Oct 302011

In an earlier post titled “Transitioning Our Diet,” I quoted extensively from an essay by prepper and food writer Sharon Astyk who, conclusion, wrote, “It is not that we must eat wholly as we intend to eat, but it does matter that we begin the dietary and agricultural shift we inevitably face ahead of time.” The point of her essay was that in hard times, foods we have become used to might not be available.

Ms Astyk and her family are getting an early look at hard times. Located in New York State in the Schoharie Valley, her garden and most of the farms in the valley that she relied on to supplement the garden were wiped out by Hurrican Irene. Following Irene, heavy rains raised havoc with other crops that survived.

As a result, the hypothetical became the real and now she faces a winter without many of her family’s favorite food. You can read in this post how she plans to cope with the problem.

“What will I eat this winter?” is a question we all need to be prepared to answer.

Oct 262011

Some good friends of ours spent several of their formative years (late teens/early twenties) living on a commune in Southwest Oregon. I pretty much missed that era when young people congregated in the woods, dropping out, dropping acid, smoking pot and testing community life.

My own experience during this time period (Baptist college, USAF, moving to a suburb, corporate life) seems quite drab by comparison when I visualize a huge garden staffed by naked youth or lazy swimming holes on a mountain river. So, I’ve made these friends tell us their stories over and over. It is the stuff of fiction and better than Drop City, a favorite book, or Commune, an interesting film about a hippie enclave in Northern California during the same period.

For years we’ve talked about a visit and recently we made it driving from Ashland towards Cave Junction to visit the survivors of this particular back to the land experiment. The group in question assembled on a lovely and unusual piece of land around 1971. They were squatters living in teepees and tree houses and a two level shack of redwood boards. A shack (pictured on the left) where seventeen young people spent the winter crowded around a wood stove and living off food stamps. This small house still stands and is in pretty good shape a testimony to the usefulness of redwood as a building material. Yet, it is astounding that seventeen kids could spend the winter there corralled  in that small space, cooking quinoa and pooping in the woods. More surprising is that four people from those early days, two couples, are still on this land—two hundred acres of very interesting geography and geology that has morphed from a place of trespass to individually owned, to a trust and now to a non-profit corporation with a conservation easement in favor of the local land conservation organization.

And, here we come to the point of writing about this place and its relevance to the subject of transition, sustainability and self-reliance: two couples, a partnership of four, now all sixtyish in age, have lived here, off the grid for forty years, making a nice life for themselves in these woods and meadows and hillsides and along the river. For years they had to wade the river or drive miles on a circuitous route through the hills to bring supplies. In later years they managed an ingenious footbridge and have found ways to even get a cement truck onto the property. Today, they live in attractive and comfortable hand-built homes. They have solar and hydroelectric power. Their gardens are extensive with nearly three acres fenced for cultivation. Their harvest of blueberries alone is “several hundred pounds.” Fruit trees are protected from bears by ingenious, solar powered electrified wires. There’s a great barn and a wonderfully designed green house attached to a twelve foot concrete wall which extends the growing season. They have been experimenting with grain and displayed two five gallon buckets full of wheat and a loaf of bread for lunch from flour ground on the property. It was a garden of eatin’ with grapes from the vine and cider pressed on the spot.

On a warm October day it was idyllic and exceeded my expectation, inspirational to see what had been accomplished and to know that it is possible, with ingenuity and sweat, to build and live in the modern age the way the earlier Oregon settlers had done. This former commune is a living laboratory for the future using old and new technology to create sustainability and comfort. A case study for the homesteading crowd, for preppers and survivalists.

We had parked the car and crossed the footbridge and were warmly greeted by one the couples. The woman had been a high school classmate of our good friend. These two young women had left the East Coast in 1970 to drive west seeking adventure. They arrived at this spot, had paired up with their men and continued their stories, one staying in the woods and one eventually moving back to the city. Although they don’t see each other much anymore the connection is still obviously strong.

We walked up the hill and into a large meadow and then past the site of a recently fallen tree, an enormous oak tree probably three hundred years old or more that had sheared off in a winter storm. It was being sawed and milled and split. This tree had watched it all, from Indian times to the hydraulic gold mining that had taken place below it to the hippies running amok. Over time the kids grew older organized themselves and learning to live with the land. Like the oak tree everything has its time. Nothing goes on forever and although the two couples have stayed to steward this large property and created the legal framework to protect it, they will need some younger energy to perpetuate what they’ve started. It seems inconceivable to me that with “back to the land” gaining steam again that they won’t find a young couple or two or more to join with them.

