Smallifying – June 27, 2013

Partly in response to my own time-management needs and partly in response to the recent survey – Spring Creek Homesteading projects will be getting smaller in a variety of ways over the next few months.

Reskilling Workshops

The primary reason given by survey-takers for why people haven’t participated in reskilling workshops is lack of time. Many people are interested in learning and practicing new skills, but have trouble fitting scheduled public workshops into their personal work and family routines.

I also think Centre region homesteaders might enjoy getting to know each other better over longer time-frames – something along the lines of a social bridge club, AA-type support groups or the small group ministries sometimes organized by religious congregations. Also a bit like Hogwarts houses.

To that end, I’d like to facilitate formation of self-organizing groups of roughly a half-dozen people who share an interest in a particular homesteading aspect and can arrange their own home-based meetings around their members schedules, including some combination of social events, skill workshops and practice sessions, book discussion groups and hands-on building projects.

If this idea grabs you, let me know: I can help connect potential members of those interest groups with each other, and I can help connect the small groups with potential instructors as needed after the groups form.

Here are the reskilling topics identified in the survey, sorted by theme:

GARDENING & GLEANING (Food Production)

  • Gardening – vegetable, herb, beginner, organic, permaculture, straw bale, raised bed, lasagna
  • Crop rotation made easy
  • Gardening soil additions
  • What to plant where based on soil
  • How to plan and grow a year’s worth of locally produced food.
  • Composting – apartment-scale, worm composting
  • Seed Saving
  • Backyard chickens: caring for them
  • Beekeeping
  • Fruit tree pruning
  • Small ruminants
  • Plant grafting
  • Exotic Mushroom cultivation
  • Gathering morels
  • Gathering edible spring wild plants
  • Milk jug greenhouses
  • Starting hops/hops yard
  • Native plant identification
  • Invasive plant ID


  • Cooking – Beginner, Advanced, French, Dutch Oven using seasonally available local foods, vegetarian Cooking (soy-free), Soups (several types and the recipes for them)
  • Baking – Beginner, Advanced, Bread
  • Canning and preserving – Group canning series, pressure canning
  • Cheese-making
  • Anything with meat, cured meats
  • Preserving herbs/spices (or other garden foods)
  • Using root cellars
  • Fermenting drinks and foods
  • Home brewing
  • Wine making
  • How to use a backyard smoker for trout, barbecue, etc.
  • How to store a year’s worth of locally produced food.


  • Setting up a community tool library
  • Bike repair
  • Building a grape arbor structure
  • Basic carpentry skills
  • Home repair and maintenance topics
  • Pickup truck sharing
  • Learning to use power tools for basic home repairs and simple construction projects
  • Building root cellars
  • Building bee hives
  • Straw bale construction


  • Building and using rain barrels
  • Reducing backyard runoff


  • Aiding local insect and animal populations as weather changes
  • Dealing with increase in local pests (mosquitos, ticks)
  • Deterring squirrels in the garden/yard
  • Managing pests without toxic chemicals


  • Lotion Making
  • Making homemade salves and ointments
  • Herbalism
  • Making and using natural cleaning supplies
  • Soap Making


  • Altering clothing
  • Cleaning and carding raw wool
  • Natural fiber dyes – growing/harvesting and using
  • Sewing/Garment-making
  • Quilting


  • Alternate energy or appropriate technology topics (including home energy, transportation, equipment) at a moderate to advanced level
  • Animal powered farming/cultivation
  • Converting cooking oil or grease into fuel for cars or heat
  • Retooling for non-fossil fuel energy sources in affordable ways
  • Energy efficiency


  • Community organizing for sustainability
  • Marketing strategies
  • Jewelry making
  • Candle making
  • How to groom your own animals/pets (especially non-shedding dogs) and what recyclable uses are there for all that fur/hair
  • Papercraft
  • Pet training
  • Tie-dying


Rather than reserve public spaces and shlep all the potluck gear and toys back and forth, we’re going to start hosting smaller potlucks at our house, for about 16 guests each time (roughly two or three families, a few couples and a few singles). More comfortable, easier to set up and clean up.

The next two potlucks will be Saturday, September 14 – 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 156 West Hamilton Ave. and Sunday, November 10 – 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 156 West Hamilton Ave. Call to sign up (237-0996).

Blog & Newsletter 

As already announced, the e-newsletter  is shifting from twice a month to once a month distribution, and the mailing list is being reduced from about 750 to about 250 – the regular readership, basically.

I’d like to get to a point where I’m only updating the blog once a week, but not sure how to make that happen. I’d also like to make each post shorter while still giving a useful, timely summary of local sustainability efforts, but as Blaise Pascal pointed out, it often takes more time to write less.

Also already announced, I’m planning to add a print version of the blog posts – Homesteaders’ Quarto – to be printed on a hand-powered letterpress printing machine and distributed through local-focused businesses, farmers markets and other community gathering places. The quarto will be roughly 18 inches square, folded into 4-1/2 inch quarters, with food-related coverage on one side and energy-related coverage on the other.

Keller Street Community Garden

Most of the overall garden development work is done – finally! What’s left is routine supervision to make sure gardeners stay on top of their weeding. 🙂

Volunteer Projects

Justin Huegel is working on his report about the farm-to-table program in the Bald Eagle Valley School District. Tess Bloom is still working on researching farmer labor needs and training capacities for the farmhands project. And Doris Malkmus recently took on the community kitchen idea, exploring possible host kitchens for a summer pilot program: a group canning series.

For more information about ways to help move along other community-wide local food system-building efforts, check out Notes about getting involved.

Editor’s Note:

This blog and Energy Sovereignty are both on break (more or less) until July 15. I’ll be working on building my printing press and drafting a local energy system ordinance for the Borough Council to have at the ready for when they begin to see locally controlled energy as a public health issue.

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