Community Inventory Report from the Little Applegate Valley
By: Tomi Hazel and Megan Fehrman, Spring 2017
The Little Applegate Valley (LAV) has been through a lot since the Dakubetede (Athabaskan speakers) were removed and Beaver before that. The human social fabric exploded through the gold rush with many thousands of miners camped, tearing apart the stream beds and tunneling along quartz seams. There even was a Chinese community who built the China Ditch and were not treated as bad as elsewhere. A silent film was made of downtown Sterlingville, of which no trace remains. Buncom (now a ghost town) was a small city. Even Crump had thousands of miners shacked up all over the place and several small businesses.
After the gold rush of the mid to late 1800’s, the settlers who stayed were the ones who had started farms and ranches to feed the miners. These few white families filed homestead claims as well as mining claims and held grazing permits. There were several small sawmills in the valley and almost every ranch did some of everything to extract value from the landscape. The farmed soils were poor to begin with and only got worse, the mining ditches used for irrigation became less reliable and the forests close by did not grow back very fast. This is a dry valley with steep slopes and metamorphic soils (alkaline and dominated by magnesium) that has not been friendly to settlement based on extraction. Many ranches have gone bankrupt more than once.
Over time, layers of settlement have included old families, new money, a few miners, firewood cutters, hunters, off road gladiators and counter-culture folks. Starting in the early 1970’s, back to the land folks (hippies) found abandoned homesteads for relatively cheap with no building codes and reliable water. Since the late 1970’s a drought has set in. Tree ring records in the Sierras show 60 year drought cycles. The LAV has been through droughts and good years since the 1850’s. The Ecotopian settlers have brought environmentalism and farm rescue into the story and resisted the latest extractive efforts of timber corporations. The industrial scale clearcutting that became the norm after 1980, in the PNW, is even more disastrous on our brittle landscape.
Meanwhile, in the late 1980’s small organic farms started to operate and the first renewal of community organizing other than forest defense bloomed. By the early 2000’s land speculation for country homes had ballooned and now, plenty of fancy cars are on the roads.
The Grange movement had had its day during the 20th century (founded 1867). Now new non-profits and cooperative marketing entered the community. There is a flavor of culture here; the late 19th and the 20th centuries’ LAV never had churches, there were dance halls and schools. The neighbors always have cooperated on cattle roundups and barn raisings and next door kids have married each other forming ties between ranching families.
The newest layer of settlement of small farmers has brought more Ecotopians to the valley and we now have re-emergent culture. A critical mass of young people have settled or visited to allow cultural institutions to rise parallel to the more business like non-profits. A competition (of sorts) began between farms after small musical bands showed up at Siskiyou Cooperative CSA farm celebrations. This gelled as the Battle of the Barn Bands. We have had at least four of these hosted by different farms, sometimes even in a barn. Then a private community center started to host a yearly social event called Cabaret, where folks put on skits and acts playing with themes wide and challenging. A local wildcrafting winery hosts tastings with entertainment and catered food.
Reading groups and clothing exchanges, seasonal themed parties and volleyball at the local county park materialized. Some of the farms built businesses such as a multi-farm CSA, bakery, brewery, daycare, massage, a couple of creameries, a couple of small sawmills, and seed saving. Farms and businesses learned to cooperate and got acquainted. Several farms hosted educational events and courses. Environmental protection work has continued, and now we are figuring out how to live and work with the Cannabis industry. The LAV reached a level of population and commitment that suggested even more integration, and so the idea of community inventory and mapping as a shared group effort rose up.
Inventory Rolls In to Great Acclaim
In the spring of 2014, a couple of neighbors met a few times to plan a series of community meetings to map our resources. We came up with a recipe. Thirty folks showed up to our first meeting from various neighborhoods and farms in the valley. Hazel used some accumulated skills and posters from permaculture courses to set the stage, while talking the group through the concept and plan of community asset mapping (explained below). We emphasized that none of these lists and compilations was to be photographed or posted online to reduce fears that local specifics would go viral, exposing sensitive information to whomever.
In a second meeting, we reviewed the project and brainstormed what was missing, identified what actionable projects emerged out of the information and where we would go from here. We discussed external challenges to our valley. We began to think like a community council. There were several committees formed to work on delicate questions, new categories, or to move forward with the obvious projects. A bulletin board at Buncom, a ride waiting shelter at the Crump mailboxes, and a serve yourself farm store at the bottom of Yale Creek got attention. Several small businesses in our valley talked about sharing bulk buying and recycling by-products between operations.
