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Extension > Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships > Northeast > Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems > Case Studies of Sustainable Living in Northeast Minnesota

Case Studies of Sustainable Living in Northeast Minnesota

Project files

Purpose

To identify families living sustainably in Northeast Minnesota and to study their lifestyles to gain an understanding of how and why they live this way.

Partners

U of M Extension Service
University of Minnesota Duluth
Northeast Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership

Community Partners:
Study Participants
The Sustainable Farming Association of Northeast Minnesota

Activities

A. Candidate Identification Phase

In April 2000 Ways of Wisdom met with the Study Design and Review Team at the
University of Minnesota in Duluth. This team consisted of Terry Anderson, Dr. William
Fleischman, and Dr. Okey Ukaga. The purpose of the meeting was to review the project
work plan, discuss the quality of life focus areas for the study, and choose the criteria
for selection of candidate families. It was decided to develop a list of candidates for
the study, narrow this list down to ten semi-finalists and, after interviewing them,
select the five families who would be our case study participants. In May 2000 Ways of
Wisdom sent an e-mail to all UM Extension Educators in NE Minnesota. The message
described the study and provided them with a list of the criteria to be used for selection of
candidates in the study. We requested names of families in their counties who were living
sustainably and met the study criteria. Ways of Wisdom also contacted the Sustainable
Farming Association of Northeast Minnesota and people like David Abazs, who were
connected to the sustainability movement, for names of potential candidates. By the
end of June 2000 we had 19 people in six counties on our candidate search list. The six
counties included Cook, Lake, St. Louis, Carlton, Aitkin and Itasca.

B. Candidate Contact Phase

Ways of Wisdom developed an initial contact questionnaire to be used in a telephone
survey of the candidates. During July and August of 2000 we telephoned and
interviewed 18 of the 19 people on the list. The initial contact explained the work being
done and arranged a time that was convenient to call them back for an interview. The
interviews often lasted for one hour or more and the results were recorded on a copy
of the initial contact questionnaire for each candidate we called. The questionnaire had
twelve major subject areas with more specific questions in each area. It was surprising
that all people contacted were willing to participate in the telephone interview. All of
them were interested in the project and shared information on their lifestyles freely.

C. Selection of Semi-Finalists

After all 18 people had been interviewed we had to develop a means of scoring the
candidates so we could select the 10 semi-finalists. Ways of Wisdom developed a
form to tally the results from the questionnaire. This enabled us to assign a numerical
value of 0 through 5 (lowest to highest) for 9 major lifestyle categories with most
categories having breakouts for specific issues. For example, under shelter systems the
subcategories were sustainably innovative, sustainable materials and self-constructed.

Participants were assigned a 0 to 5 score for each of the 23 subcategories on the tally
sheet based on the telephone interview results. The totals of all the numerical scores
were used to rank the candidates. When we completed the scoring we had a total of 11
candidates with the highest scores, number 10 and 11 were a tie. We decided that we
would include all 11 as semifinalists in the next phase of the study, which were the on-
site interviews.

D. Site Visits and Interviews

The 11 candidates were contacted by telephone in August 2000 to inform them they
had been selected as semifinalists. We asked them if they would like to participate in
this phase of the study, that required an on-site interview and tour of their homestead.
Initially we had positive responses from 10 of the 11 candidates and began setting up
appointments to meet with them. The site visits began in late August 2000 and were
finally completed in early February 2001.

As it turned out, we were able to perform interviews and on-site visits with eight of
the eleven semifinalists. Three candidates dropped out due to their busy schedules
or difficulty in scheduling a site visit. They didn’t believe they could afford the time
needed for the site visits and any follow-up interviews, if they were selected as a study
participant.

The onsite work required a visit to the candidate’s home that consisted of both an
interview of the family and tour of their property. All interviews were recorded on
audiotape and a film record was made of their homesteads with a 35mm camera. The
eight families who participated in this phase of the study were from four counties. There
were two each from Cook, Lake, St. Louis, and Aitkin County. The photographs from
the site visits are in 4”x 6” pictures and also in high resolution image scans stored on a
compact computer disk.

