Posted on 27 January 2013.
by Scott James
The apple trees were destroyed. And Ross was frustrated.
He knew he should have put up a deer barrier before planting the bareroot trees on Friday. But he thought the new trees would be okay for two nights while he was traveling for work. On Monday morning he awoke to find several hundred dollars’ worth of fruit trees destroyed, presumably stripped of their bark by hungry deer.
Amy walked over from across the street, carrying a bundle of bamboo. “Got any wire?” she asked.
“Sure,” replied Ross. “I have some 14-gauge wire left over from another project. What’s up with the bamboo stakes?”
“Well, I shooed off the deer family from your fruit trees this morning—saw them when I was making coffee—but I was too late to stop the damage. They looked like they had been camped out eating for a while. So I thought I’d teach you a cool setup to temporarily protect newly planted trees.”
“Thanks. I owe you one. Where did you learn the bamboo-wire trick?” asked Ross.
Amy said, “I took a class at the local community college about it with my neighbor last year. Then we experimented on the trees in both our backyards. It worked great. Let me show you.”
No person is an island—especially in the aftermath of a large natural disaster. In recent years we’ve seen a rise of self-sufficiency experts encouraging us to learn a wide range of skills so we can “go it alone.” Whether the encouragement is for a wilderness backpacking trip or an urban hunker-down effort, that’s just plain bad advice. Being a Lone Ranger is dangerous. A resilient community is a much stronger response to the potential for disaster.
To go it alone, the list of personal skills you would have to gather in your personal toolbox is daunting, even if you are seeking mere proficiency and not deep expertise. Self-sufficiency is not realistically attainable for the vast majority of citizens, nor is it particularly desirable. Group resiliency—being able to rely on your local friends and neighbors—is a much better approach to both emergency preparedness and ongoing sustainability.
As we seek to become better community members, we try to improve our skill sets. What do you already know that you can share with others? Perhaps you have mastered food preservation methods like canning or smoking, or perhaps you have sage financial advice about eliminating debt and living below one’s means. Everyone has something they can learn. We also each have something we can teach.
Learning and practicing new skills—like splitting wood or installing drip irrigation in your vegetable garden—by yourself is good, but doing so with friends and neighbors is better. And making new relationships within your community during these classes is the best. Many towns and neighborhoods offer ample free opportunities to build new relationships and personal skills at the same time. On our island, we can take classes at Bay Hay & Feed to learn about growing food, participate in CPR classes offered by our Fire Department, learn bicycle maintenance from our local bike shops, and learn bout health and wellness via local gyms, yoga studios, and counselors. We can even learn to forage our forests and shorelines through Parks & Recreation classes.
In addition to knowing some basic home repair and maintenance (like knowing where your water cut-off valve is), consider taking classes on topics like CPR, camping, gardening, and food preservation in the coming year. Els Heyne is the Marketing & Sustainability Director at Bay Hay & Feed, a garden supply store on Bainbridge Island, Washington. We spoke recently about the new series of homesteading classes she’s putting together:
Not that long ago 90 percent of the people grew their own food, but now only 5 percent grow the food for the rest of us. Many people lost the basic skills and know-how to grow their own food, so we’re trying to teach people some of those skills again.
From how to raise your own chickens to how to keep bees, we are adding more and more classes for these important skills. This year I hope to add more classes for simple things such as how to grow asparagus.
Involve the Whole Family
Learning new skills is not just for adults. Our federal government has created a child-appropriate set of training tools related to preparedness that can have benefits in nonemergency times as well.
Broadening our skill set is the opposite of what many of us were encouraged to do in our youth. We were taught to specialize in order to maximize our salaries (in order to buy more stuff). But it is better to have a wide range of shallow/medium skills than deep knowledge of a single skill, especially when working through something as complex and all-encompassing as a wide-scale emergency.
It’s a Team Effort
Seeking out training in a variety of areas is not something we need to pursue individually. Like most everything else we’ve discussed, this is better done with neighbors. The ability to work as a team will be crucial, particularly as access to fossil fuels and the basics of life like food, water, and shelter become scarce. Although some people advocate preparing for emergency far away from “civilization” and prying eyes in a remote location, for most North Americans the opposite will be true. My family and friends plan to stay and help when the national emergency hits, not run away from it. That’s the conclusion Neil Strauss reached in his book Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life.
I recently finished CERT—Community Emergency Response Team—training for the first team in our county. Being able to go through that training with my friends Russ, Jenni, and Sarah (yes, that Sarah) bonded us together not only as a team to support our Fire Department’s emergency work, but also as local friends building a stronger community.
The list of skills that we could seek out can be overwhelming—from woodworking and blacksmithing skills to foraging and camping skills. But if we each follow our natural passions and seek out new knowledge in the areas that interest us, we can be assured that, as a group, we’ll have covered most of our bases.
Barter is one way a group of friends or neighbors can then share those skills and knowledge with each other, making the entire community stronger. Locally, we have a Time Bank started to facilitate these cashless exchanges. It allows members to give services in exchange for credits, which can then be redeemed with other members. Everything is tracked by easy-to-use software, which also allows easy browsing of the other services available from neighbors. Time Banks are different from direct trading and promote a positive upward spiral of giving and receiving.
