Homesteading in Northern Minnesota

The winters are rough, but Minnesota has a multitude of benefits for homesteaders, including friendly people, foraging opportunities and land that is good for growing.

| November/December 1976

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    Minnesota offers a land of abundance to hard-working homesteaders.

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Since the publication of our first "Report From Them That's Doin' " in MOTHER NO. 22, my wife and I have received an avalanche of mail from folks wanting to know more about homesteading in northern Minnesota. I'd like now to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about this region, and perhaps—in this way—do right by the many kind souls whose letters we simply haven't had time to answer.

Number One on most people's list of concerns, it seems, is our climate . . . understandably so, since almost any place in the continental U.S. is warmer than northern Minnesota! (When we moved here—in the winter of '73—we asked an old-timer about the length of the summer season. His reply was: "Summer? That's the day we play baseball!")

Minnesota winters are frigid, make no mistake. From about mid-December to late February, the nighttime temperature usually dips below zero (Fahrenheit), and the mercury rarely goes above freezing during the day. (One time, about three years ago, we experienced a 16-day period when the temperature never got above zero degrees!) The snow, however, is always fresh and dry here during the winter . . . never the slushy mess that's so common further south and east. And because dry snow is so much safer to drive on, the roads in these parts are practically never salted (which is why you see so many well-preserved old cars and trucks around).

According to the Weather Bureau, this region gets an average of 21 inches or so of precipitation per year. (You can figure on an annual snowfall of 45 or 50 inches.) One thing the weatherman's charts and tables don't tell you, however, is that—usually—Ole Sol shines bright on sub-zero days. Personally, I can take a lot of cold as long as the sun is out.

Because we're so far north, our growing season (as one might expect) is rather brief—90 to 105 frost-free days per year—but it is long enough to allow a person to raise sweet corn, early tomatoes, and a slew of cold-loving crops. (We've even harvested our own vine pumpkins and Hubbard squash, which are supposed to take 120 days to mature!)

About ways of earning a living: The economy here is pretty much based on the extraction—by mining, logging, and farming—of natural resources from the land. (The region is also supported—to a lesser extent—by tourism.) Jobs in these fields aren't terribly abundant, but you can land one if you're persistent enough.

Probably the most common source of income up here is small-scale logging. Almost everybody engages in this activity sometime . . . including us. Carol (my wife) and 1 made about $2,000 as freelance loggers our first year on the farm, working a total of maybe 50 days. The only equipment we had was a chain saw and—beyond that—a horse to skid the cut timber to a landing, where a hired trucker picked it up. (We spent about five or six hours a day in the woods, which left plenty of time to do chores around our place.)

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