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The inkblot of sustainability
The military has a strategy called the inkblot, where a small force aims to subdue a large hostile region by pushing out from each area, extending its control until only pockets of opposition are left.
On Orcas Island, Food Masters is using a similar technique – planting the seeds of change, and meeting little resistance.
Food Masters teaches islanders how to grow and raise their own foods, gain independence from purchased foods and fluctuating global prices, and rekindle some old island communal work traditions similar to barn-raising. And on a five-acre plot of leased land, Food Masters Director Learner Limbach raises goats, grows his own vegetables and uses solar panels and a micro hydro generator. His farm is part of the inkblot of sustainability that has been spreading rapidly across the island, gathering a group of loyal and passionate supporters.
“My place is an important element because I am living the lifestyle,” said Limbach, who is 27 and an 11-year Orcas resident. “Within two weeks, there will be five people living here [at his farm] doing volunteer work for FEAST [Farm Education and Sustainability for Teens] and Food Masters and working at my place. They are bringing this young and enthusiastic energy to the islands … and we’re building a team here.”
Food Masters, launched in the winter of 2011, began with a core group of about a dozen folks including Limbach, FedEx driver Ulanah McCoy, farmer Dan Borman and real estate agent Ken Wood. The group offers a diversity of classes from how to use greenhouses and hoop houses to extend the growing season, tool repair, holistic land management, beekeeping, mushroom cultivation, how to make miso, lacto-fermentation, composting, plant propagation, seaweed cultivation and even rabbit slaughtering. Each course offers a scholarship opportunity or work trade. And Limbach has been pleased to see a great turnout.
“Pretty much from the beginning, every class has been really well attended,” Limbach said. “I’m not really surprised that people come to our classes because this stuff is really awesome, but I have been impressed and constantly in awe at the constant interest month after month.”
Limbach has also seen new faces turn up for Food Master courses this year and some of those folks came from San Juan and Lopez Island. In addition to the classes, Food Masters also hosts work parties to help community members install infrastructure needed to produce food like building chicken houses, mending garden fences and pruning fruit trees.
“The rate at which we are accumulating skills and then accessibly delivering that information through this and other programs is incredible,” said Bradford White, who has been working on and producing films about Limbach’s farm for the summer. “In the truest sense, Food Masters is about the mastery of observation and then implementing agrarian acts within the greater contexts of those observations.”
Now White is inspired to move to Orcas Island to work with Limbach, and the FEAST and Food Masters programs. He is one of many creating the momentum – Food Masters joined forces with the Funhouse-Commons in January, which now gives them a central headquarter and access to their facilities. The Funhouse-Commons is a community center located in Eastsound.
“They have been really supportive and have helped to publicize our events,” Limbach said. Pete Moe, director of the Funhouse-Commons, said he wanted to connect with Food Masters because it is “important and good for the local economy. Ecotourism and organic farming are real growth areas for the economy.”
And there is room for the relationship between Food Masters and the Funhouse-Commons to grow, said Moe, who recently visited Limbach’s farm for a meeting over a lunch of freshly killed deer and fresh vegetables. They talked about the potential future, like how to get off-islanders interested in coming to the islands for a “Cooking and Living on the Land” seminar, which would in turn stimulate tourism in other parts of the island.
“We [at the Funhouse-Commons] want to support positive directions and education for kids,” Moe added.
Limbach said Food Masters is still evolving and in the future he would like Food Masters and the Farm Education and Sustainability for Teens program to grow together. They are both part of the same movement, he said. FEAST, now in its fifth year, is open to all local high school students for school credit and aims to lift the veil on all things agriculture. On Sept. 30, Food Masters and FEAST are hosting a joint fundraiser, which will be a farm dinner with all local food. There will be music, a short film made by White and teens will talk about their summer experiences. Limbach hopes funds are raised to help the programs continue into the next season.
“The community here is thirsty for more than what the dominant culture offers – a technological society comprised of turning the earth into toxic wastelands for the sake of economy and ‘progress,’” White said. “The members of this island are actively participating in making change; passivity is not in the cards for them.”
You can also look for Food Master’s demonstrations at the fall’s Great Island Grown Festival (previously known as the Islands’ Farm Festival) and look for updates on their classes at www.islandssounder.com. For more info, contact Learner Limbach at email@example.com.