I envy our friends and these couples and their stories and the experience they had which seems to me so delicious. What they had then was better than a college education. What they have now is the know how that all of us might need in the near future.

Oct 242011

It’s hard to be too concerned about water when we gaze out at it all the time. But water is potentially a big issue for the island and until the ferry crisis pushed it aside it was a major topic of discussion. Of course, growth and development were what pushed water to the top of the topic list and now that the economy is in the crapper for the foreseeable future people are less concerned about water. However, water is a world-wide problem as the author of The Big Thirst points out in his recent book.

He provides interesting case studies from around the world: Las Vegas, an artificial city in the dessert which has actually decreased its use of water but totally depends on it for survival. Las Vegas is blessed with a water manager who is somewhat of a visionary and who has aggressively sought out new sources of water for Las Vegas while forcing reductions in consumption.

Conversely, Atlanta, which has been suffering a drought is literally clueless in its planning. Millions of people are at risk because of poor water planning.

In Australia, a multi-year drought has dried up rivers. One city went to war with each other over a plan to purify sewer water which is technically possible. But the plan failed due to the poor marketing of the idea. People didn’t wish to drink what was urine and feces. Interestingly, the amount of water on the planet never changes. It just becomes less available in certain places. And, it is possible to clean any water to the extent that it is simply and purely H20.

They do this at the IBM plant in Burlington, Vermont. They need perfectly pure water to use to clean the computer chips manufactured there. The water they produce is so pure that it would be toxic for humans to drink because water acts like a solvent and totally pure H2O will borrow essential minerals from the body as it makes its progress through the system.

In India, only a handful of cities have 24/7 water service. In a city such as New Delhi with twenty million people, at least eight million are carrying water every day either delivered through standpipes or by water truck. In more affluent neighborhoods water comes on for a couple hours a couple times a week. The wealthier people have pumps and storage tanks and the pumps go on and the storage tanks fill so they can have water on demand.

Around the world, water is essentially free. What people get charged for is delivery and prices, generally, are very cheap. In the USA we have bought into the fact that bottled water is better than tap water even though the two largest water bottlers simply run tap water through a reverse osmosis system. As a country we end up paying more per gallon for bottled water than we do for gasoline. But if a municipality tries to up the price of water to improve the infrastructure people complain loudly.

In most parts of the US the water infrastructure has been sadly neglected. Many residences don’t have meters. Much water is wasted. Americans spend $21 billion on bottled water and only $29 billion on our entire water infrastructure.

It’s possible that most islanders are more conservative with their water though I am aware of situations where there are people who water their lawns to the distress of their fellow water company members. A good number of us have wells and even though there is no monthly water bill there is a cost to having ones own private water system. This year, we had to have our cistern cleaned, floats replaced, well pump and pipes replaced. Not cheap but amortized over twenty years, not excessive.

A number of us have added rainwater catchment which is a growing trend around the world. It’s a shame to let all of that water run directly back into the Salish Sea.

We use much more water than we think we do. For example, the electricity we use at home on a daily basis requires 250 gallons of water to produce and the food for “a single day’s meals for a typical American require 450 gallons of water.”

At our house we are a constant argument over when it’s necessary to flush. I contend it’s a good place to start the discussion.

Pollution of the world’s water is a big problem as is the attempt to profit from water. Blue Gold a documentary that is very pertinent to this discussion. You can find the entire film on Youtube in six parts. Here’s part 1:


Oct 202011

Back in my corporate days I discovered the power of a well thought out policy paper, composing a series of articles that increased my personal stock and which were still in use years after I had moved on.

History has a list of books and essays that worked as levers to tip the balance of people’s thinking. One normally looks to academia for this kind of thinking so it is unusual to learn the source A National Strategic Narrative which is making its way to prominence.

Mr. Kunstler in his Monday morning essays often raises the possibility of a Pentagon general taking control and putting things back in order. If that happens, let’s hope it’s a general who subscribes to A National Strategic Narrative written by two thoughtful Pentagon officers as detailed in this article from Miller-McCune.

The paper  is worth reading in full for it suggests that sustainability is the key to our success as a country, an interesting point of view coming from a professional military perspective.

It’s idealistic, I suppose, to hope for such a non-partisan, detached POV. At a minimum it could provide a model for local stories that describe the future.

If Lummi Island were to write its story for the twenty-first century, what would it be?

