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Celt's Garden - Community Emergency Readiness is All About Attitude

It took quite a while to get the fake blood out of my hair. Then I went out and planted the winter garden in the gathering gloom of approaching heavy weather. It's late, I should have planted turnips, beets and rutabegas in August, but it didn't work before. The deer ate it, dry gardening doesn't work on roots around here, take that Steve Solomon, I was unable to keep the little sprouts that I replanted watered, which just demonstrates the limits of my capability to keep it all together. If you haven't been organized and planted the winter garden already, you should run right out during the next dryish spell and plant roots, radishes, fall lettuce, green onions, spinach and the leafy brassicas: kale, mustard and bok choy. Garlic, multiplier onions (AKA the Yellow Dutch Shallot) and fava beans go in any time through November. Winter wheat, barley and oats are planted any time the ground is workable in the fall. 


Meanwhile, the harvest is coming in in buckets, including food you can't buy. Green Mountain potatoes, for instance, delicious and middling keepers, which were dropped from commercial production due to their uneven sizes, and fresh red flint corn meal. Red polenta from Italian heritage floriana flint corn is all the rage in L.A. Ten bucks a pound, or more if you want it cooked and served on a plate. All very well, but the stuff has a long growing season, which makes it doubtful around here. I interplanted the red kernals from Abenaki Calais flint with some "decorative" red flint corn from Bellevue Acres and Chippewa Bear Island. Sure 'nuf, red grits. Will ya getta look at that, Marge. This in two 14' by 2.5' garden beds.


Oh, the blood... I was a head injury/burn victim for Bellingham Airport's Mass Casualty Exercise. They have to have one every three years to stay operational as an airport. Fake blood and gore are made from various concoctions of corn syrup and vaseline, just a bugger to get out of long hair. I still have fine charcoal powder from the "burns" ground into my gardening calluses. 


Bob Jacobson, the Community Emergency Readiness Training (CERT) program director for Whatcom County, put out the call for CERT graduates to be plane crash victims. Bob is retired Weather Service, the kind of guy who is happy to put in fifty hour weeks for no compensation and rope his wife in to volunteer with him. CERT trains community members in basic disaster preparedness. We are likely to need disaster preparedness soon. There have been major earthquakes in Indonesia, Japan and the Pacific off South America in the last few years. It's just a question of when, not if, the fourth edge of the Pacific Rim goes. 


At the exercise, I got to talking to other gardeners. Therese told me about her involvement with "Map Your Neighborhood" a few years ago. The mapping exercise was about connecting with community: locating elderly or disabled neighbors who might need help in an emergency, mapping water and gas shut off locations, exchanging phone numbers with neighbors, etc. Columbia Neighborhood got the grant and went all out. They are still at it and the momentum has carried over into some Transition activities. Therese lives in the old East Side of town (considered part of Transition Samish.) Therese could not get her neighbors off a dime. They didn't believe a disaster could occur in Bellingham. They didn't want to know their neighbors, much less exchange phone numbers. Many expected to move and couldn't care less. They were disaffected and disconnected at all levels, from personal to municipal. Therese couldn't get them to garden, either, even if someone else came by their place and did the gardening and just gave them a share of the food. 


This is not good. This is that anomie we've been reading about, the culture of cheese doodles and mindless TV. Worse yet, the people who are so disaffected that they cannot be convinced to pack a 48 hour bag and locate the water shutoff are exactly the people who used to have no capital, except social capital. They relied on a dense network of relationships and reciprocal connections to get by. Without the social capital, they have nothing, they are totally dependent on the continued ability of the state and federal governments to hand out social benefits. 


Columbia Neighborhood has spectacular pocket gardens as well as the best organized disaster preparedness in the city. Check it out. I like to walk down the alleys. That way I can peer into people's gardens while pretending to move out with a purpose. 


Disaster takes many forms. Consider the guy who planted a square foot garden in the former front yard, just for kicks, and then was laid off. Consider that the sewage from the Lake Whatcom side of the hills is pumped up and over to the Wastewater Treatment Facility. The city is quick to respond when a sewage pump loses power (the residents have probably never noticed.) So, how about a major power outage where all the pumps lose power for days? Consider that supermarkets have three days of food (much of it vile non-food extruded dubious rancid concoctions made from GMO corn and soybeans.) Consider that FEMA advises everyone to have two weeks worth of food stored because they don't plan on getting to you sooner than that (and if you are brown, rural, or poor they may plan on getting to you never.)


Bob runs CERT classes at BTC in Fall Quarter and by arrangement. Here's the link: Bob's office has recently moved to the Saturna Capital Building downtown. His number is 360.778.7163. 


P.S. I will be teaching Traditional Food Preservation Methods and Steam Canning on Sunday, October 2, 2:00 - 4:00 PM at Bennett House in North Bellingham. If you are interested, register through the Whatcom Folk School. Dry, pickle, make saurkraut, kimche and jam, smoke, ferment, preserve in alcohol and more. Take home recipes for great food that you can make better than you buy. Great stuff. Look forward to seeing you there.

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