E. Study Design and Review Team

A meeting was held in February 2001, at UMD to update the advisory committee on
the progress of the study and decide what the next steps in the work plan would be. The
primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss the criteria for the selection of the final
five case study participants and to review the remaining project work plan.

F. Selection of Five Finalists

After the initial candidate identification phase was completed we had names of people
from six of the seven counties in Northeast Minnesota. These candidates were then
narrowed down to eight semi-finalists. The advisory team recommended that since we
only had semi-finalists representing four of the seven counties in the region that it was
important not to lose any more counties. Therefore geographic distribution became a
primary selection criteria, along with the investigators’ experiences with the families
during telephone interviews and visits to each candidate’s homestead.

All the finalists were contacted by telephone to inform them of their selection and to ask
them if they would continue to participate in the study. All of them agreed to do so. A
letter was sent to each family confirming their selection and outlining our work plan. In
order to acquire permission for the use of information and images from the candidates a
photographic and interview release was developed. This form was sent, along with the
confirmation letter, for the families to complete and sign.

G. Video Recording of Participants

The original project proposal submitted to the Partnership had three possible work
plans, with three different funding levels. The most comprehensive work plan included
participation by The Rural Development Council as a project partner. They would have
provided a student through the Community Assistantship Program (CAP) who would
have been responsible for video camera recordings and development of a production
video on the study. Since funding was not received for the CAP student it was our
intention to limit the photographic work to a still camera. However, Ways of Wisdom
decided to do the additional work of videotaping the families because we believed it
could be useful in future workshops and would produce a more complete picture of the
participants’ lifestyles.

We were able to borrow a good video camera from Holly Nelson who videotapes
government meetings and sports events for the local public access TV channel in Grand
Marais. We choose to focus our video work on some of the most important events in
our participants’ lifestyles. For instance we recorded the Chapman family’s winter dog
sled business, the Spinler’s commercial maple syruping work, the Jewett’s farm and
value added logging business, and the Hoffman’s garden harvest. Due to unforeseen
circumstances we were not able to record the Abazs family’s CSA business. We plan to
do this in the summer of 2002.

H. Workshop Presentation at Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair

In June 2001 Ways of Wisdom presented a workshop at the Renewable Energy and
Sustainable Living Fair in Amherst, Wisconsin. The workshop was presented to an
audience of over 100 people using both overhead transparencies and slides. The goal of
this presentation was to share with people findings from this study. We were speaking to
an audience of people who were either living sustainably or were interested in learning
more about it. Consequently we designed the presentation to use slides to show actual
examples of innovative approaches to sustainable living in Northeast Minnesota. We
included our farm in the presentation with the homesteads of the study participants so the
audience could learn about sustainability from six perspectives. Subject areas included
housing, heating, electrical systems, water systems, food systems, waste management,
transportation issues, and income generation.

I. Humphrey Institute Poster Session

On April 30, 2002, Ways of Wisdom was invited to participate at a sustainable
development statewide event held at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute in
St. Paul. Information on sustainability projects from around the state were displayed on
posters in the atrium of the Institute. The purpose for this event was to demonstrate the
collaboration between the University of Minnesota and the State’s Regional Sustainable
Development Partnerships. The Ways of Wisdom poster had information on the study
as well as photographs from participants’ homesteads. A handout was prepared that had
information on findings from the study.

J. Workshop Presentation at University of Minnesota Duluth

A final workshop to present findings from the case study research was presented on
May 9, 2002, at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. It was titled “Case Studies
in Sustainable Living”. The workshop was sponsored by the Northeast Minnesota
Sustainable Development Partnership, University of Minnesota Extension Service, and
the Center for Community and Regional Research (UMD). Ways of Wisdom worked
with Dr. William Fleischman, of the Sociology Department at UMD, to coordinate
the logistics for the presentation. Dr. Fleischman was a member of the project’s Study
Design and Review Team. The workshop had an overview of the project’s purpose,
relevance and methodology, but the majority of time was spent on discussing the
sustainable lifestyles of the five families who participated in the study. Slides were used
to show examples of the families life support systems.

