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Hands on: Demonstrations, barter focus of first annual Whatcom Skillshare Faire

Sep 8th, 2012 | Category: Features

by Marnie Jones

The first annual Whatcom Skillshare Faire is coming to the Deming Logging Show Grounds on Saturday, Sept. 22. Organized by the members of Transition Whatcom, the event will provide the community at large a time to share skills, learn new ones and barter goods and services. Traditional and innovative skills, ranging from canning produce and darning socks to repairing bicycles and milling wood, will be demonstrated at the gathering. Food vending, music and entertainment, and a soapbox for public opining, will also be on site.

“Bring your families,” said Skillshare communications director Kate Clark. “Even if you don’t go away with a new skill, it will be a really fun day.”

Fumio Otsu (above) will show the basics of carpentry during the Skillshare Faire. COURTESY PHOTO

Leaving this event with a new skill seems likely—the tentative lineup of demonstrators already includes experts in beekeeping, gardening, braiding rugs, building solar dehydrators, butchering poultry, making pop can solar heaters, constructing rocket stoves, and more.

This range of heritage and modern skills fits with the stated vision of Transition Whatcom, which is stated on the group’s website as “resilient and more self-reliant communities throughout Whatcom County with a local food supply, sustainable energy sources, a healthy local economy, and a growing sense of vitality and community well-being.”

Clark discussed knowledge still held by our older citizens, but which has been in danger of being lost. “These elders have these skills and need to pass them on,” she explained. Skills such as tool repair, she added, are once again of large-scale interest. “There was a time when they didn’t just go and buy something new: they repaired what they had and used it for years.”

Michael Jaross, of the Mount Baker Beekeepers Association, said his organization will be demonstrating beekeeping at the fair, answering questions from new and experienced beekeepers alike. They expect to bring a closed demonstration hive and equipment for display. “It used to be that you could just let bees go behind the barn and they’d take care of themselves,” Jaross said of beekeeping. “Because of global trade, there are now parasites from other parts of the world. Our bees have no resistance, so beekeeping now is harder than it used to be.”

Mary Jenson (left) may demonstrate how to braid a rug. COURTESY PHOTO

Jaross, who began keeping bees seven years ago because of a desire for honey and pollination, says that bees don’t just need more beekeepers—they need more responsible beekeepers. By demonstrating at the Skillshare Faire, Jaross and his fellow apiarists hope to share the techniques of responsible beekeeping with others.

Another demonstrator, Krista Rome, is interested in sharing traditional skills. She runs the Lynden-based Backyard Beans and Grains Project, which “seeks to incorporate locally-grown staple foods into the diet.” Rome may demonstrate grain threshing, sauerkraut-making, and kimchi making at the fair, depending on time and space availability. “[Fermenting is] an excellent way to store the bounty of cabbages and root crops that are available in the fall,” she said, “requiring no fossil fuels in either the preparation or storage.”

The Skillshare Faire has grown out of a local and national movement towards energy independence and community self-sufficiency, which Clark said is linked to a trio of contemporary issues. “Energy supplies are restrained and the economy is faltering,” she said, “and then there’s climate change.” Learning to accomplish daily tasks without depending on machines and fossil fuels, she said, is a response to these three issues which is not unique to Whatcom County. “A lot of places are doing these fairs, commonly referred to as ‘re-skilling fairs,’” she said.

Tyson Minck (opposite page) will share information about bike repair and construction. COURTESY PHOTO

In addition to encouraging the sharing of useful skills, Clark said organizers also hope to encourage alternative currencies. To that end, a bartering area will set up at the fair. There will also be a soapbox area, which Clark said is a compromise between organizers’ wish to stay politically neutral and their understanding that public speaking is an important skill in its own right. “If someone wants to get up and speak about an issue, they can do that,” Clark said. “It’s a way to relearn how to have respectful, articulate public discourse.”

For more information

For more information about the Skillshare Faire or to purchase tickets online, visit

Admission is $10 per car and driver and $2 for a passenger or walk-in guest. Seniors 65 and older pay $1; children under 12 are free. Free passes and t-shirts are available to volunteers.

For more information, contact or visit

All are welcome to the event.

Published in the September 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine.

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