March 3, 2009

Empowering Youth, Natural Building, Pruning & Composting

Last week the AWCP hosted Hawkeye yet again. We began the day by starting a flint and steel fire at the outdoor classroom in the lite morning rain. Because our roof was taken down by intense snowstorms in December, we were exposed to the elements. The theme of the day was "empowering youth with knowledge." We talked about how young kids, when taught survival and woodsman skills, obtain not only power but courage and self-esteem as well. We "took on child form" while Hawkeye taught us how to make char-cloth. If I were a ten year old kid learning this I would feel a lot more confident and powerful, two good traits to have. The downside of teaching the youth wilderness skills is that, as they grow up, and learn more about our recent history, they may want to leave it all behind and head out into the bush... pull an Alexander Supertramp. That is where the responsibility lesson comes in. We need to teach our youth that it is their responsibility to be safe and sound with their potentially harmful tools: fire, knives, and knowledge.

We had a double dose of permaculture on Thursday and Friday. Adam Rawson came up from northern California, where he lives on a remote piece of land off the grid. We covered quite a bit in the classroom, but also got our hands in the dirt. Shelter was a large topic of day one. We talked about alternative, sustainable, organic methods of building. Some of the most common alternative buildings around today are straw bale houses (which work great in semi-dry climates... and if there is no big bad wolf after you!), cob structures, log cabins, and underground homes. The biggest challenge to alternative building, we learned, is roofing. One of our current projects is building an outdoor classroom with cedar shake roofing. This has been done by the old homesteaders back in the good ole days, and some shake roofs have outlasted their builders!

We also talked about composting and pruning. Composting is a way to recycle food waste back into the soil. We learned about components of compost (mainly nitrogen and carbon) and which materials contain these essential elements. Some different methods of composting include the layered pile, the hangar method, compost tea, and one of my favorites, hugelkultur (using rotting wood to build up a berm of soil and compost). At Earthwise homestead, Albert Postema has created a large hugelkultur berm which was steaming... in Washington. Talk about a microclimate! We also pruned our fruit trees in the northwest corner of the property as well as transplanted a raspberry bush and a gooseberry bush. All in all, a wonderful week of class.

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