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Country Living Expo and Cattlemen’s Winterschool on Jan. 29

Jan 10th, 2011 | Category: Features

by Brent Cole

More than 150 classes in country living, self-reliance, sustainability, maintenance and more and are being offered during the annual Country Living Expo and Cattleman’s Winterschool on Saturday, Jan. 29 at Stanwood High School. The one-day event brings attendees the chance to take various classes taught by local people seasoned and experienced in their skills and crafts. Subjects range from raising backyard chickens, the basics of arc welding and food preservation, to skinning a rabbit, raising honeybees, naturally dying wool and fabric, cheese making, organic gardening, and milking the family cow, among others.

Vivian Smallwood, a WSU Master Food Preserver educator, brought a couple hundred jars of canned food for participants to see during her canning class last year. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOAN DEVRIES

What started as the Cattleman’s Winterschool 25 years ago, merged with the Country Living Expo in 2002, creating the event held each winter.  “We realized the desires of the people were changing,” long time volunteer Dave Schram stated about the change.
Over the last three years, the Expo has drawn an additional 200-300 people than expected each year. For example, last year organizers expected 800 participants, and 1,000 come through the door. This year Schram expects 1,200.

Each year, one-third of the available classes are new, while the remaining two-thirds are successful courses held in the past. According to Program Coordinator Joan Devries, classes are determined through surveys and talking to attendees as they leave for the day.

Among those slated to speak this year are six professors from Washington State University Veterinary School and Agricultural Programs, as well as a PHD candidate from the University of Washington who will be discussing the effects of climate change and its impacts on the Pacific Northwest.

Joan noted a few classes that have been especially popular with early sign up for the 2011 Expo. “Meat rabbits class,” Devries stated, “It’s an inexpensive form of protein. And that class has been very popular.” Preventive tractor maintenance is another sought after class. “That will help folks save money,” she stated.

Locally made and naturally dyed yarn. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOAN DEVRIES

Field dressing your game, a class in its third year, is popular. This year, Devries said, the workshop teacher will use a bear to teach participants.

“Right now the canning classes are huge again. They want to be able to keep the things they’re growing,” she added.
Another highlight of this year’s event will be Tim Lawrence, an agent from the WSU Island County extension, who will discuss beekeeping – a potentially vital need as bees are dropping in record numbers. “We need people to raise bees,” said Schram, who tends two hives himself.

Along with the classes, participants will be offered a prime rib or gourmet vegetarian lunch (included in admission), and can purchase items of all kinds from vendors across the region.

Sponsors of the event have been key, Schram said, noting the Stanwood High School FFA is the primary. “They have been very instrumental in getting things for us. Particularly getting the school behind it.”

A chicken coop raffled off during last year's Expo. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOAN DEVRIES

Other sponsors include the WSU Skagit County Extension, WSU Livestock Master Foundation, Snohomish Cattleman’s Association, and the Farm Credit Services, of Bellingham, provides a financial contribution to help keep the cost down for students. Scholarships were made available to students to help keep the price of admission down.

This year, Schram noted, there is a definite change in some of the classes people are attending. “What we’re seeing in the registration is a lot of the classes are geared toward how to be more self-sustaining – preserving foods including canning, freezing, and dehydrating as well as how to dress animals.”

As Schram sees it, there are various reasons for the shift towards sustainability, one of which is money. “The economy has had a significant impact on the interest,” he stated, believing some attendees are trying to learn how to save money. People are also moving towards sustainability because of an uncertain future and a desire to know where their food comes from.

Attendees range in age from 12 years old to those in their 70s. The event allows people to come and gain knowledge and exposure of things they can do for themselves, he said.

“The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win. It gives people some help and encouragement to prepare to win down the road because they’ve taken time to prepare.” He added, “Just like learning how to make cheese or can beets, you have to prepare yourself to do that. The event gives people those bits of information to do that.”

Both Schram and Devries said they enjoy seeing the responses from people. “I like to see the smile on the faces on the people as they’re leaving saying this is really worth it and we’ll be back next year. You really have given something of value people take home and do something with it,” Schram said. Devries added, “People walk out and say ‘you’ve made a different in my life, made a difference in my day. This day has changed my life.’”

Participants must register for the Country Living Expo and Cattlemen’s Winterschool. The cost is $60 per person and includes lunch and six sessions. For more information, or to register online, visit http://skagit.wsu.edu/countrylivingexpo/. Further questions can be directed to the WSU Skagit County Extension Office at (360) 428-4270, ext 0. Participants can also register at the door the day of the event.

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