Fall 2010

Cultivating Resilient Communities

MLT Board of Directors:

Rita Bober
Norm Bober
Ken Dahlberg, Chairperson
Maynard Kaufman
Ron Klein
Suzanne Klein
Michael Kruk

Jim Laatsch
Lisa Phillips, Treasurer
Michael Phillips
Thom Phillips, Managing Director
Jan Ryan, Secretary
Jon Towne, Newsletter Editor
Dennis Wilcox

Another growing season over! Thanks to Ken, we have an updated brochure!  Pdf's can be downloaded from www.michiganlandtrust.org.

MLT and the Transition Movement

By Norm & Rita Bober

In 2009 at the MLT August meeting the board agreed to work with the Transition Van Buren-Allegan program to educate people about key issues of peak oil, climate change, economic decline, and resilience as the goals for each group were similar:

    “…the transition movement is a response to the coming of peak oil. When the supply of oil fails to meet the demand, the price will rise rapidly and perhaps there will be rationing.  We will have to learn new skills to replace the work that oil does for us now.  This is especially true in the production of food.  We all need food to survive (as well as clean air, drinkable water, and the sun).  With less energy available, our whole industrial society will need to be redesigned…. The Transition initiative focuses on local revitalization.  It’s important to be prepared to feed ourselves locally, to provide local energy (i.e. solar and wind power, wood for woodstoves), to be able to get around (low-energy cars, bikes, horses and buggies) and to support each other in all of these endeavors.”  (from an article in the Lawton Free Reader, August 2010)

    “Cultivating Resilient Communities:  Michigan Land Trustees is dedicated to the goal of revitalizing rural and urban communities by promoting responsible land use and the development of localized food and energy systems.”  (from our MLT flier)

As a result of this initiative, we have worked with the Transition team to set up educational programs and reskilling events to fulfill this process.  Below is a list of the programs we have presented over the year reaching at a minimum over 400 people.

    November 12, 2009:  Anticipating the Transition: Community Resilience When Cheap Oil Is Gone and Star Trek Meets Roadrunner: Dilithium Crystals, Technological Optimism and the Transition Imperative.  Dr. Maynard Kaufman (MLT) and Dr. Ron Klein (MLT).  Addressing our communities response to the challenges and opportunities of peak oil and climate change with insights to alternative technologies that technological optimists think will save us.

    March 9, 2010:  The Power of Community: Are there lessons we can learn from one country’s experience of a severely diminished oil supply?  View of the DVD: “Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” with Dr. Ken Dahlberg (MLT) and Dr. Tom Kostrzewa (WMU) giving insights and observations on Cuba’s experience.

    June 12, 2010:  Reskilling: Lawton.  Workshops included: low-cost bee keeping, fermentation, composting & compost tea, wild edible and medicinal plant walk, permaculture, forest gardening, and native plants, and making your home energy efficient.
    September 19, 2010:  financial support for the Southwest Michigan Community Harvest Fest and its main speaker:  Richard Heinberg speaking on Agriculture and Local Food: How to Make the Transition.

    September 20, 2010:  Portage Public Library presentation of Richard Heinberg speaking on Sustainability-How to Make the Transition.  MLT and Transition members attend lunch with Richard Heinberg after his talk.

    September 28, 2010:  Portage Public Library presentation: Moving Towards Resilience: One Step at a Time with MLT members Norm & Rita Bober, Mike Kruk & Caren Braymere and Olga Bonfiglio.

    October 5, 2010: Reskilling: Bangor.  Workshops included:  energy audit of off-grid house, cheese making, value of native plants, dealing with emergencies, fermentation, permaculture gardening.

In talking with Maynard about our events, he indicated it is more important to think of Transition as a “Movement” rather than as building an organization.  In this regard, there are many more events taking place to enhance the “Movement”.  These include:
    In Bloomingdale, local members of Transition have initiated educational and working programs in their community.  Guy McPherson’s presentation in September, 2010 was well attended.