Training Our Minds, Training Our Bodies
Our personal training for emergency preparedness need not be limited to new knowledge. It should also include getting in shape and maintaining our health. As the McKloskey’s mentioned in my last article, getting in shape in order to be prepared for emergencies is important. Of course a more in-shape you provides many dividends for your life in nonemergency times as well. I spoke with a local leader in wellness, Jen Breen, the proprietor of the popular Bainbridge Yoga House, about the benefits of a healthy mind and spirit, both for individuals and our community. Here’s Jenn:
It all begins with intention. This is my third go at creating a yoga studio, and each time the intention has been about community. Oftentimes, we think that the image of community is this big mass of people together. But I think that the most thriving communities are the ones that begin with a simple intention, followed by a few people who are attuned to that same intention. Then, it builds from there—slowly, organically, effortlessly.
If we want our neighborhoods to be real neighborhoods where people on the same street know one another, help one another, and share with with another, it takes intention. It takes action and persistence. We need to be willing to reach out to neighbors and to try connect, to socialize, and to bridge. If we do this when times are “good,” then we have built a powerful infrastructure that will support us when things fall apart.
The more isolated, individualized, and busy we are, the harder it will be for us all when the rug is taken from underneath—through a tragedy, a natural disaster, a conflict in the neighborhood. Being friendly and communicative to our neighbors is the simplest route towards healthy communities. Can we offer help? Can we invite them in? Can we solve problems peacefully? Can we offer compassion and generosity to our neighbors, instead of just protecting our own family and acreage? These are the important questions worthy of delving into.
By gathering often in community, comparisons and competitiveness erode from our egos. What’s left is a group of people coming together to celebrate one another’s uniqueness and what makes us unified as a whole. A community seeks to give people an opportunity to express and offer their gifts. No one leader holds all the responsibility or ownership. A community is about all of its participants, not just a few.
At the studio I’ve always encouraged people to discover their unique gift and then share it within the community. It’s safe, it’s embraced, and it’s coming from the right place. Participation and full inclusivity are key.
I also think a community that has the resources (not just monetary) to help those in need creates a foundation of benevolence and charity. A few years ago a woman asked me if I could do a community candle vigil and meditation for a family whose father/husband was killed. So many people who care for this family came, sat in a circle, chanted, listened, held hands, and raised money to help the family. The community of people created and held a healing space that gave everyone there a feeling of connection and peace during a devastating, chaotic time.
Then there are times of great celebration and jubilation. Coming together to breathe, to chant, to move our bodies, to tap into our fullest potential and to help share the light in its purest and raw form creates an amazing and uplifting vibration that draws people in. Less isolation, more togetherness. We know we need community and togetherness to feel fully alive. We thrive in our connections to ourselves, our families, our friends and communities. Our digital age and the kind of online communities we participate in are just no comparison to or replacement for the ignited energy we feel when we are physically, emotionally, mentally, and soulfully together. This is why I created a living room at the studio. It is a commons place where people can come to be at ease, to slow down, and to have conversation or to learn about ways in which to grow and to serve.
While I lived in Mexico the one thing that I became so enthralled with was the way in which the community flowed; at the town square, in the streets and marketplaces. Babies in arms, uncles and aunts, grandparents, teenagers, abled or disabled—everyone came together daily. I watched them talking, mingling, eating, laughing, praying, dancing. There was a sense of joy I felt as I watched this all unfold on any given day. I still wonder how to cultivate that here. Building a yoga house has been one way. The Friday night happy hours are our “Mexican town square strolls” where little kids all the way to 70 year olds move together, breathe together, feel good together, and leave feeling touched by the graces of community.
Cultivating Our Artist Selves
Our island has another type of community forming, this one around artisan skills. Sallie Maron, co-founder of the Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN) project, explained to me how this new facility will encourage the building up of useful (and beautiful) personal skills among citizens:
We are forming BARN to build and operate an artisan center with well-equipped community workshops for woodworking, metalworking, fiber arts, jewelry making, and other artisan crafts. The center will also include a Maker Space—a collaborative workshop where active and retired engineers can team up with young inventors and tinkers to help people gain practical, hands-on experience with new technologies and innovative processes to design and build projects.
BARN will offer classes for adults and young people at all skill levels and open studio time for those working on personal projects, in a setting that encourages collaboration. Groups will work together on projects that benefit the community and/or require the talents of many individuals, such as building sets for Bainbridge Performing Arts and community service projects such as park benches and bus shelters.
Much of the work at BARN will be artistic; however, people can also use the center for practical projects, such as repairing furniture or other household items. Businesses wanting to explore new products or methods and inventors at the stage of building prototypes will be welcome. A tool-lending library will ensure everyone has access to the right tools for offsite projects.
A book library for all the different arts and crafts and a lunchroom will be combined to create a sense of community and to encourage a crossover of disciplines. We’ll be receptive to all ideas and will embrace programs that respond to the diverse interests of islanders and their neighbors. It’s an exciting project to see come to life.
Adding new skills to your personal toolbox will certainly be helpful during long emergencies. But the benefits of new knowledge, skills, health, and attitude also can bring us significant joy right here and right now, both for ourselves and our community.
Photos by Garry Knight, Timothy J. Carroll, Julie Hall, KCDEM, lululemon athletica, Bainbridge Island Community Woodshop, and Francesc_2000.
Scott James is an entrepreneur, advisor, investor, and the founder of Prepared Neighborhoods, a program of Sustainable Bainbridge. More details at www.scottjames.me. Join the conversation about this series in the comments below or at www.preparedneighborhoods.com.