This month in the Sequim Gazette (Washington), columnist Beverly Hoffman posed a challenge about shifting our thinking and educating ourselves in order to create the changes we wish to see. She reminds us that Fall and Winter are times to come inside, slow down and gather with friends, family and co-workers in the spirit of educating ourselves more deeply as times change. We hope you’ll host others for an NWEI course this season, too! Read Beverly’s article below:

As I talk with my friends, it seems that many of us have shifted our thinking toward a greater consciousness. Like the Joads in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” who, in the Great Depression, had to leave their Dust Bowl Oklahoma land and drive to California in hopes for something better, we know things are changing. And how we respond to those changes might define us, as individuals as well as a country.

At least three ideas seem to be intersecting right now — a sluggish economy with food prices getting higher, a wish to eat healthy food and a growing sense of the need to reduce our carbon footprint on earth. Many of us are thinking about a first-time garden or how to increase the size or productivity of existing gardens. I was at a friend’s house the other day and she was showing me how they planned to change a perennial bed into a raised bed where they could grow vegetables and include a hot frame. Another friend is experimenting with hydroponic (no soil) production. I also saw a class on hydroponics recently advertised. Another friend showed me a small second-year garden where she or her husband gather vegetables each evening for a stir-fry.

In Port Townsend this past month, the Northwest Earth Institute sponsored a weekend conference with Will Allen as the keynote speaker. Allen, the son of sharecroppers, who became a professional basketball player and later worked for Proctor and Gamble, shared hundreds of slides of how he has transformed cultivation practices, using raised beds, composting, aquaculture and vermiculture (composting utilizing worms). He is undeterred about his vision and feels he’s in the infancy stage of his wish for the entire world to have access to good food. He composts on a huge scale to create a rich soil — his answer to growing healthy crops. Then he transforms any offered space — asphalt-covered parking lots or an area where there is infertile soil — by heaping his composted soil on top. He teaches people how and when to plant, how to harvest and how to sell at local farmers markets or to restaurants and school cafeterias. He constantly is learning and experimenting. One idea I loved was his wish to build a five-story structured greenhouse of sorts with an institutional kitchen inside where people could learn to can, dehydrate and freeze crops.

On another weekend I again went to Port Townsend for its Film Festival and saw two movies on alternative gardening. One was about a man who created a garden in the back of his truck, adding a vapor barrier and rich soil. He literally was a gardener on the move, selling his herbs and produce around the city. Another film showed a gardener who was growing rows of produce atop New York buildings. He had to have an engineer figure out the amount of stress a roof with wet soil could handle and then with that knowledge, he laid out beds and was able to produce an abundance of food. Another lady, who lived in a city high-rise with lots of windows in the foyer, experimented with hanging gardens made of suspended plastic gallon bottles tied together and attached to a horizontal PVC pipe with holes punched in the bottom, that was the water source trough. Below the hanging plastic bottles tied to one another, another PVC collected the dripping water and pumped it back up to the feeder pipe.

People are thinking. And creating. And experimenting. And are problem solving. Like the Christ-figure Jim Casy in “The Grapes of Wrath,” many are recognizing that “we” is far more important than “I” and are trying to build communities where people work together and where Mother Earth is protected and honored. Recently I was at a lovely apple orchard party where the hostess invited her guests to pick apples to take home. She also had a cider press where guests filled containers with fresh apple juice. Even the pulp was saved … for a lady to take home to her chickens. While there, I went into the greenhouse and tasted tomatoes right off the vine. So sweet. So juicy. The entire afternoon was a celebration of the harvest and of good friends taking the time to be together sharing a potluck meal.

Times are changing. We might want to visit the Northwest Earth Institute website ( and look at the courses they offer. During this fall and winter, as our lives slow down a bit, we might want to host a group of like-minded friends to study one of their books, such as “Voluntary Simplicity,” “Menu for the Future,” “Healthy Child, Healthy Planet,” etc. Each book is about $21. At the talk by Will Allen, we all were encouraged to find a way to plant something to eat in our surrounding gardens around our homes. We were challenged to educate ourselves more deeply as times are changing.

I pass on the challenge to you.

For the full article, click here.