Dec 122010

I’ve blogged repeatedly about the Maine Islands suggesting that there are lessons they’ve already learned that could benefit Lummi Island. They are way ahead of us in the areas of self-reliance and sustainability but still face many, many challenges. There is an Island Institute that manages many interesting initiatives and programs and publishes a newspaper called the Working Waterfront. If you follow the comments here you are aware that Bert S. has devoured the Working Waterfront and linked to many articles that relate to our own island experience. Hopefully, you have taken advantage of that research and read a few of these. They are good enough to bring to the front of the page.

The owner of the Matinicus Island Store talks about the challenges.

A young family decides to open a store on Cliff Island.

Recession causes the summer rental business to dry up.

The travails of an island power company.

On an island, a general store is a precious commodity. Beyond a means to stretch out visits to the mainland by providing basic groceries, a store becomes a place to meet and socialize, talk over the events of the day and perhaps get a meal cooked by someone else.

A portable dentist.

Chebeague Island gets a big foundation grant grant to explore the economics of farming.

Peaks Islanders petition to reduce ferry rates.

All of the researched links can be found herehere, here and here.

Dec 112010

In the comments to Kunstler’s rant this week a twenty-something person makes the following comment:
“I’m 26 years old, and I can tell you with 100% certainty my generation will not willingly “power down” and down scale our consumer lifestyles. Not after a lifetime of seeing our parents spend, spend, spend on the latest consumer bullshit. I would gladly work towards that end, but I am not typical of young people. Hell, we’re 2.5 years into the collapse, and most people are still blissfully unaware of it.”

This may be an extreme case of “blissful unawareness” but it is a problem we must deal with in moving forward with ideas about Transition. Most people believe we are in a down cycle rather than in a state of collapse. Rob Hopkins who started the world wide Transition Town Movement outlines the twelve steps of Transition and I recap them here for regular readers of this blog:

1. Set up a steering group and design its demise from the outset.
Some like-minded souls to drive the first stage of the process.
2. Raise awareness.
Can’t assume the community at large is even aware of peak oil, climate change or long-term economic problems.
3. Lay the foundations.
Network with existing groups.
4. Organize a Great Unleashing.
Transition Whatcom had one earlier this year.
5. Form groups.
Working groups tap into the collective genius of the community.
6. Use open space.
Open space is a technique for running meetings described in the Transition Handbook
7. Develop visible practical manifestations of the project.
Something specific and visual like planting trees.
8. Facilitate the Great Reskilling.
Teaching basic skills
9. Build a bridge to local government.
10. Honor the elders.
Apparently, it’s usually younger people who start these things.
11. Let it go where it wants to go.
12. Create and Energy Descent Action Plan.
Set the vision for a powered down, localized future.

Transition Whatcom is well down the road on these steps and can provide a model and assistance.

Dec 092010

There are a couple of things you can do when you find yourself in front of a friend at a social function and he announces that his novel has just been published: 1) Have a coughing/sneezing fit (your choice) and back quickly away kind of waving your hand as if to protect him from you, and then try and avoid him for the next several months, or 2) Step up and boldly ask to buy a copy (autographed, of course). This second option is fraught with danger because what if the book is crap? You are back to Part 2. of Option 1, trying to avoid the author now indefinitely. Such was my situation the other evening when neighbor and friend David Jones announced to me that his fictionalized story of a family event was hot off the presses. We got a copy and started reading hoping for the best.

Some years ago an artist who we knew just a little bit asked if he could come stay in our guest cottage while he conducted an en pleine air painting class. Having never seen his work we were a bit nervous when he asked on his last day if we’d like to see his portfolio. We took the risk and were thrilled that we were thrilled with his work. The guy was great. But for every one of these experiences I’ve probably had ten where I wished I hadn’t looked or read the manuscript or the chapter or whatever. My theory is that a lot of people really ought to keep their creativity to themselves. (I try to practice this and will not be promoting my unpublished fiction or poetry in this blog).