Oct 172011

Many people don’t take the threat of genetically modified food seriously. Therefore, courtesy of Natural News, I offer the first annual Transitionlummiisland.com GMO film festival.

(Click the link to view these short films).

Even Animals Refuse to Eat GMO

How GMOs Turn Your Babies Into Medical Experiments

How GMOs May Turn Your Body Into a Pesticide Factory

How GMO Research Is Rigged Using Fraudulent Science

Cap the GMO Gene Spill

Institute for Responsible Technology

We need to keep our eye on the California initiative that calls for mandatory labeling of GMO food.

Oct 142011

One of the real delights for a beginning gardener is to save some seed because each time you fill a little packet with seed you get to shout, “I just saved four bucks!” It’s really pretty easy especially if you have a copy of Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners.

I just finished following her instructions for saving tomatillo seed. We had a bumper crop of tomatillos which I started under a grow light then transplanted into Wall’s O Water. By the middle of the season the plants had gotten so tall and leggy that I pounded rebar into the ground around them to hold them up. Even with that architectural reinforcement a couple of them collapsed breaking the main vine. Still, they produced the neat little green tomato covered in a papery husk. We turn the tomatillo into salsa verde, a truly delicious, all purpose condiment, meaning it’s good on anything from chips to mac and cheese.

I had trouble finding tomatillo seeds but now I will have enough to give away.

One saves the seed by dumping a selection of tomatillos into a blender or food processor, covering them with water and blending them to a liquid. Pour the mess out into a bowl and add water, then slowly pour it out. The weak seeds float out and away. The heavy seeds sink to the bottom. Pan for the seeds a few more times then pour them out into a strainer to get rid of the remaining liquid. Spread the seeds out on a plate to dry, then package them.

In August I Tom Sawyered my grandsons into helping me save seed. In that case it was kale. I’d pulled the plants which had heartily overwintered and dried them on a tarp in the garage. Lots of the pods burst open on their own and I collected those seeds on the tarp. For the rest, we sat up on the picnic table and pulled the pods apart with our finger nails and tried to let the seeds drop right into a seed packet.

The easy way to collect seeds, of course, is to let stuff bolt and go to seed in the garden and see what comes up the next year. Volunteers make gardening more fun. I like seeing a few surprise heads of lettuce in the corn patch, or cherry tomatoes amongst the beets.

Start practicing your seed saving. It’s a skill all gardeners need to learn.

After saving seeds, the next challenge is breeding plants which is high on my very strange bucketlist.

Oct 112011

In good times or bad our island community can benefit from the bountiful supply of wild food

waiting to be harvested: wild greens, berries, sea vegetables, mushrooms, trees and sea animals can supplement and enrich our diets.

A couple of weeks ago, writer and teacher Jennifer Hahn spoke to a packed house at The Grange about her new book Pacific Feast subtitled A Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine.

I bought Pacific Feast and read it and honestly have to report that I enjoyed the talk and Ms Hahn’s energetic personality more than the book which was aimed too much at the “foodie” market with lots of recipes you could use to dazzle your foodie friends.

Her message, however, is very clear: there’s lots of food out there waiting to be eaten from nettles to clams, from maple blossoms to Turkish towel (that reddish searsuckered seaweed you find on the beach).

Pacific Feast will broaden your horizons when it comes to wild food. For example, she does provide details on how to harvest, store and prepare all of our edible seaweeds with caveats on sustainability. And though many of us have eaten all the local wild berries, experimented with nettles, collected mushrooms, clammed and crabbed, few of us have sugared a maple or made use of the ubiquitous seaweed.

Along with the book a pocket foraging guide was available which I hope represented the book Ms. Hahn really wanted to write. The photos are small and the print is smaller but it provides the essential information contained in Pacific Feast and will be a handy reminder for me to try: 1) Making rose hip jam, 2) Eat some young Oregon grape leaves, 3) Add more edible weeds to our salads, 4) Try sugaring, 5) Experiment with sea vegetables.

Oct 092011

Our own Nancy Ging got a nice write up in the KPLU Radio blog for her promotion via her blog and weekly column in the Bellingham Herald of the locavore movement. A locavore is someone who makes the decision to eat food produced in the local area, in Nancy’s case—Whatcom County. If you follow her blog posts you will learn who the local producers of food are in the county and how to prepare this food deliciously.

It’s important that we move towards a local economy. If the economy takes a bigger dump, if the trucks quit rolling down the freeway, we will have to utilize local food sources and develop new ones.

