Dec 292011

We watched two documentaries this week that illustrate the same problem by telling two different stories. Vanishing of the Bees explores Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) while Broken Limbs looks for answers to solve the continuing failure of small orchards, another version of colony collapse. The culprit in both cases in monoculture, the practice of big farming, huge acreages of single crops like corn, soybeans or apples.

In Broken Limbs the film maker tries to understand the decline of his father’s once successful apple orchard in Wenatchee where trees in small orchards are being torn out of the ground and burned. The apple business is still successful but it’s controlled by large companies, vertically integrated, with orchards, giant fruit warehouses, automated packing lines, marketing organizations and even delivery. The small orchards are monoculture on a small scale and can’t compete playing the same game as the big boys.

Most of the beekeepers in Vanishing of the Bees serve monoculture (almonds, blueberries, apples) with thousands of hives which are exposed to all the pesticides that modern agriculture brings to the field. In the case of bees, systemic pesticides appear to be the problem. The French, whose bees collapsed in the 90’s discovered the same thing and banned systemic pesticides. We still haven’t banned them and US beekeepers continue to lose 30% of their bees every year, victimized by the monoculture they serve.

The bee is like the canary in the coal mine, trying to tell us that something is wrong. The small family orchard in Wenatchee is a canary as well demonstrating that monoculture is not sustainable.

In Broken Limbs the filmmaker discovers the work of Dr. John Ikerd who argues for sustainability in farming. The film then features several “New American Farmers” and finds a couple who are thriving on small parcels using boutique marketing techniques.

The development of monoculture in the USA is disturbing, with vast acreages of single crops, mostly unhealthy ones at that—GMO corn and soy, heavily sprayed apples and other tree crops. It’s all part of the bigger is better philosophy that has brought us the global economy, the big box store, the regional medical center, corporate media and the freeway system to get us back and forth.

The problem with monoculture is that it seeps into all phases of our life. In Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything by FS Michaels  the author argues that our one story is about economics, about making money and how that determines our relationship with work and family. Monoculture is like a giant magnet that sucks us in. Think: Costco, Amazon, St. Joseph’s, Fox News, et al. Think food from South America. Think manufactured goods from China.

It’s going to take more than a few people to change things up because right now monoculture dominates and controls. To change the system will require thoughtful choices about how one lives and spends.

Dec 262011

For a couple years when I was a little kid we lived in the copper mining town of Miami, Arizona where the evening’s entertainment was to watch lava-like slag being dumped on the top of the ever growing mountain called a “slag heap”. Miami was a mining town in the hills north east of Phoenix. The mine was pretty much the town. It was Miami’s reason for being. Even our grade school was named for the mine—Inspiration Addition Grade School, the original mine having been The Inspiration Mine.

In this photo you can actually see the old slag heap which, from the point of view of a seven year old, was one of wonders of the world. The open pit is behind it and, as the mine has expanded, stretches all the way to Globe. An open pit mine is an ugly thing and pretty much destroys the landscape. When we see photos of open pits we recoil.

The trouble with the open pit mine on Lummi Island is you can’t see it (Bellingham actually has a much more vivid view). However, the Lummi Island Conservancy is trying to shed some light on the situation which they do in this quite remarkable, locally made video which features people you know talking about the mine just beyond the borders of Scenic Estates.

I understand that the mine offers good employment but rules are rules or at least they used to be. Given the lawless behavior of our financial institutions and the Justice Department’s reluctance to pursue remedies against that behavior it’s possible that the rules don’t count any more. Whatcom County certainly gets their panties in a knot when a homeowner tries to do something without a permit as I learned when someone on the island suggested to the county that we might have needed a permit to connect our garage to our house. Whatcom County was on top of that one.

I hope they use the same standard of diligence in pursuing what our friends and neighbors in Scenic Estates have pointed out are violations of the rules governing the operation of a quarry.

