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Self Reliance, Now

ae3_solarpanelSA local, free, DIY, skill-sharing event gains momentum
Think globally—act locally. The Santa Cruz Reskilling Expo takes this meme to a new level with a daylong symposium of sustainable living skills sharing. Fifty free and diverse classes will be presented by 30 local teachers including fruit tree care, composting, bike maintenance, bird language, community safety, micro-radio broadcasting, restorative justice, and tool sharpening. For the full schedule see reskillingexpo.org. The spring Expo will be blossoming on Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Live Oak Senior Center at 1777 Capitola Road, by 7th Avenue.

Bonnie Linden, the main organizer of the event, is now celebrating three successful Expos under her belt. “The community response has been fabulous,” she says. “The presenters step up with this incredible energy and the audience is so appreciative and eager to learn. It’s filling a real need.” The Expo has also spawned sister projects with the same self-reliance model. Bonnie explains, “We installed two mini orchards and plan to do more next winter. We also had a Seed and Biodiversity Forum and we’re starting a public seed lending library modeled on a successful one in Richmond.”

The Reskilling Expo is a free-of-charge event held twice a year in spring and fall.  Participation and interest have steadily grown since the first Expo in 2009, now a nonprofit organization sponsored by private donors and the William James Association.  “The “Expo” part of it is that we set up displays of simple technologies, crafts or innovations,” says Linden. “These are easy-to-implement skills that build self-sufficiency. For example at the next Expo we’ll have a display on how to make herbal salve and how to grow potatoes in containers.” There will also be panel discussions including one with UCSC-based cosmologists Nancy Abrams and Joel Primack.

ae3_fireThe Reskilling Expo idea came to Linden when she took a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class a couple of years ago. “It’s a 25 hour emergency preparedness class that’s offered at fire stations. At the end of it they give you a green hard hat and you’re supposed to be prepared to set up a command and control center and do search and rescue and triage in case of a major disaster. I thought it was fairly useful but it got me thinking that our community needs to be really prepared in a lot of deeper ways than that.”

“Most Californians don’t even have three days of emergency supplies,” says Dearie, an Expo presenter. “In an earthquake state it’s really time to make that shift.” Kelly describes the class she’ll be leading: “I’ll be talking about practical family food security; having a system in place with your community of barter and networking. It starts with the family because that’s where the heart is. And then you branch out. It’s about networking with neighbors.”

ae3_chickenDearie will also discuss food storage, fermentation, pantry rotation and creating emergency bins. “If you have to go campout for two weeks, you have everything you need in three bins, including special water filters that can filter lead and mercury. There’s so many ways that rope can come in handy in an emergency.  Tea Tree Oil could be a life saver if there’s open wounds or to sterilize things. In an emergency, if you have access to food and there’s no power for refrigeration you may want to ferment your food. That’s the ancient wisdom. You make bridges and create beauty through those bridges.”

Delmar McComb will present a class called Reflecting on Beauty. “Something near and dear to me is aesthetics and beauty,” says Delmar. “I have this experience sometimes where beauty is kind of pushed aside to get practical things done.  That’s necessary at times but I don’t want to forget beauty. We can’t forget our higher self.” He asks, “How do we reskill ourselves into being kind human beings? How can we look at the world and look at each other and allow space? This relates to the nonviolent communication movement and deep listening. I’m trying to find this balance between beauty and practicality.”

A professional gardener and hobbyist opera singer, McComb sees his work with plants as an art form: “Working with living things is one of the more difficult arts because someone can paint something but the painting pretty much stays the same. But a garden expands in the forth dimension and to anticipate something 10 years down the road or 100 years down the road is amazing.”

ae3_gardenLinden has lived in Santa Cruz since 1963 and sums up an underlying philosophy of the Expo; “People shouldn’t have to pay to learn basic skills such as how to grow food, conserve water or create bonds with each other. We’re able to do this event because our teachers volunteer for free. This is not a trade show, although most of our teachers do have some business interest in what they teach. They’re willing to put their community service first. I like to think of what Martin Luther King said, “Community service is the rent you pay for your home here on Earth.”


John Malkin is a local writer and artist who hosts a weekly radio show The Great Leap Forward from 7 to 9 p.m. on Free Radio Santa Cruz, 101.1 FM and freakradio.org. His book “Sounds of Freedom” (2005, Parallax Press) includes interviews with Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Tom Morello, Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco.
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