There was a lot of enthusiasm for this community inventory process and some of the projects have seen some progress. We had our third meeting in mid-June, 2017. With our assembled bundle of posters and lists divided into three categories we reviewed our story thread with 22 folks, again – half of them new. Systems posters hung about to keep us oriented. We sorted into mapping, big ideas, and public services.
At this meeting, we realized how little we know about the wide range of folks living in the LAV from the mapping group, who suggested we assemble a map bundle all to the same scale to be able to overlay them so we could think design. This library would be accessible and include geology, timber, mines, trails, wildlife, water and fire. Collect, organize and interpret. The big ideas discussion reported the lack of housing, the need for family support (daycare and education), interest in cooperative projects (barn raisings and cleanups) and concern about food insecurity even with all these farms. The public services group focused on communications and connectivity trees, the well being of our community and the organizing of emergency response.
We now celebrate a community calendar on line, volunteers organizing creek drainage (neighborhood) phone trees, progress on the ride/wait shelter and ongoing interest in sharing. There is energy for perhaps three council meetings a year. All-age educational evenings are popular; we have had two “report nights” hosted in local homes where a queue of presenters get five minutes each. Much fun is had. This whole storyline is deepening our sense of place.
Eventually, the word spread about our process, and there was interest from other Applegate Valley neighborhoods. This article is meant to lend encouragement and enable other community inventories. A Greater Applegate Economic Road Map process got rolling separately with similar goals, in 2016. And now the two groups are meeting to exchange information and identify any possible synergies.
Recipe for Community Inventory, Reviewed with Systems Jargon (for your entertainment and elucidation)
Scenario practices that set the stage for long-term plans, through brain-storming and visioning, orient and educate local folks to see ultimate optimums beyond imagined constraints. Community inventory and assessment on a drainage basin scale is the foundation. As knowledge is gathered and mapped, tabulated and modeled, we see potentials by peering through the layers of information, alert to quick fixes, design challenges and opportunities, emergent from complexity.
Making speculative community investments during a phase shift (as in chaos theory) is risky. Small business start ups are especially exposed. Community-scale planning is massively imaginative and ambitious, but that keeps us thinking. Conservative planning is the lesson of Transition. Releasing the resistance to hopeful visions is the first step. Elise Boulding facilitated community gatherings that dared to dream in the late 20th century (Davis, CA, 1980’s).
Now, further down the cascading effects of failing globalism (back to Earth), let us imagine side creeks sending delegates to drainage basin spokes councils who (and where) collect the tools, books and hard copy maps to facilitate community inventory. This does not need to be posted in the electronic ethers. We should be collecting hard copies even as the satellites are still up. During scenario imagining, the stress of community inexperience (true-believer extroverts and introverts with performance anxiety?) can be relieved by reminding folks this is play and practice. Best get real local folks who may already know each other, family delegates, spokes that are from this farm, that lane or hidden gulch to show up for scenario practices.
When gathered and clumped by neighborhoods, after orientation (and songs of gratitude and praise), we will brainstorm the details and information in the ten categories (see Community Inventory poster, above) and list them on ten big pieces of paper. Thus ten neighborhoods, so as to have every clump with a poster at every rotation. This is the accumulating inventory of the drainage basin-wide, and the hyper-local aspects and resources listed in ten categories.
As the posters rotate among the ten small groups, the lists and comments, in different scripts, fill up the posters. Rotate the posters in a circle every few minutes. After maybe an hour, there will be ten posters, full of lists. Re-sort folks into affinity clusters that focus on each of the categories. The new groups can then practice clumping the notations from each poster, sorting out the brainstormed lists and drawing a diagram of bubbles (the sorted out lists) on a new poster. Lines can then be drawn to show relationships, actions, or bridges. Perhaps a Ven diagram is appropriate with a space shared among radiating and overlapping bubbles.
Out of this 2-3 hour meeting comes at least 20 posters. The overall cache of the community inventory gallery will suggest a meta-poster (see “Community Resources” poster, above) implying a multi-dimensional map/model of a set of categories in relation to each other. The next re-grouping of community delegates for council will hang the poster gallery on string lines with clothes pins so that participants can walk the gauntlet and update and review the mapped information and process. The meta-poster will help set the stage to brainstorm the hopes and then the fears in order to clear the air for visioning.
