Tennesseetransitions


Feeding Our Future

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For those of you new to this blog, I moved to my 113 year old urban house in the summer of 2012 with a deliberate mission to grow a garden and cultivate a sense of community in my new neighborhood. Today my next door neighbor brought over two slices of still-warm lemon pound cake. I suspect she’d spotted my husband Michael a half hour before, trying to increase his stamina with the daily 2 minute walks he takes (still in his sleep pants!) from our back door to the alley and back, and thought to herself: “That poor old man! I should take him some cake!”. Whatever her reasons, we were both happy with her decision to share. Michael’s happiness was with the delicious cake. Mine was in the fact that I’ve FINALLY been able to ‘connect’ with her. (OK, I loved the cake too) All summer I’d left little bags or recycled butter bowls filled with tomatoes, peppers, herbs and more at her back door, picked fresh from our garden. We’d speak in the back yard, just polite ‘hellos’ and ‘how are yous’ but her kind gesture encourages me now to continue to get to know her, and her pound cake recipe! I’ve spoken lots more with her son and his pup than with her, finding out that they’ve lived there for over 6 years, he’s a grad student, and the dog’s name is Pippa. The point is, sometimes it can be difficult to ‘reach out and touch someone’ but almost everyone will eventually respond to small gestures of food and friendship.

Why do I care so much about getting to know the neighbors? Before moving to our urban home, we’d lived quite remotely in the country and I’d missed having neighbors during that 10 years, but it’s become more than that. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I am concerned that our country is facing an economic collapse-in our lifetime-right along with depleted energy and water sources and ever-increasing global temperatures that are already affecting everything in our lives from food supplies to wildlife. To that end, I’ve learned how to grow food for my family, can and preserve it, and cook our meals from scratch. That alone has given me much peace of mind, and empowered me to discover other resiliency strategies. I’ve learned to live by the adage of “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. Our home is stocked with several months worth of food, fuel and water, we stay out of debt and try to  live simply but still yet, I realize there is no hope for any of us outside of a community. We must learn to work with our neighbors in developing sustainable lifestyles based upon reduced consumption and sharing of resources. What good will it do for me to have food and water supplies when my neighbors are hungry and thirsty? How long could WE eat on what I have stored? What if there were bank failures in this country, like the ones in Cyprus this past spring? How would we access cash once the ATM’s were empty? What if there was a massive power failure for an extended period of time? There would be looting and  rioting if folks in the South couldn’t buy their Mountain Dew and Moonpies, I tell ya! How would we pump gas into our cars, light our homes, cook or stay warm? How would we flush the toilets and clean our clothes? Do you ever think about these what if’s? I do, and the only way I can rest easy is by being prepared for those scenarios. That includes making sure that my neighbors are too. Then, if those things never happen, we’ve simply got a well stocked pantry and a productive garden, right along with extra toothpaste and a support system too.

I write often about how these changing times demand that we grow a strong local economy. Michael and I have been attending bimonthly meetings for the local ‘Liveable Communities’ group and are greatly encouraged by the sharing and feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ that we get from the group, but liveable communities really start right. next. door. This holiday season, why not use the natural conviviality of the season to get to know your neighbors better- perhaps take them a card and some cookies, signed with your name and address so they can remember you later too? (I intend to put the internet address of this blog on the cards I hand out too, hoping they’ll read it and get interested in ‘feeding our future’ as well.)  I left a card for a neighbor congratulating her on the new beehives I’d spotted in the driveway, and later, when we made a face to face connection, she told me she’d wept when she read the card because she had been so worried about having the bees and how the neighborhood might react to them. She and I are friends now, and she tells me she’ll let me work with her in her hives next spring! I’ve begun talking to another neighbor about his struggling bread baking business, brainstorming with him on the feasibility of building a COMMUNAL outdoor wood-fired oven at the Community Garden next spring. (would the city EVER allow that? We intend to find out!) Not only are we working on ways to build a local foods network, at the same time we’re having fun building friendships and feeding the future. This poster hangs in my kitchen. May it offer you some hope and inspiration too:

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Silent Spring?

