Secrets of Seed Saving Workshop

On Saturday, fellow Eco-Villager Nichole and I trekked over to Whittier for the Secrets of Seed Saving workshop. It was held at the Strub Avenue Farm and Garden, a wonderful backyard farm which is part of a network of urban backyard farms called Whittier Backyard Farms.

We were lucky to have horticulturalist David King instruct the workshop (left). He is the garden master of The Learning Garden in Venice, CA, author of the LA Garden Blog, and chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles, and gave a fun and informative workshop on how to save seeds and the importance of doing so.

David explained the nuts and bolts of how to save seeds for a variety of vegetables. This included how to allow plants to go to seed, and drying, harvesting and storing seeds. He also covered ways to minimize cross pollination between different species of  the same genus by practices such as hand pollination and covering crops with fabric.

The most compelling part of the workshop for me was the why. Why save seeds?

Traditionally, farmers and gardeners would harvest and save seeds for future growing. In the past several decades, there has been a major shift to purchasing seed annually from commercial seed suppliers, and seeds are commonly developed so that the plants you grow from them do not produce seed that will reproduce the same plant. This has dramatically increased the dependency on commercial seed companies.

There has also been a sharp decrease in the variety of seeds over the past century. This handout (right) David gave us shows that there were 408 varieties of tomato seeds available in 1903, and only 79 available in 1983. This is a pattern across many vegetables.  The reason this is dangerous, David explains, is that if we are commercially growing only a few varieties on a large scale, and a pest or disease attacks one variety, then we could  risk major food shortages. He gave the example of the Irish Potato Famine where there were only 2 varieties of potatoes being grown. A wider variety means more diverse traits, such as different vulnerabilities and strengths to different conditions.

After the workshop, the hosts provided a delicious lunch featuring food from the garden. The meal was followed by a seed swap where people shared seeds they either bought or saved. I happily came home with arugula, kale, poppy, calendula, dill and okra seeds.

I am newly inspired to continue to grow food, save seeds and share seeds. Thanks to Megan from Strub Family Farm and Garden for organizing the workshop.

Advanced Facilitation Seminar

(photo from a recent meeting Ron facilitated using small groups)

I’m leading another Advanced Facilitation Workshop on Wednesday, September 15th at the LA Eco-Village (117 Bimini Pl), from 7 to 9pm and invite you to attend. This workshop explores more sophisticated tools and strategies that facilitators use to ensure groups 
effectively reach decisions.  Participants will have the opportunity to practice facilitating challenging 
situations and receive feedback from the instructor and training participants.  Recommended pre-requisite:  Intro to Facilitation or some facilitation experience. Fee:  $35 (sliding scale available)
Reservations required: or 213/738-1254.  For those interested in learning more about facilitation, consider attending Beatrice Brigg’s upcoming “Leading Effective Meetings” training on September 30th through October 2nd.

10 Tips for Running Effective Meetings

Photo of a Food Lobby Coop Meeting that occurred at the LA Eco-Village

Tonight (Tuesday, June 15th), from 7pm to 9pm, I’m leading a Running Effective Meetings Workshop at the LA Eco-Village, and I invite you to attend.  To rsvp, contact or 213/738-1254.  $35 sliding scale.

Many of us spend much of our times in meetings.  Having attending numerous meetings as a facilitator and participant, I’m happy to share the following 10 quick tips for running effective meetings with you:

1. Designate a Facilitator: Whether it’s a member of the group such or your group decide to bring in an outside facilitator, the facilitator’s role is to help keep the group focused and moving forward.

2. Develop an agenda before the meeting:
At the core of a good agenda are items that require the group to make decisions.  Project how much time each item will take and assign the outcome you hope to accomplish.

3. Stick to the agenda during the meeting:
Many temptations exist to stray off topic.  Stay focused to get the work done you need to get done and record other ideas brought up at the meeting for future meetings.

4. Record decisions made:
Have a notetaker at every meeting to take minutes and have them record each decision, who is responsible for implementing it and if any future actions need to happen.

5. Start and end on time:
When groups slide from starting and ending on time, people loose motivation for attending meeting.

6. Set groundrules:
Groundrules help ensure civility between members. Some examples:  test assumptions, share all relevant information and focus on interests, not positions.

7. Address conflict when it comes up:
Dealing with conflict can be challenging but not dealing with it and letting it fester can potentially be worse.

8. Use graphics:
Have someone scribe notes on a dry-erase board or poster paper to visually record people’s thoughts.

9. Evaluate:
Occasionally ask what about the meetings work well and what could be improved…experiment with ways to improve meetings.

