SEVEN TASKS-updated 03/07/11

The mission of the SELF RELIANT COMMUNITY of Graham is to promote knowledge of skills that will add to people’s self reliance for basic needs, both for their own satisfaction and in the event there is a break in the dependable supply of food, fuel, or electric power.

Of the Seven Tasks that the Self Reliant Community in Graham is asked to do, the

# 1 TASK IS GROWING YOUR OWN FOOD as much as possible, both for yourself and in your community.  The corporations do an amazing job of getting food into the stores, on time and unspoiled.  But it takes five or six calories of petroleum energy to put one calorie of store food into our mouths.     With both future petroleum supply and our economy so uncertain, we can predict food supply interruptions and higher costs.  So let’s grow our food closer to our table.

Local farms will benefit.  We, individually, will benefit by eating foods grown naturally.  Our children will be healthier.  Your best “local farm” is your own yard.  Plant food in place of lawn.  Be an example for neighbors.

Your #1 task is to PICK UP THE SHOVEL, turn over the soil, rake it smoother, and push seeds into the soil.  Don’t worry if you don’t know how!  Seeds love to grow.  PLANT, WEED, & WATER.  You can do everything wrong and still get a lot of food.  Learn as you go.   Beans, squashes, and potatoes will provide nutritious calories (and they won’t cost six calories for each calorie you get!).  Turnips, rutabagas, and carrots are also efficient food plants.

While you are doing this, use it as an excuse to knock on a neighbor’s door to ask their advice.  You’ll be pleased at how much you can learn from neighbors.  “Make sure your neighbors are well-fed, too”, says one writer.  Hunt for small family farms near you that might be willing to share, and for larger CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms, (see

In Graham,  John and Marilyn Pethick are gaining customers and experience with their new Buds and Shrubs CSA farm (, planting in ideal Muck Creek soil.

The Organic by Nature farm, (, near Northwest Trek, lives up to its name and has a large assortment of products for sale.

The movement to support farmland preservation and new small farm startups, as well as community gardening is growing rapidly.  It would seem hard to make a living on a farm, with the competition from the huge corporate farms, but Dan Barber, in the New York Times of May 11, 2008, says that, “in fact, small farms are the most productive on earth.  A four-acre farm in the United States nets, on average, $1400 per acre; a 1,364 acre farm nets $39 per acre.”

As costs rise, locally grown food should again become the main source of our nutrition, as it has been throughout history.  “Growing our own” challenges the current habit of driving to the store, money in hand, to satisfy our hunger.

But it takes DIRT to grow food; something they forgot to tell kids in school.  Other than apartment dwellers, most people have dirt, often under a green carpet of grass.  Good organic dirt is called “tilth” and is more valuable than gold.  Truly it is, for it sustains lifePLANT seeds in your dirt, and WEED, & WATER.

A month or two later, pull or dig out some of what you’ve grown and bring it in to wash, and maybe peel and cut.  You might have to remove a blemish.  That just proves it’s organic.

Now get real basic.  Most of it eats better cooked, meaning put it in a pan with water and boil it until soft, or bake it or microwave it.  Eat.

Oh-h-h!  Salt?  Well, if you insist!  In fact, people who “know how to cook” can add many things for the taste.  But for people who “don’t cook”, and have learned to depend on processed or ready-made food, feel free to throw the recipe books in the trash and stick your tongue out at the Food Channel.  Recipe books are a modern nicety.  Don’t be intimidated.

For kitchen-challenged folk, it’s fun to experiment, ’cause WE GREW IT OURSELVES!

#2 TASK IS BUILDING A (little) GREENHOUSE. Our Northwest has a shorter growing season.  Here, you will want a way to start plants in a warmer greenhouse environment as early as March.  Some people start plants indoors if they don’t have a greenhouse.  You can build a simple, cheap greenhouse, using thrown-out old windows or patio doors.  Find your “glass” first, then get wood and build the frame to fit the glass.  You only need glass (or plastic) for the sides that receive sunlight.  The shadow side can be solid.  In fact, if you line the inside of the back wall with bricks painted black or water-filled containers, it will retain the sun’s heat, even on cool, cloudy days, and radiate it at night, warming your shivering plants.

If you get a building permit, you can build a permanent greenhouse onto the side of your house, cutting your heating bill significantly as a bonus.

An option is a “hoop house,” made of several ½” or ¾” cheap plastic pipes bent to form a hoop, ends secured firmly to the ground and the whole covered with plastic sheet.  Westside Gardener has detailed plans for a large one, easy to build.  Go to  Click on the archives and then on the “how to” section, where you will find the PVC hoop house directions plus lots more.

#3 TASK IS PRESERVING FOOD. Winter is hard.  Long ago, Native-Americans spent all summer preparing and drying meat, camas root, and berries to last them through the cold winter.  Even a century ago canning food was a necessary ritual for most people every fall, and still is for many.

Why not purchase some Mason jars, and ask for information.  Try it out with a half dozen jars first.  You will easily find people who would love to show you how.  And they might admit that canning over a hot stove on a hot summer day is not the most fun.  Such is life.

Today, drying fruit, etc., in an easily made solar oven is becoming popular.  It never needs plugging in.  Use aluminum foil to reflect more sunshine into a tiny “greenhouse,” vented for moisture to escape.  Racks put in an unused, closed car work, too, in the summer.  Preserving food can be a creative adventure, as you dream of eating in January food you’ve grown in July.

Bulk grain and legume purchases are another way to prudently plan ahead for an uncertain future.  Winco has 25 lb. bags of oatmeal for 13 dollars, and their bulk foods section provides a good way to stock up, in jars, zip-lock bags, and properly sealed buckets, enough food to last a long time.