It’s nice to be surprised. It’s even better when you are kind of envious (as a writer) reading a friend’s book and saying to yourself, “This is a heck of a yarn.” I won’t give away the story of Big River Meadows: Eviction From Eden, A 1927 Montana Tragedy except to say that one advantage of publishing your own book is that you can have all the titles you want.  It has a Zane Gray feel to it. Dr. Jones is a fine writer and the book reeks of authenticity.

Which is where David’s book fits into the transition discussion. The plot is interesting. Very interesting; based on a long-held family secret. But what makes the book sing are the detailed descriptions of ranch life in 1927. Haying, branding, horseshoeing, a hoedown and ranch life in general reported almost poetically. We get a clear word painting of a life that is pretty much gone, skills long forgotten. A time when a twelve year old kid could fill a hay barn, drive a team and shoe a horse. A time when a forge in a farm shop wasn’t a novelty. It’s a coming of age story  crackling with sexual tension that takes place in the wide open spaces during a period that now seems almost mythical. Big River Meadows is a good read.

David Jones says he’s half-way through his second novel which takes place on a small, but special island, some time in the future.

Dec 072010

Volunteers fixing chuckholes at The Islander

A guest post from Mike Skehan

Note: An ad hoc group has been gathering to discuss ways to assist the Islander. They can use help and suggestion which could be posted here as comments or emailed to Mike who is working on a compilation.

By Mike Skehan

Are we discussing a desired state of being, sometime in the future, or the process of change itself along the journey to whatever vision we all have of that end point?  Probably both, with each individual having thought through the maze of possibilities to one degree or another.

To bring this point home, I attended a meeting of islanders last night, wrestling with the current difficulties facing our beloved Islander Store, brainstorming a host of options to preserve one of the institutions of our very existence.  All came together with a sincere appreciation of the difficulties facing Brad and Debra in these times of ‘troubled waters’.  A palette of options was partially developed, with more to come, but all centered around the simple fact that time is of the essence.  Current economic conditions on the island, along with certain future realities, combined to limit the range of possibilities that fall under the heading of ‘realistic expectations’.

Another common theme I came away with is this.  We all want to help in some way.  A sincere outpouring of love for both Brad and Debra in this situation was clear, but nobody  really knew what is MOST helpful at this point.  Another meeting is scheduled for next week to further define some options available to all of us as a community, as we stand ready to support a local business during their personal transition to a successful outcome.  I would appreciate hearing your ideas on this in the next several days.

On a broader note, I come back to the heading of this article.  Transition to What?
I guess the fickle winds of change could eventually drive us into caves and long houses as a society of hunter gatherers, or maybe one big Northeaster could just blow us all into Rosario Straight in the final act.

Or, is the journey itself one of fulfillment and joy as we boldly forge our new society with great vision and common purpose?  I guess I’m somewhere smack in the middle as I continue to waffle between optimist and pessimist.

Dec 072010

My biggest potato

This is the time of year when a gardener gets to study a bit and do some planning for the next season. I’ve been thinking about potatoes. From a number of different sources a new book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times came to my attention. WCL didn’t have it. I asked them to order a copy. When it arrived I read the first chapter and promptly ordered my own. It’s a keeper along with Steve Solomon’s books and Michael Astera’s The Ideal Soil.

Steve Solomon makes the strong point in Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades that we need to follow guidance from gardeners who garden in our region. That is to say, all gardening is local. This means that while we can find Elliot Coleman’s experience in Maine interesting, his techniques aren’t necessarily going to be helpful in the Puget Sound region. Same with John Jeavons intensive gardening techniques. One reason is a particular problem we have in our maritime climate. We have to worry about a creature called the symphylan, a tiny thing about a 1/4 inch long that looks like a white centipede. Symphylans build up after gardening and irrigating in the same place for a few years. They eat plant root hairs and destroy the crop. Steve Solomon’s recommendation is to let beds lie fallow periodically and if one has enough room, to operate two garden plots. Symphylans can become a huge problem.

Which brings us back to potatoes. According to The Resilient Gardener, planting potatoes is one way to lower the symphylan level in the soil. (This book is going to be worth several blog posts over the course of the winter. Carol Deppe is a scientist as well as gardener and her approach is unique and innovative).

