Category Archives: Be a Steward

Information on how to make a difference through individual and group actions.

Viewpoint – Mar 2016 – Susan Prescott – South Whidbey Tilth

Tilth, cultivating healthy soil and community since 1982
Susan Prescott, president of South Whidbey Tilth Council of Trustees

PresidentPrescottbwMy cousin, owner of a cherry orchard in Cashmere, introduced us to the regional organization called Tilth. It had been created by young farmers from all over the Northwest who had been inspired by author farmer Wendell Berry’s words at the Spokane World Fair in 1974. He had addressed a growing concern that global, corporate agribusiness was showing far more concern for profit than human health.

The word tilth is an old English word for judging the quality of cultivated soil. These activists chose this name because it inspired them to look deeper, to find wisdom and insight from daily observation of the web of life that they depended on as farmers and ranchers.

My husband Michael and I organized a first meeting of our local chapter on June 19, 1982. Jerry and Rose Dobson and Sean and Myrna Twomey came, as well as Sue Ellen White, Marianne Edain, Steve Erickson, Iris and Peter Linton, Jerry Hill, Vivian Stembridge, Lance Porter, and a number of others.

South Whidbey Tilth was born. We were invited to manage a farmers’ market organized years before by some of our members, and Bill Lanning, former owner of what is now Bayview Corner, offered his land for it. A market has flourished there ever since.

As Bayview corner changed hands several times in the late 1990s, Tilth accepted a generous offer of 11 acres just down the highway on Thompson Road. From that land base we have continued to address the food crisis in America; the epidemic of chronic, food-related illnesses in our society today. The fact that more young people than ever before suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes, and statistics suggest that too many of their generation will not live as long as their parents.

Tilth members continue to teach, learn and share with the community. The weekly seasonal Farmers’ Market opens Sunday, May 1. Families and friends meet to enjoy fresh, healthful produce, quality handcrafts, and nourishing concessions for breakfast and lunch, while children play and musicians entertain. And, now we’ve become a WiFi site as well.

Tilth offers classes about soil building, gardening, seed saving, invasive weed control, mushroom identification and more. Kids in a small, nature-oriented private elementary school, Calyx, spend at least one day a week on the Tilth land exploring and working in their own on-site garden. Families and individuals lease community garden plots where they have access to water, fencing and tools. Dorcas Young of Lesedi Farm also leases a quarter acre from Tilth to grow produce and sell from a farm stand, open daily.

The land has native plants and trees to protect the watershed and provide wildlife food and habitat. This includes a Garry oak meadow and a woodland trail leading through a restored native understory of plants under a mature fir forest. Tilth maintains the roadside edges without herbicides, relying on native vegetation.

This year we welcome a capable young intern, who will be managing the market and garden plots, while learning new skills through the WSU Master Gardener Program and through programs with other interns on Whidbey.

Visit Tilth at 2812 Thompson Road or virtually on the website or leave a message at 360-321-0757.

Community Discussions – On Care for Our Common Home

Comehands holding a green and growing earth, with rainbos stripes in the background to a series of INTER-FAITH discussions of Pope Francis’s recent encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” – Monday afternoons 3-4:30 from Sept 28 2015 though Nov 9 2015.

See our calendar for topics, hosts, and locations for each event or download a flyer with full schedule (pdf)

Sponsored by the Greening Congregations of South Whidbey.

  • Langley United Methodist
  • St. Augustine Episcopal
  • St. Hubert Catholic
  • Trinity Lutheran
  • Unitarian Universalist
  • Unity on Whidbey
  • Whidbey Quakers – Friends

March 2015 Spotlight – Island County Environmental Health

Island County Environmental Health monitors many essential services on Whidbey and Camano Islands. We inspect schools, pools, restaurants and recycling centers. 

Maribeth Crandell collecting samples of toxic algae.

Maribeth Crandell collecting samples of toxic algae.

We are members of ECO-Net because we also care about water quality, from drinking water, to salmon restoration projects.  We take water samples for testing at popular swimming beaches, test shellfish and work with State and local agencies to monitor them for toxic algae blooms, paralytic shellfish poisoning, fecal coliform or other health hazards.  Our outreach efforts help prevent any public safety or health problems.

schematic diagram of relationship of house, septic system, well, and groundwater

From what goes down the drain inside, to protecting the drain field outside, Home Owner Septic Training will help you live well with your septic system and learn how to avoid costly repairs or replacement.

