New Book Offers How-to Tips for Aspiring Homesteaders

How to successfully live off the grid in remote areas is the subject of a new book called “The Alaska Homesteader’s Handbook: Independent Living on the Last Frontier.”

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The book features profiles and how to tips by Alaska homesteaders and offers practical advice on a wide range of topics from How to age game meat to packing horses for the backcountry to safely crossing rivers.

The book’s authors Tricia Brown and Nancy Gates divided 44 homesteader interviews. Nancy said it was a bit intimidating to go to their homes and ask personal questions but she says once she did, it was so interesting, she couldn’t take notes.

“Because I was so riveted by their expressions and by how they looked off in the distance and how they looked at their wives and smiled at certain, and so I started taking a tape recorder so I could get all of the words and still be able to watch their faces,” Gates said.

Building root cellars, feeding your family and how to handle isolation are also covered, along with many other useful wilderness survival tips. Tricia Brown says they wanted to cover the entire state because challenges vary by region.

“I talked with the Helmericks family that lives on the Colville River on the Arctic coast, and they’re second generation, actually have kids and grandkids there,” Brown said. “Their difficulties vary greatly from Steve Axelson who’s in a boat in Southeast.”

“So that whole aspect was extremely fun because we understand the breadth of Alaska and how it has all these micro climates and ways of living, but our outside readers don’t always.”

Nancy Gates says the book won’t give you everything you need to live off the grid, but does help you consider what those needs are and how to cope with things that will happen. She says the last homesteader in all of America is living here. His name is Kenneth Deardorff.

“He told us how to live in a tent in the winter and he told me about how he didn’t sleep on a cot because having cold air underneath you it was hard to stay warm enough, so he would build up snow, he would shovel the snow away from where the woodstove was going to go inside the tent and he would pile that where he was going to sleep and he would put caribou skins over that and then his bedding on top of that,” Gates said. “And he’d always arrange it so he could reach the woodstove and put in kindling and get the fire going before he had to get out.”

The women say there is a difference between the latest survival movement, called preppers and Alaskan homesteaders who were practical preppers. Not preparing for the end of anything, but with an eye toward living in the moment, being in Alaska and being self reliant. They also found that most homesteaders learned a lot from local Native people about how to survive. Tricia Brown says Dick Proenneke’s book “One Man’s Wilderness” attracted many people to Alaska in the 70s. One of the people they profiled, Roy Corral, had a copy.

“He had Dick Proenneke’s book in his cabin in the Brooks Range and then while he was away trying to make money so he could live without money, a bear broke into his cabin and ate the book,” Brown said. “He said there was some of Dick Proenneke’s words here and some of Dick Proenneke’s words there. So yeah, “One Man’s Wilderness” got spread around a little bit.”

The Alaska Homesteader’s Handbook is available now.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori