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Sustainable living event to highlight tips, ideas

Sustainable living is the lesson. Hope for the future is the vision.

It’s all part of this year’s Back to Basics event sponsored by Happy Dancing Turtle (HDT), Pine River-Backus Community Education and Central Lakes College.

“It’s about making your life more resilient, either on the personal level or for the greater world at large,” said Quinn Swanson, sustainability programs coordinator with HDT. “It could be from spending less money to having a healthier diet.”

Back to Basic pulls in sustainability experts from across the region to hold workshop sessions for those attending the event.

This year, there will be about 30 workshops to choose from on topics ranging from soil health, food storage, animal rescue and home brewing of kombucha, or fermented tea.

Presenter Barry Thoele, owner of Barry’s Cherries, will give visitors a lesson in hydroponic production. Speaking from experience of his own hydroponics farm in Staples, Thoele will offer some tips for those looking to start their own small-scale hydroponics farm.

Hydroponics, or the process of using nutrient solutions in water instead of soil, is the answer to the agriculture problems in the U.S., Thoele said.

He’ll teach attendees that they can grow just about anywhere, from a basement in a small house to a massive farm like his.

Thoele’s hydroponics farm consists of 6,000 square feet of year-around green houses.

He started spreading the word about hydroponics because he views the mainstream agriculture system in the U.S. as “broken.”

It’s his second time holding a workshop at the Back to Basics event.

He’ll continue spreading the word because he wants the next generations to get “decent” food.

“Our kids will end up with a nutrition deficiency with the food they’re eating now,” he said. “There is obesity and asthma and other health problems in the country. How many of those can be attributed to nutrition?”

Fellow Back to Basics presenter Erika Bailey-Johnson will hold a workshop session on the initiatives happening at Bemidji State University (BSU) and surrounding community.

Bailey-Johnson, sustainability coordinator at BSU and Northwest Technical College, along with two colleagues, will detail initiatives like weekly sustainable Tuesday events, policies considering the ban of bottled water at BSU, a new bike-sharing effort, and efforts to get local food served inside of area schools.

“A lot of people really want to know how to do better with the resources we use,” Bailey-Johnson said. “They realize we’re headed down a path without a real positive ending if we keep using our resources this way.”

With events like Back to Basics, people can collaborate and share ideas.

“It’s the greatest way to learn,” she said.

Thoele added, “We can’t fix all the problems we have created, but we can’t continue to keep creating them, either.”

It’s that line of thinking that make events like the annual Back to Basics so vital, Swanson said. It’s all about the effort to improve your life and actions to be more sustainable.

Back to Basics has advice for people at all levels, from those trying to find out what sustainability means, to avid “living off the grid” residents, she said.

Other features of the Back to Basic event include: vendors, exhibitors, kids activities and a keynote speaker, Katy Smith, the 2011 teacher of the year.

Overall, Swanson wants visitors to walk away with a few tidbits to change in their own life to contribute overall to the health of the planet.

“It just takes small steps to be more self-sufficient and resilient,” she said.

JESSICA LARSEN, staff writer, may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at