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I’ve been out of town and quite busy lately, so I haven’t had much time to write. But I’m back now, and full of ideas on how I can continue to transition to a hotter, leaner world than the one I’ve grown old in. I had to pull out all of my spring planted bok choy this week, because it all went to seed before ever forming heads. I’d even bought an early variety of seed this year, hoping to nip that problem in the bud-literally. At least the spinach and peas are still holding their own, giving us frequent spinach salads, mixed with raw peas, lettuce and arugula, then topped with mandarin orange slices, farmer’s market goat cheese and some of the pecans that I bartered for last fall. (In my haste to eat it, I forgot to take a picture but trust me, it’s good :D) Potatoes, peppers, squash and tomatoes are knee high now, and all the beans are up. I’ve planted green beans, Hopi Orange Limas, and Edamame this year-  we love them all! With a full bed of carrots, beets and parsnip seeds tucked in to the soil, I think I’m done with planting-for now! But I mourn those lost Bok Choy cabbages…  I remember calling the county extension agent the first year I lived in East Tennessee, inquiring about reliable veggie varieties for spring. He told me then that spring-planted brassicas don’t normally do very well here, and sadly, he was right. But next spring I’m going to be ready, and will have a cooler, richer spot with a bit of shade for them to finish their last few weeks of growth under. That’s the great thing about gardening, isn’t it? There’s always ‘next year’. Or IS there?

In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’, the book that is widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement in this country. Earth Day began in 1970, as a direct result of Ms. Carson’s expose of the detrimental affects of pesticides and pollution-especially on birds. 50 years later, more pesticides, and now genetically modified seeds that have built-in weed killers bred into them, are wreaking havoc on our honeybees. Recent news stories have been all about how the most recent US Farm Bill proposal will continue to subsidize large ag conglomerates that grow (mostly GMO) corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and cotton, all  while offering little or no help whatsoever to small farmers-you know, those hard working folks that are raising grass fed meats, free range chickens, heirloom and organic veggies and  low spray fruits. Meanwhile, GMO seeds continue to spread world wide (even a variety that has never been approved by the US or any other country was found growing in Oregon recently!) honeybees keep dying, while we’re all  fat, sick and nearly dead from eating the Standard. American. Diet. (S.A.D., ain’t it?)

I’m well aware that I am constantly repeating myself in these blog posts about  eating a more sustainable, more local, more organic and more home-grown plant-based diet, but I’m not about to remain silent about something I feel so strongly about. I’m pretty certain you can find lots of blogs to read that will present an opposing point of view if you’re at all interested in it. But honestly folks, such a diet really seems to be the easiest and best thing we can do to boost our own health and that of the planet, while spending less AND improving our resilience in the face of climate change, reduced oil reserves and a falsely propped up economy.

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I recently wrote a post titled “Empower House”  about how we can turn our homes into places of production rather than just viewing them as a place to store our stuff. I don’t know about you, but I LIKE LOVE the feeling of empowerment and self reliance that eating this way brings to my life. My garden will never be able to supply my family with all of our food needs, but by growing those things we like fresh, and then having some food storage in the pantry, root crops in the cellar, extra water on hand and buying staples like beans, rice, pasta, yeast, wheat and toilet paper (don’t forget the toilet paper!) in bulk, I feel pretty certain that we’ll manage fairly well if times get hard. And even better if they don’t!

I really don’t want to be viewed as ‘Chicken Little’, yet, like Rachel Carson, I feel like the earth and all her life-giving support systems are crying out for our care and attention. Will we eventually see a Silent Spring? Will our honeybees survive to continue to pollinate our crops? Now that we’ve reached the milestone of 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the very air we breathe, the chances are, shall we say, breathtaking.

