Sharing Hands-On Skills for Resilience

Hands-On Skills Fair, Year 8!

One of my all-time favorite events is coming up again, but I won’t be in Seattle to enjoy it. It’s the Hands-on Skills Fair by Sustainable NE Seattle.

The idea of this event is to allow neighbors to teach neighbors various skills so that the community will become more self-sufficient: able to provide for itself in terms of transportation, food, shelter, etc. Such self-sufficiency is necessary because relying on large corporations and non-local entities to provide for our needs is quite risky in a time characterized by climate-related and sociopolitical disruptions.

Hands On Skills Fair coming soon!

The first year I attended the fair, I learned how to grow my own mushrooms. The second year I attended, I got free seeds for my garden and was inspired to try saving my own seeds so I’d have some to share the following year. I also talked to the folks at the repair café who were mending clothes, old lamps, and radios. The third year, I helped a group make their own bath salts and other beauty products, and I took an intro to carpentry class, which unfortunately was not hands-on enough to be of much use to me.

This year, it sounds like there’ll be opportunities to have your tools sharpened or learn to sharpen tools, convert a bike to electric, bake sourdough bread and ferment stuff! Soap-making, and a class called “First Time Backyard Chickens” will also be taught. Check out the schedule here and RSVP on the Facebook event.

Repair Cafés and Similar Ideas

While I’ve never heard of a hands-on skills fair anywhere else, I have heard of various “repair cafes” and places where people with hands-on skills meet to share and buy or sell goods or services.

The first mall selling exclusively repurposed or upcycled goods in Sweden, called ReTuna, has spaces where “customers can learn tasks such as how to repair household items or make their own lamps,” according to Leon Kaye of TriplePundit. What’s super cool about this mall is that it’s owned by the municipality, the town government, which has to deal with the waste stream anyway. It has invited residents to have a recycling, upcycling experience, way beyond one’s usual trip to the town dump.

Living Web Farms in North Carolina embraces this mission of teaching practical skills in part through a repair cafe. Closer to home, 21 Acres in Woodinville, WA teaching cooking and farming skills through classes and weekly Saturday work parties where visitors can practice plant propagation and wetland restoration, among other skills.

WNC Repair Cafe

Writing this blog has been a way for me to assess my own (lack of) practical skills and think about what it would take to make my own family or at least my community self-sufficient enough to be called resilient. It is a long road, and it worries me. My urban intellectual life has left me rather poor at most practical tasks. I can garden and cook, but I’ve never grown my own grain or raised animals, so even that department is rather lacking. I might be able to sew a garment by hand if hard-pressed, but I’ve forgotten how to use a sewing machine and crochet, and I never did learn how to knit. I know that my family’s multi-generational pattern of urbanization is a typical one, and that means fewer and fewer people around the world are retaining the skills that their farmer forebears had.

Skills fairs and repair cafés are two ways of trying to spread that knowledge, and I hope we find other paths as well. It is definitely worth considering how we can help the rural folks left “unemployed” by the mining and manufacturing sectors to share their expertise in practical skills with urbanites who are employed but otherwise useless.

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