Reskilling for Sustainable Living: Ways to Learn New Skills December 27, 2014
Everyone, to some extent, is a product of their culture. Our culture’s formal education system teaches a set of skills that are claimed to be beneficial and practical for functioning in present society. Certain sets of skills are privileged, and others are simply not taught, and in some cases, skill sets that are deemed no longer relevant are lost from the collective knowledge of many communities and families. Unfortunately, many of the skills of the past that are needed to help us transition to a lower-carbon and lower-fossil fuel society have been lost as newer generations weren’t interested in learning them or because these skills are no longer part of any community or family educational system. This is where the concept of reskilling can come in.
What is reskilling? “Reskilling” is one of the terms that often comes up in the sustainability and permaculture communities. The concept of reskilling is simple–those of us wanting to get ahead of the curve and transition to low-fossil fuel, sustainable living, need broad sets of skills that aren’t typically taught in our education system nor are typically part of growing up in our present culture. Reskilling is really about gaining the skills to provide for our basic needs for ourselves, our families and our communities–the movement is concerned with skills that help feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, provide daily functional items for ourselves from local materials, entertain ourselves, deal with our waste, keel ourselves healthy, and keep ourselves sheltered and warm. So we can think about reskilling as the process of gaining a set of skills for basic human life in a non-industralized or lower-fossil fuel setting–a setting that future generations and many of us today are heading toward. Typical reskilling may include a lot of the concepts discussed in this blog-natural building, homesteading, gardening, fermentation, herbalism, animal husbandry, candle making, and much more.
Animal Husbandry is an important skill
Why Reskill? I think there are a lot of reasons people start reskilling, and I’ll give you a few of mine. Reskilling has been a really empowering thing for me for a few reasons. First,I found that each time I learn a new skill–from how to properly start seeds or rotate crops to how to deal with an egg-bound chicken or make my own medicines–I was stepping further away from modern industrial and consumerist society. This meant less dependence and financial support for practices/companies/lifestyles that I spiritually disagreed with. Second, being able to provide some of my own needs, like food or medicine, also made me feel like I was doing something to face the problem directly rather than lamenting over what wasn’t being done by government, etc. Third, reskilling, while hard work, is fun and exciting–and has created a really fulfilling life full of activities and new interests. Finally, reskilling allows people like me, who were heavily trained in a specialty, to adopt a more generalist mentality, and there is great benefit in such an approach.
Since my spiritual path is rooted in the living earth, I see reskilling not only as a sustainable practice, but as a sacred spiritual practice–the earth is honored, I live more sustainably, my needs are taken care of, I learn more about the land, and I live much closer to her rhythms and seasons. This is a big part of my druidry, my sacred action.
Ok. I’m sold on reskilling. What should I learn first? I have found that it is important to learn one thing comfortably at a time–when you start trying to do to much, you risk frustrating yourself. Start slow, read, talk to people, and find out what you are inspired to try. Also find out what you can learn about in your area–who is around and willing to teach. One of the things you want to think about is if you want to specialize in one kind of skill extensively or learn a bit of everything. A typical community 150 years ago had certain activities that everyone did (e.g. the home cottage industry such as growing and preserving food, brewing, making home cheeses, churning butter, raising some chickens, etc) but then there were those that specialized, such as a blacksmith, wood carver, or herbalist. You want to think about your interests and see where they develop.
Basket weaving as a sustainable skill
How does one reskill? There are many, many options for reskilling. I think you’d be surprised the places and things that have things to teach you. It really depends to a large extent on what is in your area, how many like-minded people you have, and how you best learn. The rest of this post presents ways you can reskill through multiple angles: history, firsthand learning,
History History in its various forms have so much to teach us in terms of reskilling, becuase many skills we are learning when reskilling are skills of our past. Here are three different kinds of histories that I’ve found are helpful to reskill.
1) Living Historical Events/Festivals: The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and other forms of reenactment (civil war, colonial, etc) offer one way to learn traditional skills. Some friends invited to me to their reenactment camp a few years ago, and I was really excited to see how many skills the reenactors were preserving and excited to teach. From these sources, I learned about soapmaking, weaving, spinning, flint knapping, blacksmithing, leatherworking, and more. While these provided me with “glimpses”; I was able to be inspired, gain some basic instruction, and connect with others preserving these various skills.
2) Historical Villages. You can find various kinds of historical villages peppered around the country, and like the “living histories” above, there There is a wonderful village called Old Bedford Village in Bedford, PA, where all sorts of old traditions are preserved–they have a full fledged print shop, an apothecary, a candlemaker, various woodworkers, a blacksmith, a potter, a tinsmith, and more. Its an inspirational place and while there is limited hands on, you can learn a lot just studying the old tools and ways of living. Even seeing a typical house in the colonial era (like where the hearth was placed, the cooking instruments, etc) gives me lots of ideas for reskilling.