My first garden (three seasons ago) was a gorgeous thing full of green leafy veggies. It was a pleasure to look at but I had to give most of the stuff away. You just can’t eat that much lettuce and table cukes. By my third year (last year) I had moved to the idea that I should plant to extend my eating season with stuff we could put by.*  Things like beans, squash and potatoes. So, Carol Deppe’s program to garden for resilience really resonated with me. After all, the goal of gardening in hard times is to grow food, not just salad.

Carol Deppe focuses on five crops: potatoes, squash, beans, corn and eggs (duck eggs). Motivated by celiac’s disease, a gluten intolerance, she developed a program of planting crops that would satisfy her nutritional needs over the course of the year. She goes into great depth on the planting, growing, harvesting, storing, preparing and nutritional benefits of her five main crops.

This past year I planted three different types of potatoes. Two of them (Austrian Crescents and German Butterballs from Territorial Seed) turned out great. The third, russet potatoes I picked up at the Mr. Vernon Co-op were sparse but edible. The butterballs even survived the recent Nor’easter.

Potatoes are a good source of calories, protein and vitamin C. They digest quickly causing a release of sugar into the blood. They are easy to grow, easy to store and rabbits won’t eat the tops. They don’t require huge amounts of water and you can prepare them lots of different ways: fried, boiled, baked, mashed and as salad. Commercially grown potatoes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops; just another reason to grow your own. Homegrown potatoes taste so much better. You can eat them everyday and not get tired of them.

I’ve ordered fingerlings and German Butterballs from Territorial Seed for an April delivery. Next year I need to follow Carol Deppe’s instructions and save my own seed potatoes.

*put by—to save for the future. A term which appeared first in the 15th century.

Dec 052010

In a comment to our blog on Transition Initiatives Mike Skehan raises some interesting questions about the capacity of the island. That is, how much energy do we use? How many calories do we need? What’s our water usage? All interesting questions and impossible to answer since we know the givens of population and historical usage.

What is harder to predict is what the island population of the future might look like. Many have argued that reduced ferry service and increased rates, for example, would cause an exodus of significant, if not biblical, proportions. I think a case could be made that a less accessible island would attract as many people as it repels.

If the world, national, and state economies continue to decline and government is unable to cope with the ensuing disruption great places like Lummi Island will be viewed as refuges. Likewise, as unemployment increases and as the dream of universal home ownership dies, living arrangements will morph into different structures.

The blogger who writes under the name of The Leibowitz Society has an interesting take on changing living structures.   He talks about families moving in together, the evolution of clan-type arrangement, communes and other forms of cooperative living.

Property owners on the island who had hopes of selling off parcels for McMansions and gentleman farms may have to revise their development model to something like the eco-housing or co-housing.

Not that we want to increase the population of the island, but my guess is that given different living arrangements Lummi could support more people than it does now. There’s lots of land for food growing and animal husbandry, ways to increase our water supply through rain catchment and conservation, even ways to make fuel from such easy to grow crops as sunchokes. We even have someone on the island who knows how to do it.

In fact, there are so many talented people on the island that one thing we need to add to our list of possible Transition Initiatives is a “skills inventory.” I’m not sure “how much wood a woodchuck can chuck” but probably quite a bit if managed in a thoughtful, conservative manner.

Dec 032010

There are a number of things that a Transition group could do on Lummi Island. The whole point of the Transition Town Movement is to build local resilience. As we work our way through the countdown to the almost final solution to the ferry crisis we have been reminded that we live on an island which, as one friend describes it, is “an argument surrounded by water.”

At some point some of us (those who won’t be panicked into leaving a sinking ship) will have to reach an agreement about how we want to live here. We’ll have to decide how to relocalize.

We are leaving an era where the world was our oyster and entering one where it might be important to be able to harvest an oyster locally. Many, including those who started the Transition Town Movement, believe that small is inevitable. What follows from this is that we can’t depend on others to take care of things for us. We will have to be self-reliant and take care of ourselves and each other.

An island is a perfect crucible for creating community and working together. The boundaries are denoted clearly. We know who belongs here. I hope we never reach a point where we worry about who is approaching our shores but if that time comes the moat formed by Hales Passage and Rosario Strait will be our greatest asset.

