SWIRL Promotes Self-Reliance for Tri-County Residents
by Martinique Davis
Aug 29, 2011 | 1693 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TELLURIDE – By definition, resilience is the ability to adapt to change and thrive. It’s also the fundamental underpinnings for newly revamped Tomten Institute nonprofit now called SWIRL, or the Southwest Institute for Resilience.

SWIRL seeks to promote the Montrose-Ouray-San Miguel county region's self-reliance by enhancing its ability to provide food and medicine, to ensure that residents continue to thrive in the face of global change.

“We believe local food is at the heart of healthy people and families, connected communities, resilient economies, thriving societies, and a healthy earth,” says SWIRL Program Director Hanna Penberthy.

In an ongoing effort to adhere to its mission, SWIRL hosts a Saturday, Aug. 27 workshop, Making Plant Medicine 101 with Local Herbs, that will equip students with the knowledge and tools necessary to properly make and use herbal medicine crafted from locally found plants.

Penberthy and SWIRL volunteer West Lewis, both herbal science graduates, will lead the three-hour class, in which attendees will learn how to identify, harvest and grow herbs to maximize medicinal potency; how to use herbs as first aid and as preventative medicine; how to make infusions and decoctions for a daily botanical boost; how to make tinctures; and how to make salves to heal skin irritations and soothe sore muscles.

The upcoming program is just one example of how the newly reorganized non-profit hopes to reengage the community in its efforts to provide education as well as sponsor successful models of resilience, Penberthy explains.

“The first step towards a self-reliant community is a supportive community… in that regard Telluride is already way ahead of the game,” she says, pointing to SWIRL-sponsored projects across the region including the community gardens and greenhouses in Telluride, Illium, Ridgway and Norwood; the Telluride Farmers Market; indoor-gardens-in-schools-projects in Telluride, Ridgway, Norwood, Nucla, and Naturita; and open-invite farm tours.

These resilience-promoting projects were originated and sustained by the Tomten Institute, the nonprofit organization created ten years ago by local farmer and activist Kris Holstrom, taking as its mission the promotion of healthy living skills through support of organic farming and gardening projects and organic waste recycling initiatives, among others. As Holstrom explains, the shift from Tomten Institute to SWIRL is reflects both the region’s budding aspirations for sustainability and her own personal desire to see a fresh crop of go-getters take the reigns and lead the organization into its adulthood.

“We wanted it to be more indicative of what we are actually trying to do, so the idea of resilience was one that fit,” Holstrom said, explaining that the change will allow originally Tomten Institute-sponsored projects like the Telluride Farmers Market, regional community gardens and greenhouses and Schools Greens Programs in Ouray and San Miguel Counties to move into being managed by SWIRL.

“It was time to broaden the mission, as well as separate the organization from me personally,” Holstrom said, noting that there had been confusion in the past because the nonprofit Tomten Institute was frequently confused with Holstrom’s nominally-for-profit Tomten Farm.

SWIRL recently assumed management of Tomten Community Farm, which the group uses as a home base and primary education site to demonstrate such cutting-edge techniques as rainwater catchment, perennial polycultural production, and passive solar. Located off-the-grid on Hastings Mesa, at 9000 feet, Tomten is not the ideal location for a farm due to its very short growing season and limited water, Penberthy said. “But it is the perfect place to educate about permacultural techniques, because if we can grow food up there, we can grow food anywhere,” she said.

The group hopes to expand its reach, to which end SWIRL recently co-hosted a two-day workshop on urban gardening in Montrose with the Montrose-based group, Institute of Awesomeness. SWIRL is also focusing its energy on bolstering agricultural endeavors in communities in the west end of San Miguel and Montrose counties, “because they really have the need and potential to become thriving agricultural towns,” Penberthy said. The group is also working on designing and installing an edible and medicinal landscape for the Naturita library, and is currently doing the design for Volunteer Park in Nucla.

On the educational front, Penberthy said, SWIRL hopes to continue to host classes like the upcoming Medicine Making class, inspiring self-reliance and closer connections to the natural world.

“Making and using herbal medicines is as simple and important as eating salad frequently or taking vitamins – everyone should be doing it. Just like growing a tomato plant connects you to your food, harvesting and utilizing osha root or elderberry connects your health to the incredible strength and wisdom of nature,” she said.

The Medicine Making class takes place Saturday, August 27, at the Wilkinson Public Library, on the patio, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cost is $30, and includes instruction, samples of products made and some starter materials. Call 970/519-1265 to register.
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