A number of our staff work with home owners on septic system issues. In Island County, roughly 70% of homes depend upon septic systems for waste water treatment and 70% are dependent on ground water for drinking.  Many people have moved to the Islands from urban areas where they were on a city sewer system.  Septic systems can be very different. In order to protect our water and public health we offer educational programs for home owners with septic systems.   

Septic 101 is offered for free to teach people how to live with their septic system in a way that helps that system work well and last as long as possible.  Septic 201 classes teach people how to inspect their system.  If you have a conventional gravity or pressure system, and pay $28, you could get certified to inspect your own system.  Both of these classes are taught both online and in person.

For those with an alternative system like a mound, sand filter or aerobic treatment unit, you can attend our new free Alternative Septic System Class taught in partnership with the Whidbey Island Conservation District.  (This class is offered for education, not certification.)  Alternative Systems require a licensed Maintenance Service Provider to inspect the system annually.

Inspections, like a tune-up for your car, help catch any problems before they become expensive repairs or failure. Inspections are required by local and state laws every 1-3 years depending on the type of system you have. If, during your inspection you discover the system has problems, we have financial assistance available for repairs or replacement. 

If you live in the Penn Cove Watershed, we have a Rebate Program that will probably cover the cost of your inspection.  It is available while supplies last for 2015 inspections in the Penn Cove Watershed. Those who are up-to-date with their inspections will get a PC sticker for their car.

For a list of Septic System professionals, and a link to registration for our online or in person Septic classes, information on our financial assistance or Rebate Programs visit: or call 360-679-7350.

January 2015 Spotlight – WSU Island County Beach Watchers

UPDATE: Beach Watchers will become an independent non-profit organization effective January 1, 2016. Their new name is Sound Water Stewards of Island County.

Island County Beach Watchers are trained volunteers dedicated to protecting and preserving the marine environment of Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea through citizen science/research, education, outreach and stewardship. Beach Watchers is a program of Washington State University Extension, connecting the resources of the University with the unique marine-focused needs and opportunities of local communities.

As Beach Watchers enters its 25th year, more than 500 local residents have completed training and dedicate thousands of hours annually to enhance marine awareness, research and stewardship in Island County.

  • bw-logo
    Beach Watchers have worked for 25 years to understand, value and protect Island County's priceless marine environment.
  • Learning to measure beach gradients
    Each year, the new class learns about intertidal monitoring. Here they are learning to measure beach gradients
  • intertidal monitoring at coupeville – 2
    Tracking what's found in the intertidal zone
  • monomfilament recycling tube
    A recycling tube for capturing monofilament fishing line before it entangles wildlife.
  • fishing line ready to be recycled
    Fishing line ready to be recycled.
  • Dragging plastic fishing net off the beach
    Dragging plastic fishing net off the beach
  • microplastics on the beach
    Surveying microplastics that appear on our beaches
  • sound waters logo
    BW's plan and put on Sound Waters - a one day university for all - on all things Puget Sound - always the first Saturday of February
  • surveying eelgrass up close
    'Fun in the Mud' eelgrass team - counting eelgrass shoots
  • eelgrass-boat-1
    BW's getting ready to survey eelgrass beds using underwater video
  • rearticulated porpoise at coupeville wharf
    Rudy, a Dall's porpoise - at the Coupeville Wharf
  • seining
    Seining to count and measure juvenile salmon.
  • langley whale center
    BW's volunteer as docents at the new Langley Whale Center.
  • teaching kids at maxwellton
    Teaching kids about the intertidal zone
  • Digging for dinner
    Teaching families the best (and sustainable) ways to dig for clams
  • pigeon guillemots
    BW's participate in the Pigeon Guillemot Survey
  • necropsy
    BW's assist with necropsies to determine trends and record findings with NOAA
  • crabber hats
    BW's wear funny hats - to help get the message out to crabbers to use biodegradable escape cord - and ensure more crabs for all in future years.