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Empower House
A home is considered a refuge not only from nature’s elements, but from societal pressures as well. It’s a basic need, right along with food and clothing. But I’ve got a question for you; Is your home living up to its’ potential?
Turning our homes into a place of production, rather than consumption, can help us produce the food, energy, water and products we rely upon and can even produce extra income in a pinch! To really become resilient, we need to make sure our homes are able to provide for at least some of our needs.
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Here’s an example:  Let’s say you have a beehive and a little coop with a couple of laying hens in the backyard. And let’s also say you have a modest vegetable garden, a few fruit trees, a strawberry patch and some blueberry bushes planted out by the shed. The one thing all those things need for survival is water. Now, suppose your region suffers through a drought like the one that’s been going on in the midwestern states for several years now and water rationing becomes a reality in your town. Or suppose storm-produced flooding or power outages overwhelms and shuts down your city’s municipal water system. How would you take care of your water needs? Our great grandparents had wells, springs, cisterns and outhouses for dealing with their water needs but we modern urban dwellers are completely dependent on complex, energy- intensive water systems.Why not put in place your own water system? Here’s some ideas to help you do just that:

  • Landscape your yard with a rain garden to capture and divert excess rainwater into an area that your bees and fruit trees can easily access
  • Set up rain barrels, using your roof  as the channel device
  • Install an underground tank in the yard, a dirt-floored cellar or even under a deck to store even more rainwater. If underground storage isn’t feasible, above ground tanks are available, and now you can buy slimlined tanks that form a fence, serving dual purposes:

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One option for an almost endless supply of drinking water is to purchase a gravity-feed counter top water filtration system that uses no electricity and very long-lasting carbon filters that can clean raw, contaminated water well enough to allow you to drink it. This is our home’s ‘drinking station’ and I’ve read where this particular type of filtration system is used by Vista and Peace Corps workers to enable them to have clean drinking water while working in third world countries.

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At the very least, you can also store extra drinking water in jugs in the basement or even under the beds-anywhere it won’t freeze. Humans and pets can go for weeks without food but only a couple of days without water. When tornadoes or storms are bearing down on us is NOT the time to think about emergency water.  Plenty of clean water can be provided right from your own home with a little advance planning.

What are some other ways your home can become empowered to support YOU?

  • A small solar array can provide you with some hot water or generate a bit of electricity, and with prices at an all time low, coupled with tax incentives, solar has become more affordable
  • Using your backyard to grow a mini orchard, a  garden- and perhaps raise some meat rabbits in hutches- could go a long way towards feeding your family
  • Hanging your clothes to dry outside on a clothesline or inside on a rack
  • Growing fresh herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes
  • Brewing your own wines and beers in the basement can make hard times a little less so
  • Adding a small solar greenhouse over a south-facing window of your home can provide you with fresh food in winter AND be an extra source of heat
  • Building a wood fired brick oven on the back patio can provide you with a wonderful way to cook food and heat water if the power is out-or not
  • Or convert that patio into a full-blown screened in ‘summer kitchen’ with running water from, you guessed it, your stored rainwater
  • … the list of things your home can be empowered to do is almost endless.

Many people make money by using part of their home for a purpose other than simply shelter and refuge; from renting a spare bedroom to offering daycare, the possibilities are endless. One very popular family owned pizza shop in the heart of  our downtown has built a wood fired brick oven that’s used for baking their pies, and they live upstairs. Root cellars and basements can be mighty useful for food and pantry storage as well as work space. Garages can be converted to workshops, studios and more.

The systems you put into place in your home make you able to produce more, become less dependent, and live a better life.  Whether it’s a water, energy, or food system, the synergies between these systems compound this effect. Just like in the case of modern-day financial assets, savings or investment accounts get increasingly valuable due to compounding over the long term. Empower your home to take care of your needs!



Souper Food

I began January by promising I’d write about FOOD this month and have covered ways we keep food costs down, seasonal eating and the value of keeping a well-stocked pantry. Today, it’s more of the same, tied up in one big pot~of soup!

