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Extension > Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships > Northeast > Case Studies of Sustainable Living in Northeast Minnesota

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Case Studies of Sustainable Living in Northeast Minnesota

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
University of Minnesota Duluth
Northeast Regional 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, 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 Regional 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 NERSDP, Dr. Fleischman at UMD, and Mr. Anderson of the U of M Extension. 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 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 NERSDP 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 NERSDP, 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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