A partnership between Kroka Expeditions and MLLS
The Understory is a 6 to 10 week ecological living immersion for thinkers and changemakers ages 18 to 28 who want to redesign their lives to "be the change." We emphasize skills and understanding for long-term social and ecological regeneration: homesteading and handcraft skills to address how we live well in a place, academic inquiry to understand why we are here and how to move forward centering justice, and earth connection/mindfulness to stay grounded, joyful and resilient in the face of the work we are called to do. We believe this moment is overflowing with opportunities for meaningful and critical work, and The Understory is a place to dig in.
We are now accepting applications for The Understory fall 2022!
This program is for you if:
You are concerned for the health of the planet and all her people
You want to be (or already are) a changemaker for environmental and social justice
You are willing and excited to grow and make changes in yourself
You enjoy hands-in-the-dirt, physical work
You are hungry for critical academic inquiry into the state of our world
You embrace living with reduced material possessions and comforts
You are curious to learn skills for sustainable, place-based, human-powered lifestyles
You want to be a maker, not a consumer
You dare to turn off your phone and turn on your attention to people and place
Overview of The Understory
The three Understory courses are:
Applied Forest Ecology in a Changing Climate
Re-storying Place: Local History, Justice, and the Literary Voice
Homestead Ecology: Cultivating Abundance
You carve, weave, sew, craft, and build. Handwork awakens the "elemental maker", inspires confidence, and integrates the intelligences of hand, head, and heart. Through creation of baskets, bowls, clothing, rope, rocket stoves and even alternative buildings you come to be a producer and creator of your world.
The homestead is a learning-lab for earth connection, a place where you enter into relationships with all sources of life. Your daily work provides water, energy for cooking and heating, vegetables, grains, milk, medicine, basket materials, compost, fiber, gratitude, competence, and love of life.
Earth Connection & Listening
The earth is alive and speaking to you. Through participation you enhance communication. In quiet sit-spots, meditation and through daily work, you listen and connect. Throughout the program we share and make space for practices that support silence, observation, reflection, well-being and growth.
You are immersed in a tight community of learners. Everyone has meaningful work and we depend upon each other. This learning community is in a working relationship with the surrounding ecological community, which is in turn tied to larger and larger human and natural communities. All your work and inquiry lead to an embodied understanding that we are citizens of the earth community.
What are the cultural stories/beliefs that have brought us to this moment?
How do we live wisely in this place and in this moment?
What does resilience look like in the 21st century?
How do we build a regenerative economy?
What can I do right now in my own community and in my own life to advance climate justice?
Our Big Questions
Maine Local Living School recognizes that all environmental crises are rooted in the exploitation of peoples and places. We cannot disentangle the climate crisis from the social justice crises. For this reason, all education for living wisely and equitably is activism for the road ahead.
“Justice is what love looks like in public.” ~Cornel West
70-80% of your food is grown and harvested on site by you. All refrigeration comes from an ice house filled in February. Electricity comes from the sun. 90% of the materials comprising the buildings you sleep and work in were sourced from this land. You will shower with water heated by the sun. 100% of wastes are seamlessly folded back into the living system to build soil fertility. And more.
What About Hope?
When you care about the earth, it is natural to feel grief witnessing global destruction of ecosystems. When you care about justice, it is natural to despair for a world that was built on injustice. It is not possible in 2022 to simply be hopeful, but it is possible to practice hope.
When thinning a stand of trees you must look into the future. Harvesting one tree to help another is the start of a reciprocal relationship with the earth. In natural systems there is no waste; all waste is energy. You transform the brush from the harvested tree into goat food, the limbs into shiitake mushrooms, the trunk into cooking fuel. When we employ our creativity in service to life, we can transform grief into energy to work for change. This is the practice of active hope.
A taste of the sustainable living skills you will practice here
The academic curriculum is interwoven with, and informed by, these projects
and their historical, social, cultural, economic and ecological significance.
~Wild greens, harvest and use
~Weaving the brown ash pack basket
~5 day backpacking expedition
~Processing acorns into bread
~Threshing and winnowing dry beans.
