Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 12, 2010

Bioneers conference renews, reunites, educates


TRAVERSE CITY — Whether it's water policy, chimps in Tanzania or sewing buttons, the Great Lakes Bioneers conference has something for you.

The conference, scheduled for Friday through Sunday, Oct. 15-17, at Northwestern Michigan College, features workshops, seminars, concerts, films and local and national speakers.

For Matt Joppich, a Traverse City furniture maker, it's a time for renewal and reunions.

"It's become a real focus of the fall for me," he said. "It's a time to recharge."

Joppich, who has attended the conference several times, is leading a workshop for the first time, "A Handmade Life: Woodworking for Homesteaders."

"My goal is to get everyone who attends the workshop to not be intimidated by tools," he said. He'll introduce them to hand tools and some small power tools, explaining how each one works.

One of those is a froe, an L-shaped tool that's been used for splitting wood for at least 200 years.

"I have a curiosity about working with simple tools," Joppich said. He also has "an interest in sharing how to be self-sufficient and how we can be sustaining in our life on Earth."

Which, not so coincidentally, is one of the tenets of Bioneers, a nonprofit organization based in New Mexico that helps people live cooperatively with nature — and with each other.

"The other issue with Bioneers is humanitarian," Joppich said, "and how to get along with our neighbors — not just our neighbors down the road, but around the world."

Those lessons also will be part of the first Youth Expo.

More than 250 students will gather at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center Friday, Oct. 15, to try everything from beekeeping to bike repairs.

Joppich will be leading a workshop for the students titled "Wonderful Wood." He hopes to show them how to make a small box from a piece of wood they might find in the forest.

Tara Wood, education coordinator for SEEDS, an ecology and education group, said most of the students are involved in the SEEDS after-school programs, which run at 10 area schools.

Bill Watson, the program director for the SEEDS After School Program, hopes to help the students break the ice with each other with "goofy games," rope games, tag and more.

One of his favorites has the kids using rubber mats to traverse an area about the size of a gymnasium. Watson weaves in lessons about the geology of his childhood home, Hawaii, as well as sociological issues such as overcrowding.

"I'm trying to do games that have some academic connection, some problem solving," he said.

Many of the student workshops coordinate with the state's content expectations, from science processes to global issues.

Registration for the weekend conference is ongoing and will continue at the door. The full weekend costs $100; a one-day pass is $50. Scholarships and student rates are available; volunteers who help out for at least nine hours pay $50 for the weekend.

For more information, a list of workshops, the concert schedule and a schedule of the speakers who will be beamed in from the national conference — also being held this weekend — go to or call 947-0312.