Each month, or each “payday”, add to your food stock.  At “wholesale” food stores, buy a box of canned foods to add to the stack in the back of the closet.  (Put that manual can opener on top of your pile.)

It is hard for all of us to “wrap our heads around” the idea of food becoming scarce and expensive some day.  That’s not easy, in itself, because the large food corporations have, frankly, done a marvelous job of feeding us cheaply and making our very lives dependent on their hard work and the smooth running of a network of systems.  But are we too dependent on them?  It’s nice to have Plan B in place.

#4 TASK IS TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS WELL.  It means to deliberately cultivate friendships with your close neighbors, inviting them to dinner, offering help to them, conversing and sharing.

Creating a neighbors’ support network is the goal.  Car troubles, medical problems, or other difficulties are opportunities for neighbors to help each other and strengthen relationships.  Tape a “Neighbor Net” list of phone numbers for your close neighbors by the phone and use it often to check on each other.

Enjoy each other!  Neighborhood potlucks, garage sales, birthday celebrations; all of these strengthen community.  One family used a giant bubble machine to get the kids involved.  Fun works!

Be sure to include as a friend the neighbor nobody likes!  “Love thy Neighbor” didn’t mean just those you like.  We are supposed to be different from each other, so that everyone has different skills and knowledge useful to all.

Another reason to develop a close-knit group is for defense.  As police services are cut to balance budgets, we are encouraged by Judy Holley, of the Block Watch program in Pierce County, to be proactive.  You should have your Neighbor Net phone numbers taped by your phone.  If one neighbor sees something wrong, he phones the others — even in the middle of the night.  Once a prowler or other bad guy sees lights suddenly turn on, he’s apt to leave hurriedly.

In the Middle Ages, this technique was called the raising a “hue and cry” and it was the law.  Upon a thief being discovered, you were required to yell as loudly as possible, or upon hearing such a yell, to copy it immediately.  Nobody could run faster than the yells could travel and it was hard to get away.  Your neighborhood dogs have that technique mastered.

#5 TASK IS TO PREPARE A “WARM ROOM”. Think about times when a winter storm knocks the power out for days or weeks, and it is freezing outside.  Anything using electricity, including pellet stoves, are useless.  A basic 2000 watt generator will keep a few lights, refrigerator, perhaps one space heater, and the fan/ignition of oil furnace going.  Heat pumps need a larger generator.  All this assumes you have bought and stored enough gallons of fuel to last weeks.

Many people, though, can’t afford this, and it is unsustainable in the long term, anyway, thinking years into the future.  You may be lucky and have a fireplace, but they lose so much heat up the chimney that an insert or a little wood stove connected to the fireplace is desirable.  Keep kindling and a little wood beside it, and a good supply stored under dry cover outside.

Since you probably don’t want the precious heat to go throughout the house, plan ahead of time ways to close off the heated room with blankets and doors or accordion walls.

If you are not lucky enough to have these options, plan for a “warm room”

without luxuries.  In this case, choose a small room that can be closed off.  Tell the kids you’re going camping.  Pitch a tent…it helps concentrate body heat.  Have all the warm outdoor clothes and warm blankets ready and games and finger food. Remember that body heat alone will raise the temperature of a small room.  This is similar to simply “going camping” on a cold weekend.  Name it “fun”!

#6 TASK IS TO PUT IN A RAIN BARREL (or two). Along with ensuring your food supply, your neighborly cooperation, and your warmth, your water supply is critical to your well-being.  Of course, you will have bought some sealed drinking water containers for emergencies, but your water source, whether water company or a well, depends on electricity and the steady supply of electric power is too easily disrupted by storm, natural disaster, or civil unrest.  It’s usually not until the last person to flush the toilet realizes that the tank isn’t filling and has to go out to the rain barrel spigot with a container.  You will also be thankful for such a non-potable source of water for washing up and cleaning.  The nice bonus, especially if you pay a water bill, is that it can be regularly used for outside garden watering, saving you money.

Plastic barrels, 55 gallon, can be purchased locally for $10 to $30.  The plastic spigots, with proper sealant, will be a few dollars more.  Drill a hole that the spigot will screw into tightly from the outside, with sealant, near the bottom.  Then cut a hole into the top for your downspout to fit into.  Be sure to turn the barrel so the spigot at the bottom is convenient.  The rain barrel should be mounted on sturdy blocks able to support the filled weight and high enough to put a bucket under the spigot.  Many people put three or four barrels connected in a row so they have a plentiful supply.

#7 TASK IS TO HAVE A BICYCLE. No, not a fancy, expensive one, but a decent, reliable bike that will give you efficient personal transportation to the store or bus stop.  Buy it cheap at a garage sale!  Or ask around for a kid’s bike no longer used.

If the car breaks down, it is a lot easier and faster than walking, as well as more fun.  And if the gas station closes up…?  Bikes may someday be valuable vehicles.

You can also check out (google) the more upscale electric plug-in bikes, recumbents, three-wheelers, etc.  New ideas and technology are improving a mode of transportation that already is the most efficient known.

Please copy and print for your use:

Task Completion Record for ______________________________________

1. Build a small greenhouse suitable for your family.

Completed: _______________________

Notes: _____________________________________________________________

2. Become acquainted with neighbors previously strangers.

Completed: _______________________

Notes: _____________________________________________________________

3. Grow a food garden. Cook one dinner from your own produce.

Completed: _______________________

Notes: _____________________________________________________________

4. Preserve several quarts of food for winter use, (not freezing).

Completed: _______________________

Notes: _____________________________________________________________

5. Create a “warm room” in your house, heated without electricity.

Completed: _______________________

Notes: _____________________________________________________________

6. Use a rain barrel to save water.

Completed: _______________________

Notes: _____________________________________________________________

7. Own a good emergency bicycle.

Completed: _______________________

Notes: _____________________________________________________________


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