Mendo Island Transition: Reskilling Initiative


[Maybe combine this with our Mendo Time Bank, Together We Can Mendocino, and Gardens Project?… -DS]


Peak Oil

Many people now believe that the world’s petroleum supply is at or near its peak production capacity. As it gets increasingly  difficult to maintain or expand the supply of this vital resource (aka “Peak Oil”), the economies that rely on cheap, abundant fuel  in increasing amounts will falter. As they do, we will need to devise alternatives to the industrial model we currently rely upon for basic necessities.

It’s not the purpose of this site to convince anybody of the reality and practical ramifications of Peak Oil. I encourage readers to do a search on it… there’s plenty of information available online…


Reskilling – the development of skills more directly connected with basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and recreation – is one practical response to the manifold problems that society may well face in the wake of peak oil and economic displacement and collapse.

Looking for a way to make it easy and practical for people to connect and share skills, I came up with the idea of the Green Helping Hands Reskilling Initiative.  Whether you’re a skilled composter/gardener or an artist with a pair of knitting needles, or if  you are seeking these or other skills, just post a sign with a green hand on it – or look for one near you.

Why a physical sign, one might ask, and not a website? After all, I’m promoting the concept through a website. The answer is, signs are cheap, fast and local, and don’t rely on high-tech anything to get started. The people who will see your sign are your neighbors and local community. Likewise the signs you see as you go about your business will help you find resources close to home. For reasons that will be obvious if gasoline becomes unavailable or unaffordable, it’s important to connect locally with  local teaching resources.  My hope is also that the trust and relationships thus formed will also build stronger, safer communities of people who are capable of working together to meet common challenges.

Applying “Edge Effects” Thinking to Human Communities

If you’ve read this far and find the idea interesting, you might like a deeper look at the philosophy behind the Green Helping Hands Reskilling Initiative.

As a longtime organic gardener, I got into the habit of planting many of my vegetables in little patches separated from one  another by other plants and distance. For example, with kale, broccoli and other crops subject to insect damage, I found it best to plant a few plants here and there rather than all together so that any plant that became infested would be less likely to spread the insects to its neighbors.

As time went on, my reading and personal experience indicated that intercropping aromatic annual plants like dill, cilantro, sweet annie, shiso, calendula and others, as well as some perennials, can also help keep pests in check.  Having a variety of plants interspersed in the garden also seems to strengthen the garden community as a whole by providing hiding places and food for beneficial insects. There is also  the added possibility of different plants actively strengthening one another through their effects on soil chemistry (or some subtler means) in a practice known as companion planting.

A friend of mine who has studied permaculture told me that these kinds of practices make use of the permaculture concept of “edge effects.” Permaculture looks at the boundaries of living systems under human cultivation as places where important transfers of energy, materials, and organisms take place. One criticism of conventional mono-cropping agriculture, such as here in the US Midwest where there are places with corn extending as far as the eye can see, is that all the significant boundaries have been eliminated.

In some traditional agricultural practices, by contrast, keeping hedgerows shows how the opposite strategy can work. First, traditionally cultivated fields were typically smaller than those on US farms today, increasing the perimeter and thus the potential for edge effects.  The community of plants and shrubs and trees that make up a hedgerow delivers a number of services for the farmer, providing a wind break and water erosion control, home for birds and beneficial insects that eat crop pests, wood for kindling and fuel, and even a home for larger animals, some of which formed part of the many traditional farmers’ diets. Hedgerows also separated fields and thus field problems from one another, prevented pasturing animals from easy access to planted crops, offered wild berries, nuts, and fruits, and much else.

Eliminating that strategy came with a cost: all the services that the hedgerow provides had to be met in some other way, usually involving capital input on the part of the farmer such fences and pesticides.  Thus, by allowing the land to provide these services, the farmer reduced work and capital costs, albeit at the cost of leaving some land uncultivated.

So what does this have to do with reskilling? As soon as I heard about the concept of edge effects, I started to wonder how it could be applied to human communities. In many ways, human communities, especially suburban communities here in the US, now resemble the modern US cornfield: mono-cropping with minimal interactivity or richness supported by huge energy and capital inputs making up for the lost interactivity and community synergy.

Faced with the challenges of peak oil and economic dislocation, it seemed the ideal thing to do would be to increase that richness by multiplying the edge effects in our communities, inviting interaction and making use of the proximity of nearby resources.

Posting or responding to a green hand sign is one way to make this happen.

The Concept:

Display a Green Hand sign at your place of residence to indicate to others that you are willing to teach your skills! Find others in your area who likewise are willing to share!

Have a skill or resource you’re willing to share with the community as we transition to a post-peak-oil economy? Looking for someone to teach you a skill? Just want to talk with others who are concerned about this issue?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, please raise your hand! Now put your hand down on an appropriate surface, trace around it with a pencil…if you live in the USA, you probably did this in kindergarten when you teacher taught you how to draw a very strange-looking turkey.

Now paint the hand thus drawn a nice green, post it in a way people can find you, and Voilá!  …you are “officially” participating in the Green Hands Reskilling Initiative, and may consider yourself way out in front of the mainstream culture on what is arguably the most important issue of the 21st century.

So what then?

Well, you can put your phone number or an email address on the sign to help people find you, or you can direct people to a personal or business website that will help people better understand your availability and what you offer.

You may also add to your sign an icon or word helping people to identify what specific skills and knowledge you want to share. 

What kinds of skills might these be? Here are some examples:

·         Organic gardening
·         Fruit and berry growing
·         Plant propagation and seed saving
·         Season extension in the garden
·         Vermiculture and composting
·         Backyard chicken and other livestock keeping
·         Natural & salvaged-material building techniques
·         Growing and using medicinal and culinary herbs
·         Presentations and events on peak oil and transition
·         Repair work and carpentry
·         New thoughts and awareness
·         Alternative, renewable, and backup energy systems.
·         Conversations on social paradigm shift
·         Water conservation, catchment, and management

…and you can add any to the list. This is just the beginning!

One Comment

Coalitions? How novel. I like it.