So, the question is where do you start? Where do you put your energy? There are the obvious individual things to do: Garden (if you can), store some food, collect some water, develop  backup energy systems, protect your assets, build up supplies. More important are the things we decide to do together.

There are several initiatives already on going that will strengthen the community, probably more than I am aware of. But here are a few:

Rob Kahn’s group is evaluating what can be done about health care on the island.
Darlyn Del Boca   has a committee that is trying to develop resources for home health care.
Erna Gregory has pulled together some people to brainstorm ideas to help the Islander.

And, then there are the established organizations like the Heritage Trust that is preserving land and making some of it available for a community garden, FOIL with goals to improve the library, the Grange, the church and chapel congregations, the Fire Department, LICA, the Civic Club, the Boys and Girls Club, the school—all doing their part to build community relationships and support.

So where do we start? Where do we expend personal energy? Here’s a partial list of possibilities in no particular order of priority:

Develop a time bank.
Create an electronic bulletin board for ride sharing, errand running, etc.
Recruit young farmers to the island and find land for them.
Reskilling workshops.
Contingency planning for transportation to and from the island.
Work on island awareness of Peak Everything
Focus on food.
Develop a new economic model for Lummi Island.
Follow the outline from the Transition Handbook.
Bring in some WOOFERS.

A small group will be getting together soon to brainstorm a more organized approach to Transition Lummi Island.

Dec 012010

We need a clearer picture

We have an interesting discussion taking place on this blog on the subject of sustainable transportation. Mike Skehan points out (in the comments) that we really don’t know much in the aggregate about why we make trips to the mainland and suggests we conduct a survey, a “Travel Demand Forecast” which would consist of a questionnaire to be filled out by ferry passengers.

Gunar Andersen, who I don’t know and who I don’t think lives on the island, made a very reasonable suggestion pertinent to this point on the Ferry Forum site back on Nov. 18. He said:

“It is understandable that the presentations by Rich Frye and Carl Weimer focus on the immediate issue of ferry fares due to the urgency of the scheduled council meeting on the 23rd. However, the real solution to the economics of the matter probably lies a step or two further out in well-reasoned and crafted, regional transportation planning. All affected are still locked in the “same old same old.” No one is thinking outside the box.
No one has asked yet:
1. What is the character of the most basic (essential) crossing needs for each island household or island visitor or service provider?
2. Are the present multitude of crossings needed if we think and act more efficiently?
3. Is there another way to meet those needs without having to leave the island – e.g. develop/support an island economy?
4. In distillation, what are the most basic of ferry costs related to enabling the community to (efficiently) meet its most essential crossing needs?

Even the Lummi Nation should be part of the economic answer, because there is value in:
  1. the reduced traffic exposure to its members, and  
2. the reduced area of ferry-related land (parking) which would likely result at Gooseberry for marina development if public transit is efficient and adopted by ferry users.
This planning task should be undertaken by those skilled in progressive transportation planning. All the money being spent on this ferry issue by the county, the Lummi Nation, and PLIC could have been much more appropriately and efficiently spent, and with much less stress on all, by doing good transportation analysis and planning.
On an advisory board: 
If there is to be any advisory board, it should be one which works from a multi-modal perspective, with water crossing as just one of the modes in its planning program. “Lummi Sub Area Transportation Advisory Committee” fits better than Ferry Advisory Committee.”

Mr. Andersen has offered islanders a lot to think about.
The questions raised go beyond the mandate of the Ferry Task Force which seems to be all about rates. Mike Skehan has suggested to PLIC that they take on the conduct of a use survey. It’s a place to start.

Somehow we will need to begin to manage our off island activities more efficiently. It’s not too hard to forecast that with counties suffering financially we will see increased rates and reduced service. The economy, not ferry service or lack of it will force some people off the island. Likewise, it will trap some people here who might rather be somewhere else. A third group won’t care that much preferring the isolation of island living. However, everyone will have to adapt to a changing transportation system.

Thus, collecting some vital data and beginning some planning are important and imperative.