ReSkilling Festivals tap into Ann Arbor’s vast pool of qualified experts, who volunteer to share their knowledge, mostly on things that aren’t taught in college. So far, our town has hosted five free and open-to-the-public ReSkilling Festivals since 2009–with 225 the largest attendance. This grassroots pop-up academy demonstrates that nearly everyone has a skill of some sort that can contribute to a greener, energy-efficient, and, perhaps, even spiritually serene society.

When I volunteered at last July’s festival at the Rudolf Steiner School, I was surprised by the remarkable spectrum of people who came in search of hard-to-find expertise. The workshops attracted young couples, high school boys, seniors, and moms with toddlers. A class on mending drew a young woman with blue hair and piercings as well as some guys who were learning to darn socks. Another well-attended group of all ages was making really strong string from the fibers of dogbane, a plant in the milkweed family. I dropped in on the bread-making class, where everyone was up to their elbows in flour.

During the lunch break we followed tantalizing aromas coming from four solar ovens set up outside on the grass. Since nine o’clock that morning, the ovens had been capturing sunlight to cook apple crisp, soup, brownies, and chili, which were now available for sampling. The solar chefs included a professor who regularly feeds his family from his solar oven, an actual chef experimenting with the technique, a preschool teacher, and an architect. They passed out yummy samples and answered questions about how long it takes to cook something, which models work best, and, of course, their favorite recipes.

Down the hall another enthusiastic expert on solar science, a retired engineer, demonstrated his solar gadgets and talked at length to whoever stopped by about sunlight’s applications for creating energy.

There was even an intriguing session on how to have a DIY funeral at home and an environmentally friendly burial. No need to embalm, no need to buy an expensive casket made from precious hardwoods and toxic resins and metal. No need to use a funeral home.

I’d often wondered how I’d manage to make a fire if I didn’t have matches or a lighter. Turns out there are lots of ways: you can do it with ice; batteries and steel wool; flint and steel; a water bottle; a hand drill; even cellophane. Good to know.

Yet reskilling isn’t only about outdoor survival. For example, a class for folks who can’t tolerate cows’ milk demonstrated how to make alternatives at home from nuts and seeds. Hazelnut milk, anyone?

This year’s event, on February 10, will offer workshops on identifying plants in winter, tanning animal hides, urban landscaping with native plants, writing haiku with images, providing basic first aid, and creating a rain garden.

Who wouldn’t want to earn a credit on their water bill by making a simple rain garden?