While Beach Watchers spans all of Island County – this article highlights Whidbey Island activities (Camano Island BW’s are associated with the Snohomish-Camano ECONet). We work both independently and in collaboration with many other organizations.

  • Beach Watcher led activities
    • Coupeville Wharf – education and environmental displays
    • Crabber education
    • Digging for Dinner – teaching others to clam
    • Flora/fauna surveys (for 15 years) of the intertidal zone at more than 30 beaches – the results are now being used by UW researchers. Try your hand at the EZ-ID game
    • Monofilament fishing line recycling
    • Plastics surveying and education
    • Sound Waters – a one-day university for all – on all things Puget Sound – held on the first Saturday in February – we expect over 500 people to join us on February 7th at South Whidbey High School for our 20th year. No prior knowledge is required to attend – just an interest in learning about and taking care of this amazing place that we call home.
  • Working with Whidbey Econet Members
    • Deception Pass State Park – tidepool docents
    • Island County Marine Resources Committee – eel grass monitoring, pigeon guillemot study, seining
    • Island County Shore Stewards – sharing knowledge, education, best practices for shoreline living
    • Orca Network – docents at the Langley Whale Center
    • Whidbey Audubon – Christmas bird count
    • Whidbey EcoNet – website
    • Whidbey Watershed Stewards – teaching at the outdoor classroom, wetlands restoration, smolt counts
    • WSU Waste Wise – reduce / reuse / recycle!
  • Working with other Puget Sound organizations
    • COASST – monitoring beaches to collect seabird data for marine conservation
    • Marine Mammal Stranding Network – data collection on’stranded’ mammals, necropsies
    • WA State Parks – interpretive talks at Admiralty Head Lighthouse and Fort Casey

Beach Watchers training is an exceptional opportunity to receive more than 100 hours of university level instruction from experts in diverse fields. The training is a mix of indoor instruction, guided field trips, and learning-while-doing on summer projects. Class topics include watersheds & groundwater, marine biology & oceanography, salmon & near shore habitats, climate change, forestry, waste reduction, recycling, sustainable living, native plants & animals, intertidal beach monitoring, coastal geology, and more.

Each graduate is expected to give back 100 volunteer hours – deciding the particular ways they want to be involved. On average, each graduate contributes over 500 hours back to the local community and has fun while doing so!

If you are interested in becoming a Beach Watcher – applications for the 2015 training must be postmarked by Feb 20. See

December 2014 Spotlight – Gardening at South Whidbey Tilth

The word “tilth” is defined as the quality of cultivated soil. South Whidbey Tilth Association is a diverse network of people working cooperatively within our organization and in the community. Our commitment is to advocate, study and teach agricultural practices consistent with stewardship of the natural world. We promote and demonstrate principles and practices of sustainable agriculture, as well as cultivate a variety of opportunities for local market gardeners and farmers.


The South Whidbey Tilth Sustainability Campus is a community space to demonstrate and practice sustainable agriculture and to support one another’s work to steward the natural world. On over 11 acres, the campus includes a seasonal farmers’ market, community gardens, children’s garden, worm bins, a children’s play house, the forest understory recovery project, a Garry oak meadow, a landscape designed to reduce invasive plants along the State Route 525, and more.

Lesedi Farm on the Tilth campus

Lesedi Farm on the Tilth campus

Organic soil building is at the heart of what grows healthy plants. Soil with good tilth has a rich, spongy humus that holds moisture. Humus is formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material and by soil microorganisms. Soil loses its tilth when the soil is compressed or toxic chemicals are added, causing water, nutrients and soil to run off into waterways and into Puget Sound.

Water Conservation in the Garden workshop instructor Marc Wilson begins an installation in the community garden.

Water Conservation in the Garden workshop instructor Marc Wilson begins an installation in the community garden.

A water metering and irrigation system is being installed in the Tilth Community Garden plots and landscaped areas to monitor the water use from the well. The gardened areas include timers and manifolds for drip irrigation or soaker hoses, allowing water used to go directly into the soil around plants. Funding for the related educational component came through a mini-grant from Puget Sounds Starts Here, via ECO-Net, administered through Science, Education and Adventure (SEA). A Whidbey Island Garden Tour grant funded the materials.

