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Posted on Tue, Feb 8, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

ReSkilling Festival teaches environment-friendly, do-it-yourself skills

By Danny Shaw


Liana May, presenter of "Winter Field Botany," shows which trees produce edible berries to a group at Saturday's festival.

Danny Shaw | Intern

Guala Lauzzana said she’s trying to change how she affects global climate change, even if it’s on a small scale.

Lauzzana said she wants to keep adding to her list of contributions, which already includes eating local food, buying clothes from thrift shops, driving a hybrid car and using solar panels on her home.

“As a lone individual, you know it’s not enough. But if you’re working with other people, then you can see a bigger impact,” said Lauzzana, as she motioned to the people filling the halls of Rudolf Steiner High School. “That’s why this is important.”

Lauzzana was one of more than 200 people who attended the fourth annual ReSkilling Festival on Saturday, a free day-long event with more than two dozen workshops focused on teaching skills to help better the environment while saving money.

The festival was held by Transition Ann Arbor, an organization that collaborates with local efforts to address climate change and oil dependency.

“This is a hands-on action-oriented thing,” said Lisa Dugdale, one of the event's organizers. “You get all this information about oil and climate change, and people often ask, ‘Okay, but what do I do?’ This is one of our answers.”

Workshops included how to make your home consume less energy, ways to hang-dry laundry, tips on winter bicycling, how to make a successful home garden, and how to mend damaged clothing.


ReSkilling volunteer Vic Divecha gives attendees tips on Sahaja yoga meditation in his workshop "Meditate to Regenerate."

Danny Shaw | Intern

“It’s fun to find a community of people that want to exchange skills because there’s a lot of knowledge in this community,” said Odile Hugonot Haber, an Ann Arbor resident who attended several workshops. “When you share the knowledge, you are more enticed to switch to a new mode, a new way of living.”

Liana May led a workshop outside to give tips on how to identify some common plants and trees in winter conditions. The group trudged through the snow, knee-deep in some areas, to learn about cherry, oak and flowering dogwood trees, among others. They talked about what wood is best to make a fire with and how to identify it by the bark, and which trees produce the biggest cherries.

“The best way to tell a black cherry tree from others is the bark,” May said, as she put a hand on the trunk of a tree. “See how this bark looks like burnt potato chips? That’s how I remembered it, that’s the only characteristic you need to know to recognize this tree. No other trees have bark quite like this.”

Nayiri Haroutunian, one of the organizers, said she thinks the ReSkilling festivals provide a great way to pick up new types of living.

“It’s a good opportunity to learn skills this generation doesn’t really know about,” she said. “You waste less and appreciate more.”


Volunteer Anat Belasen prepares a vegan meal in "Veganize your Favorite Dish."

Danny Shaw | Intern

Another workshop, “Veganize your Favorite Dish,” focused on how to steer away from animal products in daily meals. Anat Belasen, a graduate student at U of M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, showed attendees how easy she thinks the shift to meat-free meals can be. 

Belasen said Quorn, a brand of imitation chicken available at most grocery stores, is one of the better brands to eat.

“It’s a great flavor and the texture is awesome,” said Belasen, who has been a vegetarian since she was 11 years old. “I think it tastes and feels like chicken. Also, it’s made from a mushroom protein, so if you’re worried about eating too much soy, it’s a good alternative.”

She chopped, diced and sauteed different vegetables and concocted a dish with spiced vegan sausages.

Lauzzana, who said she might be adding veganism to her growing list of environment-friendly practices, said one of her favorite sessions was Living in Transition, a discussion about how communities can become cleaner and greener.

“We talked about how we feel,” Lauzzana said about the workshop. “And so many people feel, I think, the way I do — which is I know, as an individual, I’m contributing to the problem. The session was great. I cried, so did other people.”

She said she thinks working with other people is the best way to make a substantial impact when it comes to helping communities be more green, and that the ReSkilling Festival is a good way to do that.

“It gives you hope,” she added.

Danny Shaw is an intern with the Community Team. Have a neighborhood news tip? Email