Dec 222011

I like to read about “intentional communities ”  Most start with a great idea; most never get off the ground or are failures to one degree or another. They fail because it’s very difficult to get even like minded people to agree on everything. In a community like ours it’s even more difficult because of the diversity of politics, religion, philosophies and, most important, economic circumstances. If one is fighting to stay afloat, living from paycheck to paycheck, trying to gain an economic foothold, it’s pretty difficult to get worked up about community issues and problems. Likewise, if you drive over to Bellis Fair and can’t find a parking spot, it’s virtually impossible to believe that the country is on the cusp of economic disaster. So, getting people to move toward the future with a common intention is impossible.

Recently, on the Next Door site (Lummi Island’s social network) there’s been comments about saving the store and a poll about the importance of business on the island. These are interesting discussions and questions. The Islander Store is a fascinating subject from an island POV. It seems to be emotionally important. Everyone likes it and wants it to succeed. Unfortunately, no one shops there frequently enough for it to be successful. That is, successful enough to support the owners in the style to which they would like to be accustomed.

In a previous life I worked closely with a hundreds of small business owners and was a small businessperson myself. For me, there is nothing sadder than someone going out of business. I have actually found myself in tears learning that a business I know has gone down the tubes. But the reality of business is that you have to provide a service that people need as well as want. You have to have strong customer support in the form of dollars spent, not just a desire to have the business available. You have to have working capital to fuel the enterprise.

It’s amazing to me that B and D and family have been able to keep it going this long because with a virtual bridge that makes it possible to get to Costco and Trader Joe’s in thirty minutes, an island store is not a service that people need. It’s just not that difficult to buy one’s groceries in Bellingham or Ferndale while combining the trip with a myriad of other errands that make the town run more cost effective than shopping at the Islander.

The convenience of the ferry makes life difficult for many small businesses on the island to succeed and prosper. It’s not like we don’t have a number of businesses here. We have handy men, contractors, massage therapists, computer programmers, website designers, florists, a chiropractor, chimney sweep, nursery, energy healers, psychic reader, delivery people, galleries, two cafes, an inn, vegetable growers, small engine repair, car repair, fresh fish sales, potters, weavers, realtors, lawyers, home health caregivers, house cleaners, arborists, landscapers, woodworkers, excavators, wine sales and more. In every case, island customers have the option to go to town for the service or order it up from the mainland. In many cases, maybe even most cases, going to town becomes the first choice.

There’s always an ebb and flow of business. FOILs new calendar showing historic buildings reminds us that there was once business on the island that employed hundreds of people, which made lots of money for a time and which no longer exist. It is often heartbreaking when a business has to close its doors. Money is lost. Lost also is the sweat poured into the business that did not give a return.

As long as we have a ferry running to Gooseberry every thirty minutes and until the fare makes us wince harder than we are wincing now, it will be tough for any business, but particularly retail business to make it on the island.

Which brings me back to the idea of the intentional community. Ours is one of with many motivations. For some, the island is a weekend getaway. For others a home for the summer. For some a retirement haven. For a small group, a place of community. For a few, a place of business. This diversity of intention or motivation for being here will stay the same unless there is some dramatic event(s) which forces a change in attitude.

So, that’s the whole point of this blog—to argue that things may not be as they seem. That the recession may turn to depression, that the government may attempt to become more and more oppressive and that we may have to wake up and review our intentions.

Dec 202011

With this nifty app you can find the path of the sun across your own garden for any day of the year. Just plug in your address in the search bar.

According to the description on the site:

SunCalc is an app that shows sun movement and sunlight phases during any given day at the given location.

You can see sun positions at sunrise (yellow), specified time (orange) and sunset (red). The thin orange curve is the current sun trajectory, and the yellow area around is the variation of sun trajectories during the year. The closer a point is to the center, the higher is the sun above the horizon. The colors on the time slider show sunlight coverage during the day.


Dec 162011

Mike Adams, The Health Ranger, puts out a daily newsletter from his Natural News website which has 2,000,000 subscribers. If you aren’t one of them you are missing out on some interesting information. One of his recent posts pretty well details his own POV. Should You Leave the USA Before the Collapse?