    In Bangor, Maynard & Barbara have initiated  the Bangor Exchange and Training System.  Maynard is teaching a course on “Homesteading in a World of Expensive Energy” at Lake Michigan College.  Dennis has given a talk to the alternative education students on organic farming on 5 acres.  In South Haven, the DVD – “A Crude Awakening: the Oil Crash” was shown with good attendance.

    In Fennville, Transition members Dana and Marilyn have started a series of video’s at the Lakeshore Interfaith Center (Mother’s Place) and are working towards  a local Transition organization.  Dana and Marilyn will be presenting at the Bioneers Conference in Traverse City in October.

    Rita and Norm have had 3 “reskilling” sessions on Herbs.  One in May on Edible Wild Foods where almost 100 people attended; a session at the Portage Senior Center on Culinary Herbs and recently at the Portage Library on Medicinal Herbs.  They continue to write articles for the local Lawton Free Reader on food, farming, peak oil, community, and resilience.  They hope to get a local group started in their community very soon.

Whatever name you give “The Movement” – sustainability, resilience, relocalization – it has begun and we are in the forefront of bringing it to Southwest Michigan.  


Ben wrote about the Jubilant Gardens project in the winter 2000 newsletter. Ben and grew up in nearby rural Lacota, MI, but now lives near Charlotte, MI. Last names are removed forInsightful Ben privacy.

Jubilant Gardens Friends are largely made up of former supporters of the Jubilant Gardens Project, which happened in 2000-2001. The Jubilant Gardens Project allowed Ben Brown to receive basic training in GROWBIOINTENSIVE agriculture techniques developed by John Jeavons of Ecology Action and to return to his community to implement and demonstrate the techniques among subscribers to the project. Summing up the experience of using GROWBIOINTENSIVE techniques: My parameters were a digging spade and fork. On 700 sq ft of pasture I worked to develop a compost, food and income production model with fewer outside inputs and water than most other conventional or sustainable agriculture models. The results were more productive than anything I had seen before.

The Jubilant Gardens Project was a seed of community development centered around becoming more efficient and definitely more sustainable with gardening and micro farming. Supporters were encouraged to try out demonstrated techniques, share gardening experiences and create a network. I was available as part of the agreement to help each household set up a test plot to try on their own property. Regarding results: Even though that demonstration site was lost, (seems to be a pattern if you don't own property) former participants continued to network. Of 17 households; two non gardeners before the program are still gardening, one agribusiness donor now has a satellite farm that is totally organic, and one household became involved w/poultry and egg production in addition to improving gardening techniques. The non gardener-now gardener has gone on to encourage both extended family members and local community members to try food production as well as seed saving.
The Ranch CSA is still in the process of defining itself. On 500 sq ft of land in several sites in the Charlotte area, Ben, his housemate Leon, plus several members of his community have been creating a tiny network of food and horticultural gardeners. Other friends without time for gardening have shown an interest in purchasing locally grown foods raised without chemical inputs from Ben. The Ranch is a test CSA providing several households with vegetables such as chard, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, eggplant, garlic, basil and additional herbs.

