I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis. Ever since I was fifteen years old, however, I had a plan to move out of the city when I turned twenty-five. The idea of being a pioneer fascinated me -- going over the mountains in a covered wagon, then clearing some land with an axe and making gardens.
When I was nineteen I kayaked for 3000 miles through Alaska. The Native Americans and trappers I saw there impressed me. I liked how they lived in log cabins and were self-sufficient. I had a lot of time to think as I was hitchhiking back from Alaska about the idea of living sustainably. I've always had a builder's instinct, and hitchhiking gave me time to visualize my perfect situation: two lakes' distance away from a road. Then I could be a few miles away from the nearest road, but not have to walk the distance, carrying my supplies. I could canoe.
Up here at the Homestead, the animals are our neighbors. The most common animals are the deer, wolves and beavers. When Will first arrived here at age nineteen, the timberwolves were close to extinction, but they were still thriving in the rugged areas around the Homestead.
Back then, there were long winters with deep snowdrifts; you could read the relationship between deer and wolf as it played out in their tracks. The wolves would use the deep snow to their advantage in hunting the deer; there were deer carcasses everywhere. But as the heavy snowfalls have disappeared, so has the evidence of the wolves' hunting.
Food at the homestead is organic. Will and the other team members feel strongly about eating food grown without chemicals. We believe organic food production is better for the environment and for our health. We also try to buy local food that hasn’t been transported across the country. Buying local food is one way we try to reduce our carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide pollution for which an individual person or group is responsible). We further reduce our carbon footprint by storing food in an ice house (pictured here) and a root cellar rather than in an electric refrigerator.
The trees around Will’s Homestead in Ely are part of the southern edge of the Boreal (northern) Forest. The B oreal Forest extends north into the Canadian Arctic. At the Homestead we have conifers (evergreens) like spruce, fir, pine, tamarack and cedar as well as some deciduous trees (that drop their leaves) like aspen and alder. It is fun to know the names of the trees—eventually the trees start to feel familiar, like friends.
Anyone familiar with winter in Northern Minnesota knows that temperatures regularly dip down into the negative twenties and thirties at night. Having a well-insulated home is important, as well as a reliable heat source. Out of the 24 buildings at the Homestead, 20 are heated with wood stoves. Wood is cut, split and stacked throughout the year in preperation for the cold winter months. During expedition training, cooks get up well before the sun to light the fire in the lodge. This is the only building that is consistently warm throughout the winter. Each person is responsible for splitting kindling and heating their own cabin.
You can view our full profile at the Charities Review Council.