~Storage-vegetable harvests ~Apple harvest and cider pressing
~Mushroom log harvest and inoculation
~Sourdough bread baking
~7 day backpacking expedition
Shared Skills of Spring and Fall
~Hand tool sharpening and use
~Cutting and splitting wood
~Cooking on a fire
~Local food culinary arts
~Hand and machine sewing
~Safe hygienic composting of all wastes including humanure.
~Lacto-fermentation (kimchi-sauerkraut, pickles)
~Overnight solos: making a home from the earth
What people say about their experience
"Time spent learning at Maine Local Living School was profoundly transformative. I discovered in small-scale, place-based living skills a genuine joy and energy for work that had been absent from me throughout my years onstage and inside academic classrooms. I learned to live in a more positive place, focusing less on what I wish to escape and more on what I love and wish to create."
"At Maine Local Living School we came to understand a philosophy of wholeness wherein our actions form a cycle, borrowing from the earth and returning to it constantly. The experience provided us with a means to live well in a spiritually and physically sustainable way, and gave us the space to explore what that means to us. I will carry with me always the lessons I have learned."
"Everyday we are a part of everything
Every night I rest knowing exactly where we are meant to be,
Satisfied, completely in love, with all the life that surrounds me."
"You feel so engaged in the process of living, you work and watch and eat and laugh and create and try and wonder.”
Courses you will take
The three Understory courses interweave with and inform each other and often feel like one holistic interdisciplinary course. We utilize the journal across courses as a primary tool of recording and reflection. All three courses are rooted in a social and environmental justice lens.
Homestead Ecology: Cultivating Abundance
What are the skills, understandings, and practices that allow us to work within an ecosystem to produce abundance? How do worldviews shape human-ecological interactions? How do we practice reciprocity with the living world? How does the life of the body inform the life of the spirit? What are the criteria by which we choose between traditional and modern methods? What does the homestead contribute to a regenerative economy, to new metrics of success?
In this interdisciplinary humanities course we draw heavily upon your daily lived experience on the homestead to explore these questions. Additional voices from the community, guest teachers, and prominent literary voices from indigenous, bioregional, homesteading and permaculture traditions enrich your exploration of these topics. For the capstone, you will choose a physical project through which you will demonstrate deep understanding of the philosophy and practice of a specific subsistence skill.
Applied Forest Ecology in a Changing Climate
The forest ecosystem is the source of all life at Maine Local Living School. The forest provides garden nutrients, maple sugar, nuts, fiber, building materials, goat food, fuel, water, antibacterial ointment, powerful medicines, and, of course, oxygen. How can we work with the forest to enhance carbon sequestration and biodiversity while providing the human community with forest products?
Your investigation is both practical and academic. Emphasizing hands-on observation and study, we delve into field identification techniques, ecosystem dynamics, tree morphology and natural history. You also learn to think like a forest, fell trees with axe and saw, and sharpen tools. As a capstone project you and a partner make and enact a management plan for a 1000 square foot section of forest. Your knowledge of succession, soils, pests and blights, and climate projections will inform your decisions as you plant, thin, cull disease, and tend diversity.
Re-storying Place: Local History, Justice and the Literary Voice
What are the stories of this land? What are the stories of its people? What are the practices and ways of understanding that will bend the arc of our collective story toward wise and just inhabitation? In this combined history and creative writing course we work to pull apart the threads of the past to better understand how they braid together into this present moment. We study the history of this landscape and the peoples who have inhabited it over the past 12,000 years. We travel to homesteads and original Abenaki village sites. We read indigenous authors, poets, and local authors and scholars. We listen to the land, seeking guidance from that which lives around us. Throughout we work to find our own voices as writers, emphasizing the power of literary expression as a tool for change. This sort of history is soul work; it questions the very yearnings, motives and values of our ancestors and in so doing shines a light on ourselves and the road toward justice.
"The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it."
~David W. Orr
Provide a vibrant, skill-building experience of living well in place.
Develop leaders who understand the stories of this land and who can envision and enact creative futures that cultivate health, justice, and sustainability.
Engage students as active members in their human and ecological communities.
Build practices of wonder, silence, keen observation, and gratitude.