The next couple of days are forecast to be some cold ass days, so what better way to feed the fam than by making a big ass pot of soup? There are entire cookbooks devoted to soups but it seems most of them start with “saute chopped onion, garlic and celery”, add broth, then the main ingredients. In preparing for the coming cold, I  decided to harvest some kale, parsley and lettuce from the hoop house before tightening the plastic…

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Then as usual, I took a quick survey of what I had on hand and decided  last night was Minestrone night, since I had small amounts of lots of different fresh veggies on hand. I added tomatoes that I’d frozen in bags last summer, fresh potatoes and carrots that were grown by a fellow gardener, the remaining cabbage and broccoli that I’d harvested from the hoop house last week when the weather was warmer, herbs and peppers that were dried last summer and stock from my pantry.

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Stock+Veggies and Leftover Beans+’Store Bought’ Bay Leaves, Fennel and a handful of Pasta=This:

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Total Cost: About $1.00…at most. There’s at least a gallon of delicious, healthy and filling soup in this pot with enough to share with my brother and a cup over the dog’s kibble too! We enjoyed a salad prepared with the lettuces I’d picked earlier in the day, topped with another fresh vegetable from my windowsill ‘garden’:

100_1135This pint jar full of fresh alfalfa sprouts was made from one tablespoon of seed. Sprouts are considered to be a ‘super food’ meaning they have benefits that are so nutritious they’re considered a superior food. Right up there with blueberries, which I don’t have a lot of this time of year 😦  But I’ve got a LOT of sprouting seeds that will last for many, many years if I keep them dry in a sealed glass jar in a cool dark place. For about a dime, I can have fresh sprouts of any kind to add to casseroles, salads, soups-even breads-in 3 days! The sprouts we enjoyed tonight were exceptionally fresh and tender, and can really perk up an otherwise ‘plain’ winter salad. Dressed with our own honey/mustard dressing, we ate like kings for under a dollar, with plenty left for lunch tomorrow.

Learning the skills of growing some of your own food, preserving some of that food for winter time use, planning and cooking meals from scratch, and taking care of your health by eating a nutritious diet will help you stretch your food and health care dollars while offering you resilience and self-sufficiency during uncertain times. Learning to ‘make do’, whether it’s in the kitchen, keeping an older car running, living in a smaller house, or repairing and wearing older clothes is a mindset that can help us truly learn to ‘live MORE on LESS’. Ain’t that souper?



Shelf Sufficient

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Now that December 21st has come and gone, and seeing that the world didn’t come to an end, I feel safe buying green bananas again. How comforting to know that all is well in the world! not. Having a mother and grandmother that always had a well-stocked pantry, overhearing my parents’ late night conversations during the 60’s about building a bomb shelter in the backyard, combined with the reality of sitting in long gas lines during the oil embargoes of the early 70’s, listening to Jimmy Carter’s ‘Fireside Chats’ about wearing warm sweaters in the house, and having 4 babies while living on a shoestring budget, all set the tone for what has now become a way of life for me. Even though I’m now only feeding Michael and myself, along with supplementing a daughter that struggles financially, the ever-louder drum beats of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic ‘austerity measures’ making headlines around the world are insistent enough that I continue to ‘stock up’. You know, just in case.

I no longer get newspapers and magazines in hard copy formats, so I have no access to coupons. Very few of the things I buy come from food and drug manufacturers, so that doesn’t matter anyway. The foods I buy tend to come in bulk or bags or cans, rarely boxes. We’re lucky to live in a region that provides us with such a diverse choice of foodstuffs and I’m usually able to find what I want at local natural foods stores, Asian and Mexican markets, as well as bulk food stores and online suppliers. The government recommends keeping enough food for at least 72 hours in your home. I think that’s a reasonable ‘starting point’ but what happens after 72 hours? What if the ‘disaster’ is a job loss, a prolonged power outage, a super storm, or, our latest threat and a HUGE one, a shipper’s strike? (*The lack of media attention about this astounds me, but in a nutshell, here’s the impact: “Any backup of freight and equipment in the affected ports will have a domino effect on domestic transportation systems, resulting in costly delays, supply disruptions and scheduling hardships on customers.”) That’s putting it mildly. But I digress…