Why not follow Nancy’s lead and begin now by trying to source your food locally? We can’t grow everything we need in our backyard gardens. Fortunately, Whatcom County is a rich agricultural area with a vibrant Farmer’s Market and many farmstands offering the complete gamut of locally produced food. Additionally, we are also blessed with an abundant supply of wild foods which we need to learn more about (some comments on Jennifer Hahn’s Pacific Feast coming soon to this blog).

Local food initiatives are spring up all over the country. A filmmaker in Colorado has made a film called Locavore which looks like it will be interesting. Watch the trailer.

On Orcas Island a new group called Orcas Food Masters has an innovative concept to build interest in gardening and local foods:

“I want to help other people in the community, my friends, my family to grow more of their own food so we can have a thriving local food system,” said coordinator Learner Limbach, a 10-year Orcas resident and landscaper who raises goats, chickens and sheep on leased land. “The premise of FoodMasters is that we feel there’s a new economy emerging that’s based on local production and exchange of goods and services,” he said. “Food is the foundation of that new economy…. Right now we don’t have the local production to support everybody buying local.”

The food master concept is one we all need to think about and talk about some more with the goal of making a local economy a reality.

Oct 072011

My monthly copy of the Washington State Grange News informs me that October is Co-op Month.

The Grange News also reports that United Nations General Assembly Resolution 64/136 proclaims 2012 to be the International Year of Cooperatives with the theme, “Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World.” The Grange News has an article on the Northwest Center for Cooperative Development which helps folks in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii start co-ops.

Here’s a video that illustrates the kind of project the Northwest Center for Cooperative Development gets involved with:


A list of projects The Northwest Center For Cooperative Development has been involved in includes such things as power generation, home care, housing, grocery stores and marketing.

It’s interesting to know,

1) That such an organization exists, and 2) That the Grange has a stake in promoting cooperative ventures.

The cooperative format might work for many activities on the island including: resupply, marketing of products, health care and private ferry service, to suggest only a few examples.

Oct 052011

The on-going Wall Street protests bring attention to the fact that the big banks may not be our friends. Top government officials run to aid them when they are in trouble to the tune of billions of dollars which add to the public debt.

The Washington Public Bank Coalition has some interesting things to say about this situation:

Our current banking system is directly connected to big banks. On August 31, 2010, Washington State had 67.8% of its current deposits of $5.4 billion dollars in nine private banks that are headquartered outside the Northwest. These private banks are in business to make profits for their owners and their shareholders. It is not their mission to supply credit to Washingtonians to start businesses, go to school or buy equipment for their farms. These 9 banks directly benefit from holding Washington’s state revenue on their balance sheets. They are able to leverage that money (multiply it many times) to create new loans, including out of state loans and to invest that money on Wall Street.


Instead of banking on Wall Street, Washington State needs to bank on Main Street. The answer lies in Public Banking.

A Public Bank partners with community banks, credit unions and bigger banks to supply affordable credit to local economies. More credit translates into more loans for business start-ups, more money for farmers in Eastern Washington, more money for high tech companies in Seattle, more money for wineries in Walla-Walla and for boat builders in Bremerton.

Simply put, Public Banks put state tax revenue, investments and assets to work on Main Street, not on Wall Street.”

The Coalition wants to follow the successful North Dakota model and form and public bank in the state of Washington.

Ellen Brown, author of The Web of Debt*  will be explaining more about public banking in a talk in Seattle on October 26, at 7pm in Room 120 of Kane Hall at the U of W.

*From The Web of Debt website: “Not only is virtually the entire money supply created privately by banks, but a mere handful of very big banks is responsible for a massive investment scheme known as “derivatives,” which now tallies in at hundreds of trillions of dollars. The banking system has been contrived so that these big banks always get bailed out by the taxpayers from their risky ventures, but the scheme has reached its mathematical limits. There isn’t enough money in the entire global economy to bail out the banks from a massive derivatives default today.

Web of Debt unravels the deceptions in our money scheme and presents a crystal clear picture of the financial abyss towards which we are heading. Then it explores a workable alternative, one that was tested in colonial America and is grounded in the best of American economic thought, including the writings of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. If you care about financial security, your own or the nation’s, you should read this book.”

Oct 042011

Food Matters, an 1:12 minute film, is available to watch free for a couple more days—until Oct. 8.

The film asks this question: What would happen if people ate lots of fresh, often raw, nutritious food? Their answer is there would be an epidemic of good health. Food Matters covers a lot of territory including: raw food, vitamin supplementation, superfoods, the Ornish diet, lifestyle changes, the failure of modern medicine to prescribe nutrition, the business benefits of poor health and chronic disease, Linus Pauling, the manipulation of studies, the blacklisting of studies that don’t support the pharmaceutical POV.