Adams has very alternative viewpoints particularly about health medicine and food and he will provide you with news that you won’t get from the newspaper. He’s on top of a lot of stories that our media ignores like Fukishima and the disaster that continues to unfold there. If raw milk is under attack, he will be on top of it. If a medical study reveals that chemo causes brain damage, you will find it in his newsletter. If there is new information on the dangers of fracking he will bring it to you. The extent of his daily reporting on extremely important subjects is amazing.

His website also offers lots of information on survival and prepping. Obviously, this is his business and he also sells products and advertising. I encourage you to subscribe to his free newsletter and check out some of the articles and make your own judgement as to his value.

It’s easy to subscribe by entering your email into a box on the right side of his home page.

If you are a Facebooker, you can follow Natural News on Facebook.

Dec 142011

Avid readers of James Howard Kunstler know that if it’s Monday, “it must be Kunster.” Each Monday, Mr. Kunstler entertains his fans with a trenchant and colorful essay and on why the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

The point of bringing up people like Kunstler, Ann Barnhardt, Jim Sinclair, Glenn Greenwald and others is to remind you that there are sources of information and opinion that counter what we now quaintly refer to as the MSM (Main Street Media) which is actually big corporate media. It is also to encourage you to sample their thought process and to suggest that you make an effort to understand what they are warning us about.

Kunstler is the first guy I came across several years ago who got me thinking about how bad things could get. As his critics point out few of his predictions have come to fruition as yet. However, better to prepared early than scrambling to catch up.

So, I start Monday morning with Kunstler and that includes reading all the comments from his avid readers, most of whom chime in as well on Monday morning.

Kunstler is a journalist who got into architectural criticism, became a messenger for Peak Oil, is an artist and has launched a career as an apocalyptic novelist.

Sometimes it’s easier to decide if you are willing to validate a person’s opinion on unfamiliar subjects by listening to them pontificate on a subject with which you are extremely familiar. So if you have never been exposed to Mr. Kunstler’s non-fiction, fiction or weekly rants, listen to this 42 minute podcast on his Fall 2010 visit to Seattle. In this podcast Kunstler and his interviewer, who do have this kind of discussion on a weekly basis, provide their impressions of Seattle, it’s neighborhoods, Starbucks, the bus system, architecture, the library, Paul Allen, the monorail and a myriad of other subjects.

Dec 122011

One of the rock stars of political blogging is Glenn Greenwald whose internet home is on

Glenn is one of the clearest thinkers in the business and is my first stop on the internet each day. (You may have to subscribe to Salon Premium at $30 a year to be able to read him). Greenwald is a very young man whose intelligence and precision arguments are so compelling that few who disagree with him wish to actively engage him. One other prominent blogger refers to him as “Glennzilla.”

His background is as a First Amendment lawyer protecting free speech. Over the last several years he has morphed into a powerful voice who, on a daily basis, speaks truth to power. He is also one of those rare individuals who can verbalize extemporaneously as well as he writes. If you watch cable news you have probably seen Glenn appear as a talking head to take the side of Wikileaks or rail against the erosion of due process in our legal system. His most recent book is titled, “With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.”

I marvel at someone so bright and articulate and who demonstrates such consistent clarity of thought. Mr. Greenwald recently sat for an hour long interview at UC Berkeley’s Conversations With History series. If you haven’t been following Greenwald’s blog, this 57 minute interview is well worth your time. If you watch it you’ll know a lot more about what’s going on then you did before watching.

Dec 102011

Economics is one of the most difficult things to understand. It all seems incredibly complex. I expect that some of us still believe, for example, that the Federal Reserve is a government agency, that few of us can explain a derivative, that most of us don’t understand the bond market or know the first thing about trading a commodity.

We grasp somewhat that Europe is in trouble, that business is down in the US, that the real estate market is in the dumps and that gold and silver have increased in value.

If you listened to the Ann Barnhardt interview in the last post on this blog you will have learned something about MF Global and how, in her opinion, their confiscation of customer funds was thievery which should lead to prosecution and convictions. Yet, the head of MF Global appeared before Congress this week to “answer questions” but not in handcuffs (handcuffs were reserved for peaceful demonstrators protesting an unfair system).

It’s hard to find people who can succinctly explain what the heck is going on. Ann Barnhardt does a nice job. So does Jim Sinclair. I’ve been following Mr. Sinclair’s blog for several years now and he always makes a lot of sense to me and his predictions on the price of gold have panned out. In the interview that I am going to suggest you listen to he describes some of the ramifications of what is happening to us right now. The Crash of 2008 he describes as a market failure. But MF Global is a system failure, something much more serious.

It’s worth a listen. Go to this web page and click on the arrow in the lower left hand corner of the photo of Mr. Sinclair who is seated behind some shiny objects.

Dec 072011

There are a lot of people, myself included, who can’t believe that the central banks have been able to keep things going so long by kicking the can down the road. “Kicking the can down the road” idiomatically means to defer something; to put something off. What has been deferred is world-wide economic collapse.

A woman named Ann Barnhardt has been in the news recently because she closed down her commodities brokerage in the wave of the MF Global scandal (where they stole a bunch of clients money and have yet to be jailed for it, or even charged). Ms Barnhardt believes the credibility of the commodities market has been destroyed. Furthermore, she thinks that the attempt to bail out Europe is just a matter of “kicking the can down the road.”  In a recent interview she said, “At first it was kick the can down another 10, 12 years. Then it is kick the can down the road for another year. And then it was well, let’s kick the can down the road for another few months. Now we’re literally to the point where all we can do is kick the can down the road for a matter of a few days. It’s not going to make it. I will be very surprised if we make it until Christmas.”

I believe she is talking about this Christmas; as in a couple of weeks from now. Barnhardt says that bailing Europe out completely would cost 100 trillion dollars which is more than the world wide GDP.

Of course, doom and gloomers have been making these kinds of predictions for some time and the can keeps bumping down the road. Can it go on forever?

I’m guessing that most people haven’t given much thought to the possibility of total economic collapse whatever that might mean. A handful have made some kind of preparation for the possibility. Part of the problem is that we really don’t know what is going on. For example, until recently we thought that TARP was an 800 billion dollar bailout. Now we know the banks were given $7.7 trillion on which they made enormous profits.

The Transition Movement started based on the specter of Peak Oil and Climate Change and how that might affect the way of life we have enjoyed since WWII. Economic disaster seems like a much more likely possibility.

Ann Barnhardt details her particular POV about the lack of integrity in our economic and legal system. I highly recommend her interview for content and even entertainment value.

We have just seen an actual confiscation of wealth (MF Global). Time to pay attention.

Dec 052011

From Krista Rome:

“I’m excited to announce that my instruction manual, Growing Dry Beans & Grains in the Pacific Northwest: a Step-by-Step Guide to Producing Your Own Staple Foods, is just about to roll off the press. The book is 26 pages long, in color, with full instruction for the 13 major legume, grain, and seed crops we have found to work well in our climate. The book is $20 (plus tax and shipping if applicable). Please let me know as soon as possible if you will want a copy before Christmas so I know if I need to make another bulk order before then. The print shops get busy this time of year. I am also be offering the book as a digital download for $10 for those of you who do not want a hard copy.

Our seeds are ready to package up for next year’s planting season and we’ve got some great new varieties to offer. Check out our website for a full listing with descriptions. The order form and photos of most of the varieties are also posted for you to download. Please call me anytime if you have any questions.

A Bean & Grain Seed Kit is also available, and would make an excellent gift for your garden-loving friend or loved one. It includes the book and 10 seed packages (a good sampling of our most reliable varieties). A perfect way to get started growing a garden full of tasty, easy-to-store winter food. The Seed Kits will be $40 with hard-cover book and $30 with the digital version on CD-Rom.