My definition of being ‘shelf sufficient’ is more like having three to twelve  months’ worth of human and pet food stored, along with toilet paper, charcoal, kerosene and water. I’ve gotten lax in the last year though. We purposefully ate down a lot of our stores before THE MOVE back in July, since we didn’t want to move any more than we had to. Then, shortly after we moved in, a ‘100 year storm’ dumped 5″ of rain on us in 45 minutes, flooding the root cellar in our 113 year old house. We lost a lot of stored wheat and dried beans in that incident and haven’t fully recovered since. The near certainty of flooding happening again, combined with less storage space in this old house than what we had before, has stymied my efforts to rebuild my larder. But the same certainty that we may be in for hard times ahead, and the peace and satisfaction that having sufficient stores of food allow me, will drive me to rebuild it over the coming year.You know, just in case.

It’s been said you should store what you eat, and eat what you store. In a true disaster, the last thing you’d want to deal with would be having to change your diet or eating foods you wouldn’t want to eat in good times. Because we eat a plant-based diet, our garden serves as the best source of emergency preparedness money can’t buy. Along with what we grow, we always have lots of brown rice and pasta, dried beans and powdered milk, nuts, oats, flour, yeast, salt, canned fruits and jams, juices, teas and honey, veggies, oils, soups, spices and condiments in the pantry. We store the smaller things on steel floor-to-ceiling shelving and bulk items in free-for-the-asking five gallon buckets with sealable lids. The buckets can be stacked three high, and labeling them on their sides makes identifying what’s inside easy.

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Adding some convenience foods and snacks will keep everyone well fed and satisfied during a crisis. Using a FIFO (first in, first out) rotation system (date everything!) along with organizing like foods together will help you keep track of what you have and what you may still need. By gradually building up your pantry, at the very best prices you can find, you’ll find that your monthly food bills will eventually decrease, regardless of outside factors that may influence food prices. There will be fewer trips to the store, plenty to serve unexpected company, plenty to share with others in their time of need, and it will greatly simplify things when you ask yourself, “What’s For Supper?” . There are many, many creative ways to store extra food shown on internet websites so I won’t go into that here, since your needs and your home’s space will be so different from mine. Being shelf sufficient is cheaper and more likely to be needed, than any other type of insurance policies you may already have in place. You know, just in case.



Alternatives

“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”~ Thomas Edison, 1931.  That’s right~Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb and founder of General Electric said that.

We’ve put a man on the moon, invented computers and the internet and a bajillion other things since then, but our dependence on oil and coal has only increased, even though ‘sun, wind and tide’ have proven that they can be strong contenders for powering our lives. I’d like to add ‘human power’ to that list of renewables. These infinite energy sources will never be able to produce the amounts of energy that cheap oil has allowed us to waste use, but if a person were to first reduce their energy usage, they could sure make a difference between surviving and thriving in a lower energy world.

When I think about what I might miss most if we were to have locally the ‘rolling brownouts’ that I experienced first-hand while living in central California, it would be: lighting, cooling, and communication with my family. For others it might be refrigeration, your computer or a washing machine. Our individual wants and needs are as varied as we, the people! I remember one hot summer day at work, in a corporate office on the second floor, when the brownouts began. The first time it happened, we were sent home from work early. The next time we were told to do paper work in offices nearest the windows (for lighting only mind you-the ‘modern’ corporate office windows didn’t open and close!) My job was telephone and internet-driven, so the paper work was quickly caught up with. The next time it happened, we had phone service, but still no computer-or air conditioning! In no time I was sweltering hot and the interior bathrooms were pitch black, and like walking into an oven. Those short-lived brownouts left an impression on me: BE PREPARED!

But how can I be prepared, when practically everything requires some form of energy? I’ve found a few things that really can make life easier when the grid goes down, whether for an afternoon or indefinitely…

1. Wind:

2. Sun:

3. Tides:

 

4. Human (AND solar!)

I rarely endorse buying new things, but this hand-cranked or solar application is an exception because of its’ practicality, reliability, low-cost and safety:

This little jewel is an AM/FM/Weather Radio that also includes a light and cell phone charger!