Contact information was given for each of the five families, and for the Northeast
Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership and Ways of Wisdom. There was
a question and answer period during which many of the 50 people in attendance
asked questions about the study and sustainable living. A 17-page handout was given
to audience members. The handout had the same information used in the overhead
transparencies, including study methodology, project partners, outcomes of the case
studies project, findings from the research, and contact information. There was also a
workshop evaluation form that audience members filled out.A. Candidate Identification Phase

In April 2000 Ways of Wisdom met with the Study Design and Review Team at the
University of Minnesota in Duluth. This team consisted of Terry Anderson, Dr. William
Fleischman, and Dr. Okey Ukaga. The purpose of the meeting was to review the project
work plan, discuss the quality of life focus areas for the study, and choose the criteria
for selection of candidate families. It was decided to develop a list of candidates for
the study, narrow this list down to ten semi-finalists and, after interviewing them,
select the five families who would be our case study participants. In May 2000 Ways of
Wisdom sent an e-mail to all UM Extension Educators in NE Minnesota. The message
described the study and provided them with a list of the criteria to be used for selection of
candidates in the study. We requested names of families in their counties who were living
sustainably and met the study criteria. Ways of Wisdom also contacted the Sustainable
Farming Association of Northeast Minnesota and people like David Abazs, who were
connected to the sustainability movement, for names of potential candidates. By the
end of June 2000 we had 19 people in six counties on our candidate search list. The six
counties included Cook, Lake, St. Louis, Carlton, Aitkin and Itasca.

B. Candidate Contact Phase

Ways of Wisdom developed an initial contact questionnaire to be used in a telephone
survey of the candidates. During July and August of 2000 we telephoned and
interviewed 18 of the 19 people on the list. The initial contact explained the work being
done and arranged a time that was convenient to call them back for an interview. The
interviews often lasted for one hour or more and the results were recorded on a copy
of the initial contact questionnaire for each candidate we called. The questionnaire had
twelve major subject areas with more specific questions in each area. It was surprising
that all people contacted were willing to participate in the telephone interview. All of
them were interested in the project and shared information on their lifestyles freely.

C. Selection of Semi-Finalists

After all 18 people had been interviewed we had to develop a means of scoring the
candidates so we could select the 10 semi-finalists. Ways of Wisdom developed a
form to tally the results from the questionnaire. This enabled us to assign a numerical
value of 0 through 5 (lowest to highest) for 9 major lifestyle categories with most
categories having breakouts for specific issues. For example, under shelter systems the
subcategories were sustainably innovative, sustainable materials and self-constructed.

Participants were assigned a 0 to 5 score for each of the 23 subcategories on the tally
sheet based on the telephone interview results. The totals of all the numerical scores
were used to rank the candidates. When we completed the scoring we had a total of 11
candidates with the highest scores, number 10 and 11 were a tie. We decided that we
would include all 11 as semifinalists in the next phase of the study, which were the on-
site interviews.

D. Site Visits and Interviews

The 11 candidates were contacted by telephone in August 2000 to inform them they
had been selected as semifinalists. We asked them if they would like to participate in
this phase of the study, that required an on-site interview and tour of their homestead.
Initially we had positive responses from 10 of the 11 candidates and began setting up
appointments to meet with them. The site visits began in late August 2000 and were
finally completed in early February 2001.

As it turned out, we were able to perform interviews and on-site visits with eight of
the eleven semifinalists. Three candidates dropped out due to their busy schedules
or difficulty in scheduling a site visit. They didn’t believe they could afford the time
needed for the site visits and any follow-up interviews, if they were selected as a study
participant.

The onsite work required a visit to the candidate’s home that consisted of both an
interview of the family and tour of their property. All interviews were recorded on
audiotape and a film record was made of their homesteads with a 35mm camera. The
eight families who participated in this phase of the study were from four counties. There
were two each from Cook, Lake, St. Louis, and Aitkin County. The photographs from
the site visits are in 4”x 6” pictures and also in high resolution image scans stored on a
compact computer disk.

E. Study Design and Review Team

A meeting was held in February 2001, at UMD to update the advisory committee on
the progress of the study and decide what the next steps in the work plan would be. The
primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss the criteria for the selection of the final
five case study participants and to review the remaining project work plan.