Besides individual garden plots leased annually to individuals and families, the campus hosts special gardens, as well.

Dorcas Young shows off the interior of her high tunnel hoop house during the 2014 Whidbey Island Farm Tour.

Dorcas Young shows off the interior of her high tunnel hoop house during the 2014 Whidbey Island Farm Tour.

Lesedi Farm, an incubator farm uses a quarter acre on Tilth’s Sustainability Campus. Farmer Dorcas Young worked with the Whidbey Island Conservation District to construct a high tunnel hoop house to grow the African crops of her native Botswana. She sells produce fresh and prepared at Whidbey Island Farmers’ Markets. Water-saving irrigation is already installed on the Lesedi parcel.

The Whidbey Veterans Service Corps (WVSC), a project of the Whidbey Island Veterans Resource Center (VRC), has interested military veterans preparing, planting and harvesting two garden plots in the South Whidbey Tilth Community Garden during the growing season. The VSC mission is to provide opportunities, especially to younger vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, to apply military service skills and mission teamwork abilities to service projects for one another, their families and their community by growing some of their own vegetables, as well as providing surplus vegetables for other veterans, their families and the Good Cheer Food Bank.

Calyx students proudly show off their potato harvest

Calyx students proudly show off their potato harvest

The Children’s Garden is cultivated one day each week by the Calyx Community Arts School, where children plant, water and harvest their own food. Their chickens are cooped around the perimeter of the garden plot to keep weeds down, catch insects and provide eggs for lunchtime.

Watch for Tilth’s gardening class series this spring. Learn more at the South Whidbey Tilth website,

Mar 2014 Spotlight – Island County Environmental Health

by Maribeth Crandell

Island County Environmental Health is part of the county Public Health Department.

Our goal is to try to keep County residents and visitors safe from disease and help maintain a good quality of life. Mostly this involves a lot of work behind the scenes – inspecting wells, restaurants, schools, pools, recycling centers and compost businesses and snooping around in places people rarely want to go, like for instance, your septic system.

schematic diagram of relationship of house, septic system, well, and groundwater

Be careful. Every drain in your house flows into the septic system.

Living on an island where most of us get our drinking water from underground, we have to be extra careful about what we’re putting in the ground. During summer droughts our aquifer gets recharged from our septic systems.

Unfortunately, we’re often the bearers of bad news, like “Your septic system has failed”. But we also try to provide resources, “We can help you get a low interest loan to fix it.” We have new technology to help us track information. Still we value face to face communication with the public.

picture of sewage on a drain field

Sewage on the ground over your drain field is a sure sign of septic system failure.

Lately we’ve been hosting Science While Sipping pub talks to help people better understand how to live with septic systems and the importance to maintaining them. In that informal setting we try to help people with specific problems. Our next talk is at Spotted Dog Winery on March 12 on Maxwelton Road. Recent efforts by the County and other ECO-Net organizations resulted in 75% of the 659 septic systems in the Maxwelton watershed having been inspected, and if necessary, pumped or repaired. Fifteen of twenty failed septic systems were fixed. And we’re still working in this watershed.

We offer free Septic 101 classes both online and in person. Septic System inspections are required by State and local laws. If you have a basic gravity system and don’t live in a designated critical area, you could get certified to inspect your own septic system by taking Septic 101 and 201 and paying a $25 fee. For more information visit:

This summer we’re launching our Host a HOST program. HOST stands for Home Owners Septic Training and if you host one at your home or attend one at your neighbor’s, your name will be entered to win $100 rebate on your next inspection or the installation of risers and lids (that will make it quicker and easier to conduct inspections in the future). Our first Host a HOST program will be held at Lagoon Point on June 28. Call 360-678-7914 to RSVP.

We spoke with a group of Realtors in February about how septic systems impact home sales. While you can sell a house with a failed septic system, the new owner will not be able to occupy the residence until it’s fixed. In new construction, homes need to plan for an ample septic system based on the number of bedrooms, and have a reserve area. Once a septic system is in, changes to the property, like putting a driveway, parking area or a garden over the drain field, could cause a system to fail.

Septic Systems are mostly out of sight but they should not be out of mind.

Some images behind the scenes: