May 252013

A little over a year ago The Lummi Island Grange decided to offer a series of workshops on the general subject of rural life, community education being one of the Grange missions. We called it the Country Living Series, a name we borrowed from the Hood River Grange which runs a similar program.

Most of us have arrived at the island from a city setting and there are many things we never knew, used to know or had forgotten about. Rural life, especially life on an island, is markedly different from city life. One must be more self-reliant and self-sufficient. It’s important to learn how to do stuff or at least know who on the island has those skills.

In the lingo of The Transition Town Movement what we are doing is called “reskilling.” The intention is to learn to do things for ourselves and our neighbors. We have forgotten basic skills. I have written before about my grandparents farm in Virginia. It was a subsistence operation where they grew their own food, milled their lumber, built their house and outbuildings, slaughtered and butchered their animals, repaired their equipment and manufactured parts. There was even a barber chair in garage because they cut their own hair as well. People of that generation knew how to do stuff.

At the heart of reskilling is the idea of localization. That is, doing as much as we can for ourselves. Personally, I was thrilled to see Chris Immer’s recent Nextdoor post that he is milling lumber from Lummi Island trees and making it available for sale. If you are somewhat familiar with the island you will know that we do have people with specific skills and talents. We have people who know how to fell trees, catch fish, sail, weld, garden, sew, weave, heal, write, build boats, can and preserve, cook, throw a pot, carve, build, fix bikes and cars. There are more people that have fascinating hobbies and special musical talent. We have people who actually know what goes on inside computers. And people who can build musical instruments.

So, the whole idea of the Grange Country Living Series is to identify those people with special skills, talents and interests and try to cajole them into sharing their knowledge with the community at large.

We had a good first year and hope to do as well in the next twelve months. Here are the details:

25 workshops on 20 different subjects (5 workshops were repeated due to demand)

Over 200 people attended in total.

Highest individual attendance was 23. Lowest was 1.

Most of the workshops were presented by islanders but we did have help from the mainland for six         workshops.

Subjects (not in order of presentation):

potting soil and fertilizer,backyard chickens, pruning fruit trees, seed saving (2), chainsaw safety and maintenance (2), bread and cheese, neighbor electric vehicles, cheese making (2), rag rug construction (2), bread baking (2), how to make soap, keeping mason bees, herbal gifts, backyard beans and grains, end of life preparation, eating local, kim chi, how to buy a side of beef, making wine, using nettles.

I encourage you to volunteer to share your knowledge on any subject you deem important to share. You might find that only three or four people have an interest and that’s okay. It’s still paying it forward and helping to educate islanders to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient.

Call or email me with ideas: or 2130.

May 202013

In my garden the overwintered kale (White Russian) is six feet tall and bolting, buzzing with honeybees and bumblebees. Seed pods are forming and will drop seed and new plants will pop up later in the summer. This is a form of permaculture, I suppose. I like to see the kale blooms and though some find the leaves bitter after the plant bolts, we enjoy the taste. We will save some of the seeds to make sure we can perpetuate the kale in the future. Seed saving and exchanging seeds is growing in popularity. But at the same time, it’s under attack from companies that want to control the seed business.

This is really the problem with GMO. It may be years before we understand completely what the health hazards are with GMO seed, how the inserting of strange genes impacts humans and our environment, though it seems logical that, at this point, we can not know all the ramifications of messing with genetics.  On the face of it, rearranging DNA sounds kind of like a Nazi war experiment to me. Distasteful at a minimum. Criminal at worst.

If this were a James Bond novel Monsanto would be the villain. A real life SMERSH.

The problem with GMO is the control issue. You can’t patent my kale seed. It’s not proprietary. But a genetically modified seed can be patented. Once you have the patent you can control how that seed is used and who gets to use it. If one or two companies can control the source of seed they control the food supply. They will then control the world. It is the stuff of science fiction or Ian Flemming.

It’s difficult to fight back when Monsanto has the inside track in Washington D.C. with even a Supreme Court Justice, one of their former attorneys (Clarence Thomas0, in their camp. Is it surprising that Monsanto recently won a landmark case in the high court involving a farmer’s “misuse” of Monsanto proprietary seed?

Our government works hand in hand with Monsanto to promote their agenda world wide. We know this thanks to Wikileaks.

Beth, the healthy home economist has provided us with four suggestions for keeping Monsanto out of our home gardens now that they control more than 40% of the vegetable seed market:

  1. Avoid buying from the seed companies affiliated with Monsanto. Here’s a list of these seed companies:
  2. Buy from this list of companies Monsanto HASN’T bought and are not affiliated or do business with Seminis: 2012/03/06/monsanto-free-seed-companies/
  3. Avoid certain heirloom varieties because Monsanto now apparently owns the names. This article lists the seed varieties to avoid:
  4. Ask seed companies if they have taken the Safe Seed Pledge. Here’s a list of companies that have done so:

There have been some questions about Territorial Seed where a lot of us buy seed and their relationship to Monsanto’s Seminis Seed Company. Here’s the skinny on that:

The case of Roundup which, sadly, many Lummi Islanders still use to kill weeds, points out how unethical Monsanto actually is. People still using Roundup need to read this and the many other studies available proving that it is harmful to human and animal health. Monsanto doesn’t care. They make using Roundup look like great fun and a manly activity at that.

And, finally, a brilliant essay by a young woman who has a connection to Lummi Island, granddaughter of a Lummi Island resident.

Money quote: “Our place is here, fighting Agra-Giants such as Monsanto, Dupont, and GE here on American soil by tilling it up and growing our own food.”