative energy.”
8. “…is there enough time for significant numbers of people to have these realizations (about collapse) and to adapt, or will they have to endure quite a lot of discomfort?”
9. “… many people are almost genetically predisposed to not want to understand what I (Orlov) have been saying… When they are touched by collapse, they take it personally or see it as a matter of luck. They see those who prepare for collapse as eccentrics; some may even consider them to be dangerous subversives.”
10. “…a certain range of personalities …are most likely to survive collapse. “…the most important characteristic of a survivor…is the will to survive. Next is self-reliance: the ability to persevere in spite of loneliness lack of support from anyone else. Last on the list is unreasonableness…”
11. “…in fashioning a survivable future, where do we put our emphasis: on individuals and small groups, or on larger entities – regions, nations, humanity as a whole? I believe the answer to that is obvious.”
12. “When it comes to larger groups: towns, for instance any meaningful discussion of collapse is off the table. The topics under discussion centre around finding ways to perpetuate the current system through alternative means: renewable energy, organic agriculture, starting or supporting local businesses, bicycling instead of driving…”
13. “…invest in things that will retain value even after all financial assets are worthless: land, ecosystems, and personal relationships.”
13.”… permanent, heritable leases payable in sustainably harvested natural products…deeded easements that provide the community with traditional hunting, gathering and fishing rights, provided human rights are not allowed to supersede those of other species.”
14. “organize as communities to produce certain goods that the entire community wants: food, clothing, shelter, security and entertainment. Everyone makes their contribution, in exchange for the end product, which everyone gets to share.”
15. “…what makes us likely to think that technology will save us is that we are addled by it.”
16.” Almost every rural place has its population of people who know how to use the local resources.Those who are used to thinking of them as primitive, ignorant and uneducated will be shocked to discover how much they must learn from them.”
17. “…try to give yourself as many options as you can, so that if any one thing doesn’t seem to be working out, you can switch to another. The future is unpredictable, so try to plan so as to be able to change your plans at any time.”

Dec 132010

Inspiration Farm on Laurel Road is working in conjunction with Transition Whatcom to offer training in a variety of skills. Their listing of upcoming offerings can be found here.

There are some interesting workshops coming up in the next year: grafting, U-bar building, portable animal shelters, biodynamics, permaculture, scything, water, natural building, low tech energy systems, small homestead dairying, poultry processing.

I just learned about this place. However, it’s been there for awhile. This is a brief description of the place from a 1997 magazine article:

In a world where competition often replaces passion, it is refreshing to find a place where differences are collaborated, on the behalf of the students, in order to further creativity and imagination. A glassblowing studio, a jewelry company, an art gallery, an organic farm, a green house, a beautiful garden, a guest cabin, a pond, a house, and a family. It’s any artists wonderland all rolled into nine acres of land called Inspiration Farm. Located 10 miles from downtown Bellingham, Washington, Inspiration Farm is owned and creatively crafted by husband-and-wife team, Brian Kerkvliet and Alexandra King.

I’ve been experimenting with biodynamics in the garden so will try and make that event. It would also be fun to build a U-bar and learn something about dairying. Good stuff.

David McLeod of Transition Whatcom attended one of the U-bar workshops and wrote the following:

I observed Brian Kerkvliet demonstrate the splendiforous wonders of the broadfork, and how superior it is to spading forks for loosening soil – “a spading fork on steroids!” This tool, otherwise known as a “U-Bar,” is a tool built for standing on, as the tines sink into the soil. You lean back and pull the handles toward you to leverage up the soil in a fairly effortless manner with no strain on your back. According to Brian, “Once you get a rhythm you can loosen a 100 square feet of garden bed in a matter of ten to fifteen minutes, all with low stress!” A very cool feature of this workshop, was that all the materials used for constructing these U-Bars came from Z’s Recyclers or other similar sources – all repurposed materials. Nothing new required, and more products saved from the landfill. ! Finding a powerfully effective tool not requiring fossil fuels was another big bonus!