Monday, August 17, 2015

Getting Back to Basics: Event Features Community Reskilling Workshops

Above: A reskilling event in Olympia in 2012 gathered over 150 very engaged community members to watch demonstrations on beekeeping, cheesemaking, basketmaking, candlemaking, building rocket stoves, and creating pop or beer can solar collectors.

By Janine Unsoeld

A hands-on, community event featuring reskilling demonstrations and workshops will be held on Saturday, September 12, 12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m. at West Central Park on Olympia’s west side. The park is located on the corner of Harrison and Division. The local bluegrass band, The Pine Hearts, will also perform. The event is free and open to the public.

The event will have short demonstrations and activities related to old-fashioned, common sense skills such as pedal-powered grain grinding, knot-tying, making and cooking on rocket stoves, seed saving, managing waste with waterless toilets, and more.

Seeing a community need for such an event, an organization called Transition Olympia founded the popular festival several years ago. Pulling together skilled, local artisans to coordinate about 15 workshops, organizer Gita Moulton says that climate disruption is one of the most, if not the most, critical issue facing our planet and our community.

“….I don't see any indication that most folks are aware of just how uncertain our future is,” says Moulton. Moulton, 83, possesses extensive knowledge of carpentry and urban farming skills including chicken raising, abundant year round food production, and effective weatherization of old homes. She is eager to share her knowledge.

“I would love to see the skills concept not only continue but expand, because I think the need for young people, especially, to learn to use their hands for something besides texting is going to be really important for their future,” says Moulton.

There are many books that review reskilling and community survival concepts, but Moulton recommends starting with The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience by Rob Hopkins.

“….As for skills, Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills is a good place to start. My copy was originally published in 1981 and was updated in 2008. It has a lot of good information on specific skills,” suggests Moulton.

Transition Olympia was based on implementing the concepts in the Transition Handbook, but is presently inactive. 

We chose to use the funds left in its account to sponsor the reskilling event. We are not charging for event participation, so there won't be anything coming in to replace the money for future events,” says Moulton.

Moulton hopes individuals and organizations will step up to help organize future events.

Above: Sara Vautaux will demonstrate her back to basics skills with a pedal-powered grain grinding workshop at the reskilling event on September 12. Vautaux also grows her own chamomile flowers to make into tea. The chamomile can be fresh or dried, and contains relaxing properties that can calm one's nerves.

Back-to-Basics Workshops

PEDAL-POWERED GRAIN GRINDING: The hand mill using two flat stones to grind grain into flour is one of the most primitive utensils in the world. The hand crank grain mill was certainly a great improvement, but grinding grain is much easier if you are using your feet rather than your arms. Try taking turns pedaling a bike which is hooked up to a grain grinder which turns whole wheat into flour. (Sarah Vautaux)

KNOT TYING: Knowledge of knots has been useful for hundreds of years, not only for boating and fishing but for many outdoor activities. It’s also useful for emergencies. Try your hand at some of the basic knots and pick up a diagram to take home so you can practice. (Mark Bock)

COOKING ON A ROCKET STOVE: Rocket stoves are low tech, ultra-efficient, clean burning, low cost, and easy to build. The technology, which was originally designed for third world countries running out of fuel, can also be applied to heating space or heating water. Find out how to make your own simple rocket cook stove with discarded tin cans.  (Gita Moulton)

Above: Tim Thetford demonstrates the efficiency of his homemade rocket stove at a reskilling event in Olympia in 2012.

FERMENTATION: Aside from the health benefits of the probiotics in fermented foods, interest in fermentation, one of the oldest forms of food preservation, is growing today as a way to prolong the life of food and preserve its quality without refrigerating or adding chemicals. Making sauerkraut and kimchee will be demonstrated. Maybe there will be samples! (Joanne Lee)

NATURAL BUILDING: There is a movement away from conventional resource intensive building with wood to straw bale and cob construction using local renewable resources. Joseph Becker has been experimenting and will bring his Rumpelstiltskin machine to make some "insulating earth" or "light clay straw." It’s fun to watch! (Joseph Becker)

MAKING FIRE: Knowing how to start a fire without matches is an essential survival skill. You never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll need a fire, but you don’t have matches. And whether or not you ever need to call upon this skill, it’s just really cool to know you can do it. Watch a quick and simple demonstration on how easy it is to do using just a piece of flint or quartz and a piece of carbon steel. Try it for yourself!  (Glen Buschmann and Janet Partlow)

CANDLE MAKING: How many of us are prepared with candles for light when there is a power outage from windstorms or other emergencies? Having a supply is easy if you have old crayons or candle stubs on hand. And even if you don’t, it’s easy to make your own with local beeswax. Here’s your chance to see how it’s done and give it a try.  (Scott Bishop)

PINCH POTS: A pinch pot is a simple form of hand-made pottery produced from ancient times to the present. Simple clay vessels such as bowls and cups can be formed and shaped by hand using thumb and forefinger, a basic pot making method that’s good for beginners. Try making one! She might even fire it for you if you ask. (Jen Olson)

TOOL SHARPENING: Tool sharpening can be an intimidating skill to master but it’s also an important one to learn. You simply can't do many jobs with a dull tool, and you can perform any cutting task much better and more easily with a sharp one. Watching Rama can give you an idea of how to start with maybe a kitchen knife before tackling the pruners or a hatchet. (Rama Lash)

WEAVING ON A FRAME LOOM: Weaving is one of the oldest surviving crafts. Long before looms were invented to make cloth or rugs, the concept of interlacing fibers was applied to using branches to create fences for protection or twigs to make baskets. Working on a simple frame loom, which you can easily make yourself, is a good way to explore the concept of weaving or maybe make a handbag or placemat. (Barb Scavezze)

WATERLESS TOILETS: There are many good reasons to think about waterless toilets, especially now as we continue with our drought, but primarily, they conserve water. They also manage waste on site or they can convert the waste into fertilizer. Many models, like the one Pat will show you, are available commercially, but you can also build your own. (Pat Holm)

BIKE REPAIR: Economic instability, ever-increasing climate change and the environmental risks associated with oil extraction are three of the many reasons why riding a bike is an excellent reliable alternative to driving. But it won’t be reliable unless your bike is in good working order. If you bring your flat tires or other minor adjustments or problems, Tim and Michael will help you fix them and give you good tips on tune up and maintenance. (Tim Russell and Michael Loski) 
SPINNING WITH A DROP SPINDLE: There is evidence that drop spindles were used to spin fiber as far back as 5,000 BCE. They were the primary spinning tool used to spin all the threads for Egyptian mummy wrappings and even the ropes for ships for almost 9,000 years! It’s a little trickier to learn to use, but a $6 drop spindle will give you yarn just as good as you can get with a spinning wheel. Try your hand at it and maybe pick up a spindle for further practice at home. (Shannon Rae Pritchard)

SEED SAVING: All domestic crops were once from wild seed which Stone Age farmers saved to protect their food supply from unfavorable climate conditions or invading tribes.  Learn how to protect the seeds that perform best on your own land with your own unique growing conditions, and protect them from corporate control. It’s not difficult. (Tanner Milliren)

For more information about the event, contact Gita Moulton, (360) 352-9351 or
 Above: A cheesemaking workshop with Kim Gridley at the reskilling event in 2012 was very popular.

For past stories and photos at Little Hollywood about community resiliency and reskilling events, go to and type key words into the search engine.