F. Selection of Five Finalists

After the initial candidate identification phase was completed we had names of people
from six of the seven counties in Northeast Minnesota. These candidates were then
narrowed down to eight semi-finalists. The advisory team recommended that since we
only had semi-finalists representing four of the seven counties in the region that it was
important not to lose any more counties. Therefore geographic distribution became a
primary selection criteria, along with the investigators’ experiences with the families
during telephone interviews and visits to each candidate’s homestead.

All the finalists were contacted by telephone to inform them of their selection and to ask
them if they would continue to participate in the study. All of them agreed to do so. A
letter was sent to each family confirming their selection and outlining our work plan. In
order to acquire permission for the use of information and images from the candidates a
photographic and interview release was developed. This form was sent, along with the
confirmation letter, for the families to complete and sign.

G. Video Recording of Participants
The original project proposal submitted to the Partnership had three possible work
plans, with three different funding levels. The most comprehensive work plan included
participation by The Rural Development Council as a project partner. They would have
provided a student through the Community Assistantship Program (CAP) who would
have been responsible for video camera recordings and development of a production
video on the study. Since funding was not received for the CAP student it was our
intention to limit the photographic work to a still camera. However, Ways of Wisdom
decided to do the additional work of videotaping the families because we believed it
could be useful in future workshops and would produce a more complete picture of the
participants’ lifestyles.

We were able to borrow a good video camera from Holly Nelson who videotapes
government meetings and sports events for the local public access TV channel in Grand
Marais. We choose to focus our video work on some of the most important events in
our participants’ lifestyles. For instance we recorded the Chapman family’s winter dog
sled business, the Spinler’s commercial maple syruping work, the Jewett’s farm and
value added logging business, and the Hoffman’s garden harvest. Due to unforeseen
circumstances we were not able to record the Abazs family’s CSA business. We plan to
do this in the summer of 2002.

H. Workshop Presentation at Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair

In June 2001 Ways of Wisdom presented a workshop at the Renewable Energy and
Sustainable Living Fair in Amherst, Wisconsin. The workshop was presented to an
audience of over 100 people using both overhead transparencies and slides. The goal of
this presentation was to share with people findings from this study. We were speaking to
an audience of people who were either living sustainably or were interested in learning
more about it. Consequently we designed the presentation to use slides to show actual
examples of innovative approaches to sustainable living in Northeast Minnesota. We
included our farm in the presentation with the homesteads of the study participants so the
audience could learn about sustainability from six perspectives. Subject areas included
housing, heating, electrical systems, water systems, food systems, waste management,
transportation issues, and income generation.

I. Humphrey Institute Poster Session

On April 30, 2002, Ways of Wisdom was invited to participate at a sustainable
development statewide event held at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute in
St. Paul. Information on sustainability projects from around the state were displayed on
posters in the atrium of the Institute. The purpose for this event was to demonstrate the
collaboration between the University of Minnesota and the State’s Regional Sustainable
Development Partnerships. The Ways of Wisdom poster had information on the study
as well as photographs from participants’ homesteads. A handout was prepared that had
information on findings from the study.

J. Workshop Presentation at University of Minnesota Duluth

A final workshop to present findings from the case study research was presented on
May 9, 2002, at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. It was titled “Case Studies
in Sustainable Living”. The workshop was sponsored by the Northeast Minnesota
Sustainable Development Partnership, University of Minnesota Extension Service, and
the Center for Community and Regional Research (UMD). Ways of Wisdom worked
with Dr. William Fleischman, of the Sociology Department at UMD, to coordinate
the logistics for the presentation. Dr. Fleischman was a member of the project’s Study
Design and Review Team. The workshop had an overview of the project’s purpose,
relevance and methodology, but the majority of time was spent on discussing the
sustainable lifestyles of the five families who participated in the study. Slides were used
to show examples of the families life support systems.

Contact information was given for each of the five families, and for the Northeast
Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership and Ways of Wisdom. There was
a question and answer period during which many of the 50 people in attendance
asked questions about the study and sustainable living. A 17-page handout was given
to audience members. The handout had the same information used in the overhead
transparencies, including study methodology, project partners, outcomes of the case
studies project, findings from the research, and contact information. There was also a
workshop evaluation form that audience members filled out.

