Wigwam to become permaculture classroom near Duluth
Down a gravel drive and up a narrow trail through the woods, a classroom is growing on the back end of the Spirit Mountain ridge near Duluth. It won't be a typical classroom, nor will a typical course of study be offered. Gimiwon Nahgahnub of Saw...
Down a gravel drive and up a narrow trail through the woods, a classroom is growing on the back end of the Spirit Mountain ridge near Duluth.
It won't be a typical classroom, nor will a typical course of study be
Gimiwon Nahgahnub of Sawyer is leading construction of a wigwam. It will be about 25 feet in diameter, with a frame from ash trees cut on the site, covered in white canvas sewed on site by Jim Ouray of the North House Folk School in Grand Marais.
Chad Johnson, a Lake Superior College instructor who recently purchased the 30-acre site with his wife, has a one-year permit for the structure. It's going to be so sturdy and so beautiful, he said on Saturday as Nahgahnub and others worked the third of 16 poles into place, that he'll seek an extension.
But what really excites Johnson is the Spirit Mountain Permaculture
Design Course that will take place in the wigwam Oct. 4-7.
Permaculture uses landscape design to foster ecologically sensitive food production. Johnson has been interested in sustainability and locally grown food for a long time, but a project in Montana during the spring with Austrian permaculture guru Sepp Holzer took his interest to
Holzer uses a variety of techniques, including aquaculture, terracing and
plots called hugel beds -- raised as high as 15 feet at an incline of up to 70 degrees over trees, branches, roots and other living material.
"He's not into watering or doing anything," Johnson said. "He sets up the landscape and starts planting."
The results, Johnson said, are impressive. Holzer maintains 110 acres a mile up in the Austrian mountains without using a single tractor. He's able to grow lemon trees in subzero temperatures. His produce is of such superior quality that it is sold out two to three years in advance.
It's the next big step up from organic gardening, Johnson said.
"Organic gardening starts with the soil," he said. "This is more (starting) with landscape. Balance nature. Make it as little work as possible because you know what's happening with the wind and the water."
In Montana, participants put in squash, watermelon and fruit trees and never watered them, Johnson said. The moisture was provided by the landscaping techniques.
Six of Holzer's disciples -- three from overseas and three from the U.S. -- are coming to Duluth to lead the October sessions. They also will survey the acreage and advise Johnson, 41, on how best to manage it. He and his wife and two children will wait a year to build their home on the land to concentrate on designing the property first.
Johnson said he hopes to stop erosion, reinvigorate the land and restore a trout stream and pond. "They used to catch brook trout out there," he said.
Darin Bainter of Duluth was taking photos to document the wigwam construction.
"Chad's been my best friend all of his life, and it's nice to see him growing his life in this direction," Bainter said. "I live vicariously through him quite a bit, and he never disappoints me."
Nahgahnub, who is in the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, taught wigwam construction during the Respect Your Mother festival near Duluth earlier this year, he said. Johnson attended and asked if Nahgahnub would like to lead construction of a wigwam for the permaculture classes.
Nahgahnub, who has an interest in restoring traditional ways, said he was happy to pitch in.
"It's real awesome being able to be here in this place," he said, referring to Spirit Mountain. "It's a significant place. And that someone is here who is willing to bring this back is pretty cool."