And this little jewel gets me where I need to go:

OOPS! Wrong picture! Let’s try that again…

These ‘alternatives’ certainly won’t take the place of everything that electricity and cheap oil provides in our lives. When combined with staying out of debt, learning to grow and preserve food, maybe raising a few hens in the backyard, tending a hive of bees, insulating our homes or learning a barterable skill, they can help us keep our heads above water when shit hits the fan! And if shit never does hit the fan, you still win because you’ll have no debt, good food, comfortable shelter and a skill that you can trade.  The end.



“This Is A Test of the Emergency Preparedness System”
July 25, 2012, 10:28 PM
Filed under: Emergency Preparedness | Tags:

Many of my regular readers may know that one of the reasons I fell in love with my old new house was because it has a small root cellar underneath the house. I like to store root crops like potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash, Longkeeper tomatoes, apples and cabbages from my garden,  and dried foods that I buy in bulk,  so I felt it was perfect for our needs. As we unloaded my sealed buckets of beans and grains from the moving truck they were put directly into the cellar, on a piece of plywood held up on cement blocks until ‘we got time’ to install our steel shelving. What a mistake that was! Last Saturday night, after receiving about 2″ of rain in a short time, the cellar flooded. When I discovered the problem on Sunday morning, buckets were actually floating in about 5 or 6″ of storm water!

This picture was taken after the buckets were removed from the water and I sure as hell wasn’t going to take them BACK down there just to get a good picture, but you get the idea… Coincidentally (or not?) I am currently reading a library book titled ‘Just In Case’ covering food storage, alternative heating and lighting sources, toiletries and clothing, pet supplies, emergency communication plans, and more–that will allow your household to survive comfortably for several days, or longer, with no outside services at all.The author’s advice to test (and retest from time to time) all the preparedness systems you put into place before you actually find yourself in some sort of emergency or disaster situation had been calling to me from Page One of the book, but I figured I’d finish the book first, then go back and ‘test’ the things I’d planned. Too bad I didn’t test the seaworthiness of the root cellar before putting all those buckets and canning jars down there! 

I was actually very, very lucky. I lost a bucket with about 40 pounds of local spring wheat and another with about 20 pounds of dried white beans because their lids weren’t sealed properly. By Monday the wet wheat berries had swelled so badly the bucket cracked and the lid had pushed completely off and the beans went to the compost pile, where I’m curious to see if they sprout.

  All the powdered milk, lentils, split peas, rice, honey, black beans and two more buckets of wheat proved to be waterproof. Luckily, my newly harvested potato and garlic crops were still in baskets in the house!

  I’m pretty sure  I wouldn’t have flooded my root cellar in order to test the effectiveness of my sealed buckets even if I HAD thought of that, but you can bet I’ll always make sure those bucket gaskets and lids are hammered in place from now on!

What lessons am I taking away from this experience?

#1 We bought a pump-hauling 5 gallons of water at a time up those steep steps is hard, hard work

#2 We got our generator serviced so we can use the pump if the power is out after a flood

#3  Natural and man-made disasters, both large and small, happen every day

#4  I’m testing our stoves, lanterns, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, evacuation backpacks, and will be using some of my dried emergency foods to prepare simple meals using alternative cooking sources in the very near future

I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, here’s a link to ‘Are You Ready?’, a household preparedness guide put together by the Johnson City Emergency Management Agency: http://www.johnsoncitytn.org/uploads/Documents/EMA/Are%20you%20Ready.pdf

In the very spirit of this blog, I’m thinking that this would be yet another really great opportunity for families and neighbors to come together to help one another prepare for the unexpected and to learn new self-sufficiency skills while becoming more resilient in the process. As a matter of fact, while doing research for this post, I found that Washington County offered a CERT (Community Emergency Response Training) course to its residents just last month. Here’s a short news article on that course, with contact info if you’re interested in attending one with me in the future: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/Opinion/article.php?id=100234#post




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