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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.  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 that we would 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. A number of the counties responded immediately but others had to be contacted again by e-mail or phone because they lost the initial e-mail or the Extension Educator was out of the office for an extended period of time.  We 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 a list of 19 people in six counties on our candidate search list.

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 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 “Tally Results for Initial Questionnaire” form. 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 high 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.  There were a number of reasons this process took so long.  Most of the interviews were outside of Cook County and required us to find a time to meet that would fit both our schedule and the candidate’s schedule.  In all cases where we were traveling out of county, we tried to schedule two candidate interviews on the same trip so we could make the best use of our time and travel expenses.  This complicated the process because we had to accommodate three schedules, the two candidates and ours.  Both Mary and I were very busy with work on our farm so travel periods had to be worked out carefully.  As it turned out we were able to do most of the interviews in pairs therefore saving both time and money.

In the end, we were able to perform interviews and on-site visits of 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 to do the site visits and any follow-up interviews, if they were selected as final study participants.

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 have all been developed.  They 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 February 23, 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. Dr. William Fleischman of the University of Minnesota Duluth Sociology Department and Okey Ukaga of the Sustainable Development Partnership attended the meeting. Terry Anderson of the University of Minnesota Extension Service was unable to attend. 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 original 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 the candidates homesteads.

 The following families comprise the list of study finalists:

Ken and Molly Hoffman Cook County
Mark and Melinda Spinler Cook County
Thomas Chapman Family St. Louis County
David and Lise Abazs Lake County
Joe and Jane Jewett Aitkin County

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 the 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 believe it will be useful in workshops and will 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. 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

Earlier in the year Ways of Wisdom submitted a proposal to the Midwest Renewable Energy Association to present a workshop at the Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair in Amherst, Wisconsin in June 2001. This proposal was accepted and the workshop was presented to an audience of over 100 people using both overhead projections and slides. The intention of this presentation was to share with people findings from our 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. Due to the limited amount of time for the presentation, only 70 minutes, we could not cover other subject areas.

I. Work in Progress Spring 2002

An extension for completing the grant work was requested from the Sustainable Development Partnership in November 2001. This request was granted. On April 30, 2002, Ways of Wisdom participated in a poster session at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute in St. Paul. Posters of sustainability projects around the state were presented that demonstrated the collaboration between the University of Minnesota and the State’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.

There will be a final workshop to present findings from the case study research on May 9, 2002, at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. Further information on this workshop can be found by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page. A final report on this study is being prepared and will be submitted to the NMSDP. When additional findings have been developed from this study they will be posted on this web site.

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