2010 Garden Evaluation – The Ranch CSA & Jubilant Gardens Friends…

    Things cooperating, the garden seemed to hit its stride this year.  We estimate in our household we ate, stored, and enjoyed roughly $1,500.00 worth of produce with more on the way.  In addition we also trialled a test subscription program with several local supporters and we supplied the land owners with increased vegetables from our tiny plot.
    Last year we had great success with saving scallion seed using multiple plants. Attempts to save onion seed from the Giant Zitau bulb did not produce. The reason was the flower is “perfect” meaning it can’t fertilize itself, there needs to be more than one plant. We’ll be saving several bulbs from this year’s harvest to replant. Onions are one thing we consume in quantity. I myself probably consume a bushel and a half in a year. We grew quite a few and still have a significant number in storage. It appears Zitau stores better than Alisa Craig onions, so that is what’s I’ll be starting the end of January.
    We planted more crops carefully using spacing advised in How to Grow More Vegetables. We had a resultant increase in yields and size of produce. Beets and onions gave us far better yields than in the two years previous using a standard row planting.
    The recommendation of Betty, convinced us to try cutting our celery with a result we still have celery on November the 12th to cut and I believe the plants will remain productive for the foreseeable future.
We trialled cylindrical beets. My initial response was they were serviceable, but not as good as Detroit Red. Through the season though my opinion changed as the flavor improved, they became sweeter and remained tender. Pickled they were a fantastic treat, especially using the low and no salt recipes for the pickled beets, onions and cucumbers. Many thanks to Leon for doing the lion’s share of canning/pickling. If we can locate more seed we will be planting these again. A plus of cylindrical beets are that they are more productive per area as they produce the same diameter as other beets we’ve grown, but with additional length.
    We trialled both Cherokee Chocolate and a keeping tomato, Yellow on the Outside, Red on the Inside. The chocolate is a smaller version of Cherokee Purple. The taste was slightly milder, but still fruity. It lacked the winey, smokey aspects of the purple, but was pleasant enough. It was very, very prolific.
    As the year moves toward its end, I’m finding I like the keeping tomato much better than any store chain tomato in the store. I also have to thank Glenda and her mother for introducing me to storing green tomatoes to allow them to ripen in a cool place like a garage. Most of the tomatoes, keeping or traditional taste great and it seems like an absolute luxury to have them.
    Leon did an excellent job of trellising or staking and shaping tomato bushes. Different varieties of tomatoes responded differently to being trellised or staked. Leon did both a single pole method trimming the plant to a single central stem as well as selecting several branches to be tied along a fence. He trimmed and tied the plants at least once weekly and often two or more times a week. The Oxheart and Cherokee varieties performed best, with mixed results from Rutgers and the keeping tomato. At a protected site the Yellow on the Outside trimmed to a single stem produced almost a bushel from a single plant. The protected site Cherokee also did well. Whether because it was more open to the winds or a soil difference the “espaliered” tomatoes of the same variety did not perform as well.
    Due to lack of space we also trialled an Italian heirloom BC provided by Jamie's garden. The shape is somewhat pear shaped. The fruit is lightly hollowed and wouldn’t take much to stuff. Our first taste was this was a very sweet paste tomato with meaty side walls and less juicy than some varieties.
    As mentioned in an earlier e-mail I made a third attempt to grow sweet potatoes. After my "pep" talk from Nancy several years back, I did not continually hill them up. The result was a good number of enormous sweet potatoes. They yielded better than the white potatoes. For seven plants we got about 1/2 bushel. Flavor/cooking wise the potatoes needed to bake longer in the oven to bring out the sweetness and be thoroughly done. Sweet potatoes for their nutrition and flavor are a staple on my dietary list. Right now I’m experimenting with growing sweet potato vines in the house. (from a store bought potato). Mom use to grow sweet potato vines in the house. I don’t remember us eating the shoots which are supposed to be a delicacy. If they get too out of hand growing in the house we might have to try them.
    It had been a concern for some time to find the specific variety of squash, great grandmother Ozora and grandmother Mary Lou grew. The only leads I had was that they made a banana pie out of it. After searching and talking to members of Seed Savers, we guessed it was one of several varieties of squash belonging to a group called banana squash. We trialled a variety called Guatemalan Blue. (Another possible candidate is the Arikara squash, from the Arikara tribe.) Banana squash were available from seed sources during the 1800’s and early 1900’s.