7) Historical Study: Learning about your town’s and family’s local history serves as another theme for reskilling. Read family historical documents and journals, study old maps, study what your town or city used to look like also give some hints as to life in centuries past–and the skills that people had. If you are *really* lucky someone is still around who knows a lot about your town or your family and how people lived.
8) Historical shows. If you don’t have any access to the above, the other thing you might check out are a series of “living history” shows produced by the BBC. These are shows such as “Victorian Farm,” “Edwardian Farm,” “Tudor Monastery Farm.” What I like about these shows is where historians live a year on the farm and practice all sorts of interesting skills.
Herbalism as a traditional skill
Firsthand learning from others. There is little substitute for learning firsthand. Here are a few ways that one can learn:
1) Classes: Classes are a great way to learn many skills, and one of my preferred methods of reskilling. Since I started reskilling six years ago, I have taken all sorts of classes–natural building (round pole framing, rocket stoves), compost water heaters, rocket stoves, organic farming, winter organic farming, herbalism (year long), foraging, candlemaking, fermentation, mushroom foraging, livestock, and so much more. These classes were found by reaching out to friends, looking to see what others were doing, and also looking on Local Harvest for classes there.
2) Apprenticeships: If you find someone who knows how to do something you really want to learn, consider asking to be their apprentice. While this might be an old idea, its a really good one. Learning under someone who has a skill allows you to have a mentor, to aid them in their work, and to learn firsthand. I can’t stress this enough. I was lucky enough to serve as an organic farmer’s apprentice for a season, and there was no substitute for learning under her.
3) Friends: Friends may know all sorts of interesting things. I learned how to make soap from two friends, and now already I’ve taught soapmaking to other friends. Friends can learn different skills and then swap skills. Learning a new skill with a friend is a wonderful experience!
4) Community Organizations : I’m lucky that in my area, we have a fantastic amount of organizations and groups that you can learn new skills from in my area. Everything from the Mother Earth News Faire (offered in three locations each year) to a more local events like Ann Arbor Reskilling and our own Oakland County Permaculture Meetup allows people to come together and share skills. I should also say that if a community organization or group doesn’t exist–consider starting one–that’s what a group of friends and I did with our permaculture meetup, and its going on three years now and I’ve learned so much from everyone.
5) Reskilling Festivals: Reskilling festivals are becoming another great way to learn how to do various activities. Some areas may have local reskilling fairs (there is one that takes place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about an hour fro where I currently live, for example). There are also national reskilling fairs, perhaps the most well known being the Mother Earth News Fair. Keep an eye out–they may not call themselves “reskilling” fairs, but if you take a look at the program and see things on there you want to learn, go for it!
Fermentation is a great skill to learn on one’s own!
Learning On One’s Own Sometimes its best to learn just by doing or trying things out on your own–especially if you want to learn something and can’t find any classes or anyone else doing anything.
1) Videos, Blogs, Websites and Forums: There is so much good knowledge to be found on the web–Youtube Videos, websites, forums and blogs. I am always amazed at the amount of knowledge freely available out there just to learn. One of my favorite forums to learn is the permies forum; I’ve learned a lot from reading and more when I ask questions. How-to stuff on the web, I have found, is generally quite useful and often is vetted by people through comments and responses.
2) Books and Magazines: I have saved my favorite way of learning to reskill for last–books! I am especially drawn to books from the 1970’s, as they have a wealth of really good information, great graphics, humor, and wit. From building my own solar cooker to solar greenhouses to organic farming, there are wonderful books out there on literally any reskilling subject. I like to collect books during the year, and then in the dark winter months, hole up in my home near the fireplace with a few good books and get ideas for the coming season. I created a list of some of my favorite books for homesteading (there are so many more I have yet to list!)
Reskilling as a Way of Life What began growing my own food and investigating sustainable practices, I had no idea where the journey would take me. I am so grateful for the people who I have had the pleasure of learning from, from the awesome books I’ve read, the people on the web who have shared their knowledge, and those who have inspired me. Reskilling has become a passion of mine and really, has changed the way I live and work and I am so glad to be on this path!
The Money Fix - A for Documentary for Monetary Reform
By Todd Walker | Survival Sherpa Ever judge a book by its cover? As a teacher, this happens more times than I’m comfortable to admit in my vocation. We tend to forget our youth.
I’m reminded of the agony I dished out to select teachers. Apologies, Mr. Holmes, for the skunk scent on the radiator heater in your room in ’73. You’ll be happy to hear that I’ve reaped many of the seeds I’ve sown in my own classroom!
I’m sure some of my teachers wrote me off after many of my school antics. Thankfully, a few looked beyond the seed and saw the tree.