2012 Will be an exciting year for several other reasons. For the first time I will be offering a storage foods CSA in cooperation with our friends at Dragon Tongue Farm. 20 shares will be available and will include dry legumes, grains, and other storage crops such as garlic, winter squash, potatoes, and onions. Please let me know if you might be interested and I will email or call you once we have the cost calculated.

I am also working with Fairhaven College to get a few interns for the season. The plan is for the interns to work a half day per week in the field alongside me plus spend time working independently on a project of their choosing (such as researching new varieties for us to trial, helping write the 5-year report, designing new threshers, marketing seed, etc).  I am excited to get a few committed folks so that I can pass on the skills of every step of the process from planting on through harvesting, threshing and storage. If you know anyone that might be interested, please pass the word.

If you are interested in learning more, three “Introduction to Growing Beans & Grains” workshops are scheduled for next winter/spring: Feb 7 at the monthly support meeting for Bellingham Gluten Intolerance Group (BGIG), March 7 (date to be confirmed) at the Bellingham Community Food Co-op, and April 21 at Cloud Mountain Farm.

Thank you so much for all your support!

Krista Rome”

Dec 022011

Our discussion about stockpiling has been interesting and will continue. There is no end to items that would be nice to have in quantity (or with back ups and duplicates) during a transition period. Likewise, there’s lots of equipment that could make life easier. Here’s some of the stuff (for food storage and preparation) we’ve found very useful:

1. Food Saver: used to vacuum seal food. We have one something like this.  Food keeps a lot longer without oxidation. You can buy bag material in rolls and make your own bags to size.

2. Knives: good kitchen knifes are invaluable. Other cutting implements like the lowly potato peeler are a necessity. You can spend a fortune on knives but there are some good, inexpensive ones. I put Rada Knives into the “amazing” category. At the least, get their potato peeler.

3. Roma Food Strainer for making jelly, sauces, puree. This thing is a snap to use and works like a charm. You can have blackberry jelly instead of jam (unless you enjoy picking the seeds out of your teeth).

4. Dehydrator. We have one of these left over from our raw food days. It once was on for a whole year. (Raw foodists claim that dehydrated food is raw if the temp doesn’t exceed 115 degrees. It’s all about the enzymes and keeping them alive). You can make all manner of things like fruit leather, crackers, cookies and bread using raw food recipes. Or, you can just dry apples, herbs, veggies, etc.

5. Juicer. Sometimes there is an excess of stuff from the garden and you can juice it. You may even grow certain plants specifically to juice. We’ve had a Champion juicer but several years ago moved up to a Green Star which will juice just about anything including wheatgrass and probably even pine needles (you could make some of that famous Willows pine needle ice cream). You can easily make ice cream (sorbet) by running frozen fruit through the juicer. An expensive item but it lasts forever.

6. Vidalia chopper. Cheap and handy. Easy to use. There are other inexpensive items that, in part, can take the place of a Cuisinart type food processor like the mandolin.

7. Cast iron cookware. We don’t like no stick stuff. Cast iron lasts forever (we can track the history of our fry pan back to at least 1928), comes in all shapes an sizes, isn’t that hard to clean. Puts a little iron in your diet which is normally not a problem unless you have a rare ailment called hemochromatosis.

8. Vita-mix. Another expensive appliance but one that gets a lot of use for making smoothies, chopping, grinding grain, etc. Green smoothies are another concoction that is best made with the Vitamix.

9. Pickle press. A Japanese pickle press is a plastic bowl with a screw-on lid that presses the vegetables to the bottom of the bowl and quickens the pickling process. You can make “pickles” or pressed salad overnight with a selection of veggies like cabbage, radish, carrot, onion and a bit of vinegar (typically brown rice vinegar).

10. Pressure cooker. Scares a lot of people but the modern ones aren’t dangerous and it’s a healthy way to cook food. Often faster, as well.

Let’s hope the power stays on for a long time.

I’m interested to know what others find invaluable.