    I had grown the Guatemalan twice before once from a Seed Saver source in Detroit and it had produced stunning robin egg blue fruits. I didn’t though have a chance to eat those fruits. This variety of Guatemalan Blue was a slate greyish blue...
    We had multiple fruit reaching adult size (it needs a long season.) Steamed, the flesh is similar to winter squash, perhaps with a slightly sweeter rounder flavor. It faintly reminded me of the blindingly delicious dumpling squash. It could make a nice pie. Information about this squash claimed it could be partially sliced, with the remainder stored without rotting. We cooked it all at once so I don’t know.
    It seemed pretty susceptible to squash bugs. I’d like to grow it again, but we have several squash requests for other varieties, Fiesta, Hubbard and Patty Pan, in this coming year. Oh for land… but that is a story for later…
    We added horseradish, bush cherry, micro height blueberry, red raspberry, rhubarb, asparagus to the strawberry and gooseberry at the home site, plus perennial herbs. (Less lawn to mow) How wonderful to grab a handful of raspberries on the way to open the garage door. I am hoping the planter w/horseradish has at least one root for making horseradish sauce…
    The basement redworms have increased to the point we don’t have to worry about who will pick up the household compost to take to the regular garden site, 1 1/2 miles away. Now I can just walk downstairs and take care of it myself. I find I value their tea as a pick me up for plants. I discovered this year that oxygenating the vermicompost tea definitely increases its effectiveness. I am still looking to better investing in the garden site regular compost bins in the possible future.
    I’d been asked about doing a weather extension something for the garden greens and plants. Last time we did some sort of greenhouse we combined several different ideas and ended up only protecting a fraction of what could have been saved. I had cold feet, but was talked into doing that instead of studying for chemistry tests. The end result our raised bed is mostly under “glass”. The lettuce, broccoli and spinach is responding well… The end result is we have fresh food for at least 10 months and a protected place to put out our tomato cuttings I saved just before the frost later… at the price of food a place to grow food is a real value. (With peak oil from conventional sources having been reached two years previous, you can trust the price of food will be a significant and serious upward rise from now on.)
    We mainly worked with what I had learned from working with Dad on our greenhouses and in working with Ken in the bedding industry. Leon contributed tools, expertise and the desire that the work looked professional. Ed advised us on doing a full fledge hoop house([in the future) and Christine kept cheering us on to finish it. Time and money winding down, with me wearing out, we are 90% of where we wanted to be with plant protection, but we have a winter garden and the promise of spring growing.
    Ed and Chris also let us know the business is up for sale, but don’t think we will have to worry about a buyer soon. [Our main garden is on the businesses back property.] The result is I have been looking at area property and praying for the ability to finally have land that is mine to grow on, while staying in school and working. There are a couple of sites within 10 miles of Charlotte. I’m trying to pull together the necessary steps and see if it can be made to happen.  This would be a good time, perhaps the best time to do it… We’ll see.
    So here we are at the “end” of the growing cycle, but the start of the next one. Because of the gardens both at home and at “The Ranch” we experienced weeks without the need to purchase vegetables or fruits. We are improving our cultivation of calorie crops and working on carbon and compost production. In truth, I grumble and complain at times, but few things are more dear to me than my partnership with creation and coworkers in food production.
    What John predicted is finally coming to pass, people are beginning to look to gardeners as rock stars. Having disconnected our local food economy to the degree farmers faded away who couldn’t compete with multinational or overseas providers we are now facing more expensive transportation costs and fewer people who know how to produce diverse, healthy food locally.
    Gardening is returning to the realm of the real world. People who know how to grow food and are doing it within the resources around them hold as much as anyone, the security of their communities.
You know how to raise and produce chickens, then you are a resource. …manage a hive of bees naturally… raise grain biointensively; fruit or nuts… I am thinking, no, I am certain, you are more important than you know. Keep growing, work to develop your skill and value the trust given, to care for creation and your neighbor.
    Grace and peace,                             Ben Brown