I’ve been fortunate to have mentors in my life. The best ever has been my father. He did more than simply pass our genetic code down at conception. Daddy witnessed all my flaws – up close and personal – but never quit nurturing the potential in his seed.
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
~ Mark Twain
Here’s the thing…
I’m not naive enough to think that everyone has an awesome mentor in their life. The fact that you’ve read this far shows that you’re interested in becoming less dependent on others by growing independent roots.
The Tree is in the Seed Here’s another fact: Everything you need to become self-reliant is already in your DNA.
The DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in a seed is a recipe that determines the size, shape, fruit, and usefulness of each tree, weed, plant, and all living organisms. This hereditary code is stored in chemical bases that form a twisted ladder called a double helix. The seed’s task is to grow and transfer these characteristics from one generation to the next.
What if you inherited bad self-reliance genes? You may have never attempted a DIY project in your life. Here’s the good news…
DNA doesn’t have to determine your destiny. Genetic code is a recipe, not a blueprint etched in stone. You can change the outcome by tweaking ingredients to suit your taste. Granted, you can’t un-freckle your face – thanks to grandma’s generous gene sharing. But you can influence how your self-reliance gene is expressed.
Self-reliance DNA isn’t about physical appearance. Our actions, the stuff we do, the ground we grow in shapes our self-reliance. In a nut shell, it’s about taking responsibility for your own life through the choices you make.
5 Choices for Unstoppable Self-Reliance Choice #1: Start Your journey to self-reliance begins with one step… the first one!
Click here for a list of skills fellow DTS members are learning.
Pick a skill, any skill… and START. You’ll be sloppy at first. That’s part of the process.
Our Trusted Resources Page is a great place to build some background knowledge to ease you into self-reliance skills or help you hone the skills you possess.
By taking that first step, you’ll begin creating a new identity. Each tiny choice to do for yourself weakens the chains of dependency. Here are some skills you can start doing in the comfort of your home or backyard.
Here’s the formula: Start – Repeat – Start – Repeat…
Choice #2: Hours That’s how long it takes to own a skill. Reading about the stuff is nice, but not enough.
I’m an avid reader. Right now I’m midway through John McCann’s book, Practical Self-Reliance: Reducing Your Dependency on Others. The reason I mention John’s book is to illustrate how he and Denise are committed to living an independent life. The self-reliant skills they’ve acquired have taken thousands of hours. Check out his site for some featured how-to articles and tips.
This quote from John will resonate with our Doing the Stuff Networkers:
Being Self-Reliant is not a pastime, but a way of life.
~ John D. McCann
There are no short cuts to self-reliance. Plan on logging many hours with dirty hands. But the satisfaction of knowing you growing into an independent “tree” is so worth it!
Choice #3: Student Teaching Taking advice from instant-experts is not only dangerous, but can be deadly. In the blogosphere, all you need to do is read 3 books, regurgitate the info, and bam, you’ll amaze your fans… until the Q&A session begins without a teleprompter. This isn’t directed at anyone in particular. But if the shoe fits…
Find teachers who are students of self-reliance. To teach the stuff, they maintain a humble student mindset. I’ve known teachers who have taught for 30 years and only gained one year of teaching experience. They repeated that one boring lesson for 30 years.
We all have expertise in certain areas. A true expert is never satisfied. They’re always learning, exploring, discovering, and questioning. Learn from people who have unquenchable curiosity.
Choice #4: Own the Skill It’s easy to think rubbing two sticks together will produce fire. You saw the technique on YouTube. But unless you’ve actually created several embers from friction, you don’t own the skill – you know about the skill. Experience is the best teacher!
I was humbled in front of my students as they stood around watching smoke billow from my bow drill. These two pieces of wood had produced several embers for me at home. The schoolyard was a different story. They got a lesson in friction but not fire. Not that day at least.
This fail illustrates how, even with practice, in a low-stress environment, you won’t always succeed. To be honest, I had a bit of performance anxiety. Stress impaired my circulation, judgement, and fine motor skills. I didn’t own the skill at that point – at least not when people (my students) were depending on me.
Playing out survival scenarios in your mind is helpful, but mind games will only get you so far. Owning a physical skills will alter your perception and move you from uncertainty to confidence. Meaning, your skill set matches your mindset.
Practice until you own it!
Choice 5#: Share the Stuff Once you own a skill, share it. You have value to add!
Fear of failing or being rejected is normal. Share the stuff anyway!
Writing has taught me to overcome my fear of rejection. Will people read my stuff? Will it add value? I never know until I hit “publish”. There are no masterpieces here. If I waited for my magnum opus to be written, this site would be empty.
Perfection is way overrated.
With each new skill I teach or post I write, I add more value to myself than my students or readers. Risk rejection and start sharing your stuff for unstoppable self-reliance.
Time to pass on some self-reliance DNA. Remember, the tree is in the seed!
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
This article originally appeared on Survival Sherpa.