Lots of interesting material which may or may not be news to you. One of the main interviews is with David Wolfe, a vibrant looking young fellow who I first met almost twenty years ago and who is the poster boy of the raw food movement. I must say that David hasn’t aged a bit since 1992 when I met him which speaks well for raw foods. Fortunately, you only get a bit of the raw fanaticism (they say “cooked food is poison”) instead suggesting that slightly more than half one’s daily diet should be raw. Good advice, I think.

Another primary interview in the film is a nutritionist who is editor of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. Articles in this Journal don’t get indexed and are difficult to find. He spends a lot of time explaining why the pharmaceutical industry attacks vitamins and crocks studies that are based on low doses, doses that don’t reach theraputic level.

Most of the health problems in this country are caused by lifestyle of which diet is primary. Too much fat, sugar and empty calories—food void of nutrition. Unfortunately, there is no money to be made by encouraging people to change their diet or to remineralize the soil. Charlotte Gerson of the Gerson Clinic in Mexico argues that our food is deficient. Our supermarket produce is old and often from far away.

Food is the key. It’s very important that we grow much of our own food and, at least, eat locally. At the same time we need to make and effort to understand that if we want the highest quality, most nutritious, nutrient dense food that we have to build and amend our soil so we can achieve the highest benefit possible.

Food Matters.

Oct 032011
Four years ago I gave myself five years to figure out how to grow fifty percent of our food (two of us). There’s one year to go and I’ve learned a lot. If I could get a greenhouse built I think I could hit the target. If not, I’ll come close.

The experiment has  been interesting. I started knowing nothing; had never had a garden. I read a lot. Talked to people. Went to a workshop led by Steve Diver and diligently read the daily posts on the Soil and Heath Discussion Group on Yahoo.

We’ve added to the size of our vegetable garden. Added berries, fruit and nut trees, grapes and kiwis. The fruit, nuts, grapes and kiwis will add to our larder in the future and make the 50% goal easier to obtain.

Along the way I’ve studied and sometimes experimented with organic gardening, no til, biodynamics, permaculture, Fukuoka and nutrient dense. I’ve learned that there is an argument going on at the cutting edge of unconventional gardening, one that argues that just adding lots of organic material to the soil doesn’t necessarily mean nutritious food. Organic may only mean food that isn’t poisoned. And, it will result in a garden with too much potassium.

Interestingly, Steve Solomon perhaps the guru of Pacific Northwest Gardening is beginning to question his own wisdom and advice laid out in his very useful books Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades and Gardening When it Counts. He has joined forces with Michael Astera and they are writing a book together on the importance of mineral balancing the soil to be able to grow the most nutritious food.

Astera has written a book called The Ideal Soil which brings up to date soil science that goes back to the 30’s and 40’s and was squelched by the big chemical companies who make their money selling NKP fertilizer.

It is possible to have your garden soil tested and analyzed. A soil test costs $20. The analysis $45. If a gardener buys Michael Astera’s book and if you have a basic knowledge of math you can learn to analyze the test yourself. When Michael or Steve Diver analyze your soil test they write a prescription. Back in August I posted the prescription I will use on our garden this fall.

If one is a backyard gardener growing some food for the fun of it then a soil test and analysis are not going to be a high priority. But if one is trying to grow 50% of one’s food then it will be important for that food to be as nutritious as possible. Theoretically, the more nutritious your food, that is—higher in necessary minerals—the less food you will need to eat.

Handling a big garden entails a certain amount of work. Harvesting and putting food by is even more work. After a day of canning it’s easy to see why Americans bought into the ease and convenience of supermarket food. I recently spent nine hours with the result of 14 quarts of pickled beets, 9 pints of pickles and a gallon bag of frozen beet greens. If I were going to sell any that stuff I’d have a hard time figuring out a price. It doesn’t seem like much of a result for nine hours of continuous labor.

However, it’s part of the experiment. If food supplies dwindle or dry up, if prices continue to rise, if transportation becomes a problem, it’s important to know how to extend the growing season and extend the eating season by canning, freezing, pickling, dehydrating, etc.

It’s possible that what I now describe as 50% of our diet could become 100% if there is  economic catastrophe.

One important thing I’ve learned is that if you plan to survive on your garden you need to grow some calories: potatoes, dry beans, corn meal, squash.

Still much to learn.