Successes and “Failures” in Permaculture   

    As I have written periodically through the years (and decades!) in this newsletter, our farm (the former Land Trust Homesteading Farm) has been subject to some permaculture planning and implementation.  We hosted a 3 week Permaculture Design Course in 1985 which resulted in a Permaculture Design Certificate for myself and a plan for this 36 acre farm.  Some of the broad outlines of the plan have been followed: Garden placement, a pond, some keyline tree plantings and the beginnings of a 3 story forest farming. But “Life” such as an off farm career interfered with a comprehensive implementation of permaculture here. 
    Some of the results are very apparent. Effectively my years of continual tree and shrub plantings have expanded the original 10 acres or so of forest cover, to a figure more like 18.  I have harvested much firewood from thinnings and I cut a honeylocust recently which I intend to sell as a sawlog 12 feet by 14 inches at the smaller end.  I have even bigger trees that I have planted over the last 30 yrs.  Other returns are nuts such as filberts (most have succumbed to the Eastern Filbert Blight), native hazelnuts, chinese and american chestnuts, various walnuts, a small number of hickories.  This year I was rewarded by about a quart of small ripe pecans.  Oaks, while not an easily usable “food tree” crop, have many virtues, lumber and firewood being obvious ones.  Many beneficial insects need them, obviously wildlife depend on them, and they are beautiful additions to the landscape.  I have added many species and hybrids to the three (the red, pin and the black oak) that are present.  I count planting oaks as a successful strategy. We have been eating fresh persimmons from October through December for the last 10 yrs or so (there was however a minuscule crop this year).  We've been eating various hardy plums and cherries along with pears.  Other than pruning, I have not attempted to get apples of good enough quality to eat in quantities. 
    About 12 acres are in permanent pasture and includes treed hedgerows.  One pastured field has an overstory of mostly white ash.  We sell about 3-4 grassfed steers every year, the whole extent of our sales except for an occasional dozen of eggs.  I buy the cattle as weaned or nearly weaned calves usually holstein.  Cattle raised this way are nearly trouble free, they just need water, salt and forage.  Selling the grown cattle in the fall leaves me 3-4 young calves to have to provide hay for through the winter.  This year I cut and raked a field and hand forked the hay into the barn providing nearly all of my forage needs for the coming winter.
    Our gardening is pretty standard without many frills.  We can all our beans and tomatoes, freeze all our corn and provide a good part of our potato needs for the year.  Some other favorite vegies are asparagus(perennial!) celery, garlic, carrots, peppers and greens.  These crops along with our beef and chickens provide us probably 70-80 percent of our food needs.  Gardening is a very personal pastime, in my view, but should be integrated with location, present use, and the amount and type of land that one has.  I have experimented with open tillage, mulch and raised beds doing a little of all three every year.  This year I made a 4 X 45 feet bed with about 10 inch silver maple logs thinned from the woods on top of the “mound”, our above grade sewage system.  That is one of our continually shrinking areas that have full sun exposure, a “hazard” of planting a lot of trees!
    I would be remiss to give a “glowing” report without submitting the mistakes made so that others can avoid them. 
    Honeylocust was planted to be a forest food crop.  They have a potential to produce high value(sugars and protein) pods for cattle. I have many trees from different sources of varying sizes up to 20 inches diameter at chest height and none of them are productive.  The largest one planted (now shading our house) has very sporadically produced a large crop (probably twice in 10 yrs).  The cattle eat them, in fact I have seedlings “planted” by them in the pastures.  There have been efforts to improve them genetically. One thing to absolutely avoid with them is to make sure they are of thornless stock. The thorns have(for me) and will puncture tractor tires.
    I wish I had planted sugar maples from the first.  If I had, I would be in the maple syrup business.  This shade tolerant climax species could have been planted with and under oaks, walnuts, chestnuts, etc.  Chestnuts are an excellent tree crop.  I planted many americans, most are in varying stages of succumbing to the Chestnut blight (not necessarily a mistake in my view).  Chinese Chestnuts on the other hand are fool proof planted on all but the heaviest soils with good drainage. I could have done more here.
    Wildlife predation and consumption is an inherent drawback to having a diverse and complex permaculture system.  Squirrels harvest most of our filberts and other nuts.  I discovered the before mentioned pecan had ripe nuts when I noticed a squirrel systematically snipping and dropping the nuts enabling me to harvest them easily.  Birds eat all the serviceberries (earlier and more of them every year), wood chucks and rabbits eat peas, beans and greens, and raccoons and deer eat the sweetcorn.  Raccoons will eat all of your chickens if not locked up at night especially when they have their young to feed.  Hawks occasionally get chickens in the day time.  So the obvious remedy for this (besides clearing everything to eliminate cover) is good fences.  I've been using portable electric fences with good results.
    A couple of recommendations are in order to close this out.  Don't hesitate to propagate trees, shrubs and other plants.  This is an important opportunity to support diversity and adaptation of plants.  This should be a part of your annual garden(but could be sneakily  placed elsewhere) and will obviously need protection from squirrels and the like.  Usually the best and easiest is to plant at the time of harvest.  Timely watering is essential for annual crops (vegies).  Roof water collection may be in order for this.  An essential “think globally” action is to leave biomass where they are.  Don't rake those leaves!  Stumps are okay, wood clippings can be spread in woods and hedgerows. By not burning and thinning to enhance growth we are keeping more CO2 in our soils and in a slowly decomposing state rather then quickly putting it back in the atmosphere by burning, etc.  For further reading about permaculture, here is a link to the flier I made for the recent permaculture gardening reskilling workshop:  http://www.michiganlandtrust.org/ARTICLES.HTM.
Jon Towne   