By the end of this second session, obvious take-aways and to-do’s jump from the light of the discussion and action groups (committees) coalesce. For example, if we start with listing our brainstormed outside threats, perhaps a committee of the wise can deliberate more deeply and report later on internal threats. Workparties need organizing. More posters modeling committee work can also be generated. The list of maps and categories of information collected, the meta poster, can be shared to help other inventories elsewhere. The local bundle stays home.
There are several types of systems posters that help display the context and bubbles of different categories in a chart, cartoon, storyboard or nest of lines (relationships). The Ken Wilbur quads, dynamic spirals, zones and sectors, bubble webs and Ven diagrams can grace the walls or clothes lines of the council place as icons that surround the deliberation space and remind us while we dance through the conversations. As in visiting Stations of the Cross or touring the Druidic Sacred Trees Grove. These posters and icons work as mnemonic devices. Traditional Ecological Knowledge, arranged around us.
Another very helpful multi-dimensional mapping procedure is to collect as many type-map layers as possible: topographic, geologic, hydrologic, wells, mining claims, ownership boundaries and area use plans, infrastructures and utilities, fire history, ethnographic archaeology, layers of colonization and extractive land use of the past. If all these can be reproduced in the same common scale on see through plastic or thin paper (a picture window works as a light box), sequences of selected layers of information can be super-imposed and seen through for clues. This is referred to as palimpsest, as in seeing shimmering depth in layers of paint, or skrying as in seeing meaning in chaos.
Three dimensional or conic projection maps (relief maps), sand box mock-ups and constructed models gather endless attention. We can hover over them and see whole drainage basins. Models can be hand made with layers of cardboard cut to match topographic map lines and then glue-stacked and elaborated with representative stick-ons (be creative) and applied texture and color. A sand box model can offer an ephemeral perspective; we hover above as if an Eagle. We can practice using our mind’s eye to see dimensions that are hard to model, such as time. The mysterious (to Humans) dimensions are the air we breathe, the earth beneath us and the surrounding horizon (Abrams, The Spell of the Sensuous, 1996).
There is a thread of continuity in the story of the last 170 years in our valley. There is rarely any government. Those institutions are remote as we are remote. There is barely ever any law enforcement. Too far from the coffee urn? Too small a tax base? We as a community have mostly been on our own. We have succeeded and failed on our own wits. Through all of this the land has taught us. We have learned from place. Some responses have remained and some have been left behind. The Dakubetede were right to call themselves “the people of the beautiful valley”. We are along for the ride because we love being here.
Megan Fehrman grew up in the heartland and earned her undergraduate degree in Agricultural Economics at the University of Wisconsin before heading West. After exploring several aspects of community organizing, sustainability, and education, Megan earned a Masters Degree at Portland State University, focusing on Community Food Systems and Agroecology.
The last several years, Megan has lived in the Little Applegate Valley on 86-acre ranch with her brothers as they establish their farm business and creamery. She works as the Education Program Director for Rogue Farm Corps, a non-profit that aims to help train, educate and assist the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
Megan is currently serving on the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association Steering Council and was a 2013 Toyota Together Green Fellow. When not at work, Megan likes to dig in the dirt, walk in the woods, visit the city, take in some music, and spend time with family and friends. She can be reached at email@example.com
Tom Ward aka Hazel is a long time resident of the Southern Oregon bioregion and has been advising farms and teaching Permaculture for over thirty-five years. He has degrees in Forestry and Botany from Syracuse University and has taught at Laney College in Oakland CA., D-Q University in Davis CA, and at Thlolego Learning Centre in South Africa among many other institutes and communities. He is presently managing a Social Forestry experimental station in Little Wolf Gulch near Ruch, OR, where he is demonstrating natural building, fuel hazard materials utilization, multiple products woods-crafting, wildlife enhancement and desert forest water management.
Hazel is a member of the Siskiyou Permaculture collaborative team, who teach the PDC and advanced courses in Optical Surveying, Social Forestry, Design and Ethnobotany. TH holds permaculture diplomas from Bill Mollison’s Institute, as well as from the Permaculture Institute of North America. Hazel is currently working on a book on Social Forestry. To find out more about internships or courses, go to siskiyoupermaculture.com.