10. Thank people for attending:
If folks feel appreciated and valued, they are more likely to show up at future meetings, especially if they are a volunteer.

If you’re group needs an outside facilitator to make your meetings more effective, please contact me.

Advanced Facilitation Training – June 9

LA Eco-Villager Julio Santizo presenting at a Beverly Vermont Community Land Trust board meeting that Ron Milam facilitated

Tomorrow night (June 9th), Ron Milam will lead an Advanced Facilitation training at the LA Eco-Village. The following week on June 15th, he’ll lead a Running Effective Meetings training.  You are welcome to attend one or both of these trainings.

Here’s more information about the trainings:

Wed, June 9, 2010 from 7 to 9 pm at L.A. Eco-Village directions

Advanced Facilitation

This workshop explores more sophisticated tools and strategies that facilitators use to ensure groups effectively reach decisions.  Participants will have the opportunity to practice facilitating challenging situations and receive feedback from the instructor and training participants.

Recommended pre-requisite: Intro to Facilitation or some facilitation experience.

$35 (sliding scale available)
Reservations required: or 213/738-1254


Tue, June 15, 2010 from 7 to 9 pm at L.A. Eco-Village    directions

Running Effective Meetings

This workshop explores the key components necessary to ensure meetings are effective and result in decisions that help an organization move forward.  These components include: developing an agenda, knowing people’s roles and responsibilities, having a decision making process, facilitation and good listening skills.

Fee: $35 (sliding scale available)
Reservations required: or 213/738-1254

For more information Ron Milam’s work as a facilitator, click here.

Ron will also lead another Introduction to Facilitation training on July 28th from 7pm to 9pm at the LA Eco-Village.

Facilitator on a bike

Ron, my friend and neighbor, asked me to post this blog entry that he wrote, see the original post here:

A good facilitator brings some important materials to a meeting including an easel, markers, a small clock and most challenging of all to carry on a bicycle, a full sized posterboard to scribe notes to capture everyone’s good thoughts. Up until now, I have always asked clients to bring the posterboard because it was too challenging to secure on my small bike rack.

For a recent peer learning session I led for the Liberty Hill Foundation, one of the leading funders of social change movements in Los Angeles, I decided I would incorporate a little social change in my own lifestyle and bring everything to the training by bicycle.  Knowing I couldn’t fit everyone on my existing bike, I remembered one of my neighbors here at the LA Eco-Village has an XtraCycle I could borrow, which is a bicycle trailer device designed to carry heavy loads.

I’m excited to report that I successfully carried the following items on one bicycle: that big posterboard, an easel, markers, handouts, my laptop computer and three bags of groceries that fed an impressive group of 15 leaders working on social change here in Los Angeles.  I really enjoyed the ride and the discussion that followed it.
Now that I know it can easily be done, I look forward to hauling all of my facilitation tools on bike to future trainings, retreats and meetings. While I can’t confirm it, I just might be able to say I’m the only bicycling facilitator in Los Angeles! If you need a facilitator or want to know more about what a facilitator does, check out my website.
See you on the streets of Los Angeles and remember that you can always carry more stuff on a bicycle than you think you can.

Introducing Ron Milam’s Consulting Business

Ron, my friend, neighbor, fellow bicyclist, bike advocate (and more) asked me to post this blog entry that he wrote:

Eco-Villager and Non-Profit Facilitator and Consultant Ron Milam

Eco-Villager and Non-Profit Facilitator and Consultant Ron Milam

I’m pleased to base my consulting business out of the Los Angeles Eco-Village.  Since I work primarily with urban sustainability oriented nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles, living and working at the Los Angeles Eco-Village definitely inspires me and has taught me a lot about sustainability. 
Living at the Los Angeles Eco-Village has played a key role in teaching me how to become a good facilitator.  I remember going to retreats that the Eco-Village had several years back led by experienced facilitators and taking detailed notes on how they helped guide us towards making important decisions.  I then had the opportunity to practice these skills facilitating one of our many weekly meetings where we make decisions by consensus. 
I now professionally facilitate for local nonprofit organizations, with the most recent retreat being for the Los Angeles Audubon Society (see my recent blog post on Facilitation and Flying for more details).  I’m pleased to offer an upcoming Introduction to Facilitation workshop at the Eco-Village on September 29th, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm and welcome you to attend. More information about this workshop can be found at  I also lead a wide variety of trainings to build the capacity of nonprofit organizations and welcome you to attend any of those as well – for information see the calendar page at my website.