Sassafras (Sassafras Albidum)

                            By Rita Bober
Sassafras trees are one of the wild edible plants that many people already know about.  It is one of the easiest trees to identify.  My husband, Norm, likes to call it the “mitten” tree because one of its leaves looks like a mitten.  Sassafras is a medium-sized tree with irregularly furrowed, red-brown bark.  The leaves come in three different shapes, one is oval, one has two lobes (like a mitten), and one has three lobes.  All the leaves are 3 to 5 inches long and have a pleasant fragrance.  In the fall, the leaves turn a beautiful orange/yellow/red.  The tree reproduces itself prodigiously by runners as it tries to compete with taller trees in a maturing forest.  Some of the immature saplings can be uprooted and used for food and medicine.
Sassafras leaves can be harvested from spring to fall, while the twigs and roots are good all year.  All parts of the tree make a reddish-brown herb tea though the root will make the strongest tea.  For medicinal use, the root is best.  Scrape off the outer bark and use the inner bark.  It is best to simmer rather than steep the root, leaves, or twigs.  Wash the soil off the part that you are using before simmering for 20 minutes in a covered pot.  When finished, strain and serve.  Many people love to make root beer by adding seltzer water and sweetener to the tea.  You can also grind the dried inner bark in a spice grinder or blender and use as a substitute for cinnamon.  Dry sassafras leaves can be ground into a powder called gumbo filé.  It can be used to flavor and slightly thicken soup.  Southerners often use gumbo filé – when you have enough soup to serve six, turn off the heat and stir in half a cup of this expensive gourmet item.

Native Peoples used sassafras as a blood purifier or alternative (cleansing the whole body) which helps specifically for a variety of skin diseases such as acne, burns, skin infections and poison ivy rash.  It can be useful for eczema and psoriasis and it is especially good as a spring tonic.  Herbalists also suggest that sassafras is good for rheumatism, gout, and arthritis as well as treating colds and fevers. The plant has disinfectant action so it would be good as a mouthwash. In addition, it can be used to combat head lice and other body infestations.

To prepare the tea, pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb and leave it to infuse for 15 to 20 minutes.  If using fresh parts, place 1 tablespoon in the pot before adding the hot water.  Drink a cup three times a day.  It can also be made into a tincture.

There has been some concern about the carcinogenic properties of safrole which is found in small concentrations in sassafras root bark.  Research scientists isolate the element safrole in their research with rats.  If the element is isolated, its concentrated quality could be harmful.  However, other research indicated that using the whole root does not yield the same concentration of safrole.    Rats used in research convert safrole into a carcinogen but humans do not according to “Wildman” Steve Brill.  The safrole found in a 12-ounce can of old-fashioned root beer is not as carcinogenic as the alcohol (ethanol) in a can of beer.  Safrole is also found in many common foods and spices including sweet basil, nutmeg and black pepper. Used in moderation, many people have enjoyed sassafras products for thousands of years with no ill effects. 
Head out to the woods and collect some roots before the ground freezes.  Both leaves and root bark can be dried and stored through the winter.  It will be hard to get the roots out once the ground is frozen.  If that happens, you could use twigs and dried leaves.  I’ve used the leaves and roots myself but not the twigs.  I’ll have to get Norm out to our patch of sassafras to get root bark to dry for future use.  See you in the sassafras!

    Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places.  Steve Brill with Evelyn Dean.  William Morrow & Company, New York, N.Y., 1994.
    New Holistic Herbal: A Herbal celebrating the wholeness of life.  David Hoffmann.  Element Books, Inc. Rockport, MA, 1992.
    The Way of Herbs.  Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D.  Pocket Books of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1990.

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