Reskilling: Old Skills Meet Future Needs

Jan 17, 2013

Santa Cruz Reskilling Expo Founder Bonnie Linden stands by her backyard rain catchment system.
Delmar McComb feeds the chickens on his Bonny Doon farm.

Fixing machinery, growing our own food, and beekeeping are all skills that many families lost generations ago.  But there’s a movement underway to regain them. It’s called reskilling. 

Bonnie Linden’s home in Capitola reflects all the ways she’s grown more self-sufficient in the last few years from her front yard vegetable garden to the backyard rain catchment system.  “Basically you just want water to go from your gutter into the barrels,” said Linden.  The water she captures comes in handy since every inch of her small, suburban yard is covered in some sort edible.  Linden also has a couple of beehives, and recently made a jam using her own honey and pomegranates.  Just a few years ago, she didn’t have the skills to do any of this.  “Not at all, so this was kind of a new adventure for me,” said Linden.  That adventure started after Linden took a Community Emergency Response Team ,or CERT, training class.  She found it lacking in some of the practical skills she’d like to have to be more self-sufficient  -- especially in an prolonged emergency like a long term power outage, or disruption of water and sewage services. 

So she started the Santa Cruz Reskilling Expo.  Three times a year, Linden brings together people to teach and learn long forgotten skills.  “Reskilling is a remembering and a revivifying skills that our ancestors used in their daily lives. Just as recent as two generations ago, people were able to do and make and tend things themselves, and that contributed to their self-reliance,” said Linden.  Over the years the Santa Cruz Reskilling Expo has covered everything from how to operate a compost toilet, to how to create fire by friction, and tool sharpening.   The next expo on January 27th will focus on water conservation and local food sovereignty. “How can we make Santa Cruz more self-sustaining overall so we don’t have to import more from the outside,” said Delmar McComb. He’s a horticulturist and will sit on the local food sovereignty panel at the Expo.   “Santa Cruz is blessed with a lot of small, organic farms, which is awesome, but where we are kind of deficient is in the staple crops.  We don’t really grow corn, rice or wheat or soy beans here, so we are still heavily reliant on a food system that has to import stuff from far away,” he added.

Food sovereignty can also happen on a much smaller scale, like on the one acre Bonny Doon farm McComb runs with his partner Carin Fortin.  They have a whole host of animals including rabbits, chickens and ducks.  They also have diverse food garden where they don’t let anything go to waste.  If they don’t eat it or feed it to their animals, they make medicinal salves, digestive bitters and their own fertilizer.  “We have various food sources here. We have water. I have medicine meaning there are herbal plants here, so yeah, I could just kind of hang out here and weather the storm.  Now again that’s not to say that some storm is coming, just that it helps me feel like oh I don’t have to run to the super market to get something to survive.  I can  survive on my own fairly well,” said McComb.

Back in Capitola, Bonnie Linden says although she founded the Santa Cruz Reskilling Expo, she’s not  model of reskilling.  There’s still so much to learn.  “I would like to feel a little better prepared for the future.  Personally, I would like to have more of a safety net, more of a social network of people that I can rely on, if things fell apart, if things unraveled,” said Linden.  The reskilling movement has not only taken  off in Santa Cruz, there are reskilling groups across the country from the San Francisco Bay Area to Ann Arbor Michigan.  The movement is also thriving in the UK. 

The next Santa Cruz Reskilling Expo is January 27th at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History at 705 Front Street.  There will also be Expos on May 5th and September 22nd.