Outcomes

A. MREA Workshop

In June 2001 a workshop was presented at the Midwest Renewable Energy and
Sustainable Living Fair in Amherst, Wisconsin. The fair is put on by the Midwest
Renewable Energy Association and has people from almost every state in the union,
plus many foreign countries attend it. The workshop Ways of Wisdom presented was
on this case studies project funded by NMSDP. We discussed the project goals and
methodology, then showed slides of our study participants’ homesteads that demonstrated
how they dealt with such life support systems as housing, energy, heating, transportation,
food and water. This workshop drew over 100 interested people.

B. Poster Session

The Ways of Wisdom case studies work was one of about forty endeavors from around
the state that were invited to highlight the results of their project at a poster session held
April 30, 2002, at the Humphrey Institute in St. Paul. The poster session was part of an
event to highlight the cooperation between the University of Minnesota and the State’s
Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.

C. Workshop at UMD

A workshop was presented on May 9, 2002, at Cina Hall on the UMD campus in Duluth.
The lecture was given for both students and the general public. It was a presentation
of the case studies findings. The workshop discussed the unique character of the
sustainable lifestyle and presented slides showing examples of these characteristics from
the homesteads of the study participants. The presentation also discussed the pros and
cons for sustainable living and made suggestions how people can move toward a more
sustainable lifestyle if they choose. About 50 people attended the workshop.

D. Mentoring

The five families who participated in the case studies research have been invited to share
their wisdom and knowledge with others. This could be done by holding an open house,
giving tours of their homesteads, acting as a mentor to people who want to learn about
sustainable living, or taking on an intern to work with them.

E. Final Report

A final report has been prepared that discusses study methodology, findings, and
outcomes. The final report was submitted to Dr. Ukaga at NMSDP, Dr. Fleischman at
UMD, and Mr. Anderson of the U of M Extension Service. The report has been prepared
in both a long form and a short from. The long form has all the information on the study’s
methodology, partners, outcomes, etc. The short form that will be sent to Extension
Service offices contains a brief background on the study, but emphasizes the nature and
character of sustainable living. It contains a synopsis on each of the study participant’s
lifestyle and conclusions about sustainable living gained from the research.

F. Ways of Wisdom Web Site

Ways of Wisdom has developed a web site. The site has information on this case studies
project posted to it. The site contains the project summary, goals, relevance of the
study to NE Minnesota, methodology, and findings. There are about 40 photos of the
participants’ homesteads posted as well. These photos are organized into life support
areas like energy systems, financial income, housing, heating, etc.

G. Future Production Video

Along with the use of still photography, each participant’s homestead was videotaped.
Specifically we selected one important aspect of their lifestyle to record. For instance, a
maple syruping operation, dog sledding business, garden harvest, and value added lumber
business. The original proposal submitted to NMSDP had optional money budgeted for
a CAP student who would have done the videography and prepare a production video.
Since funds were not approved for this student Ways of Wisdom decided to do the video
taping work themselves. Ways of Wisdom would like to edit this footage in the future
and add a commentary describing the images. If the video is of good quality it could be
shared with others at workshops or through County Extension Service offices.

H. Site Visit Audio/Visual Recordings

Ways of Wisdom has still photos of the site visits to the participants’ homesteads, as well
as audio recordings of the individual interviews, and video recordings of home-based
businesses. The photos are in pictures on paper as well as high-resolution images on CD-
ROM disks. Many of the photos have been incorporated into the final report so readers
can better understand how the study participants live.

I. Transcriptions of Audio Interviews

The audio interviews with the participants were transcribed to facilitate research for
information about the families that has been used in writing the final report. The
transcripts total about 125 pages after word processing. The interview transcripts have
been sent to NMSDP, and to Dr. William Fleischman and Terry Anderson of the Study
Design and Review Team. Dr. Fleischman plans to use the transcripts to further research
elements of sustainable living.

J. Future Workshop and Farm Tours

Ways of Wisdom is located at North Light Farm in Cook County, Minnesota. Our goal
is to help people learn about sustainable living. We will be conducting future workshop
presentations where the case study data and findings will be shared with others. We
routinely have tours of our farm and will share with people the wisdom we have learned
from the families in our study.

Funding

$11,881
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