August 25, 2013

Getting into living off the land

A Maine couple are teaching others about sustainable living through an immersive apprenticeship program.


TEMPLE - Ashley Hardy said ever since she learned to make a wooden spoon at a Koviashuvik Living School class, she's been eager to learn more about natural living.

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Ashirah Knapp, left, and apprentice Ashley Hardy use a wood stove to boil water at the Koriashuvik Living School in Temple. Apprentices live in a dwelling adapted from the traditional Cree earth lodge, which is insulated with sod.

David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Over the past year, ever since her first class at the school, she's replaced her paper towels with cloth, learned to can food and built a composting toilet.

"Once you start, you crave more, and you realize this is what life is," she said.

Chris and Ashirah Knapp, who live deep in backwoods Temple on a nearly self-sustaining homestead, have recently accepted Hardy, 24, as the latest apprentice at the school.

After years of living off the land in backwoods Temple, the Knapps decided to teach the next generation of nature lovers to make use of their environment through an immersive apprenticeship program at their school.

Four years and 20 apprentices later, the program has evolved to include a diverse curriculum, a formal application process with a two-day trial period, and a newly built hut to house the apprentices.

Hardy lives with her husband, Andrew Hardy, who is an officer in the Wilton Police Department, in Farmington, where she works on a dairy farm next door. She said it wasn't until she started taking classes that she truly started to appreciate sustainable living off the surrounding land.

On the second day of her apprenticeship, before climbing up onto the roof of a under-construction outhouse to attach shingles, Hardy said there is something meditative about working with the land.

"Even though you're working hard, you're able to feel peace and give thanks for the gifts you get from the earth," she said.

The Knapps were trained to provide for themselves from the land around them by apprenticing in their late teenage years and into their early 20s with Ray Reitze, master Maine guide at Earthways School of Wilderness Living in Canaan.

He said the apprenticeship program is not for training the next North Pond hermit or for promoting isolationism.

The Knapps said that while they live in a cellphone dead zone with no electricity, they are not trying to escape other people or the modern world. Rather, they said they are trying adopt a self-sustaining life and make of use of the earth.

Ashirah Knapp said they don't expect most people who come for a class or even as an apprentice to adopt a life on their far end of the self-sustaining spectrum.

"There are pieces of what we do that they might bring back and incorporate into their life," she said.

Apprentices can learn any of a broad array of life skills, which, depending on the season, include how to make a stove from a bucket, build a composting toilet, grow a garden, preserve food and weave baskets.

Apprentices don't get paid or pay a fee for the educational opportunity. They sustain themselves by helping out around the farm.

Hardy is only at the school three days a week for her two-month training, while more typical apprentices live there full time.

Hardy said the school is an inviting place to learn new skills. She said people come in unfamiliar with the lifestyle, but the Knapps are patient teachers.

Hardy said one of her favorite aspects of the apprenticeship is learning to appreciate the environment as a gift from God.

"I feel for me that this is where He has put me and I feel closer to Him," she said.

Chris Knapp said the apprenticeship program has gradually grown into a formal process.

To get accepted into the program, prospective apprentices need to first visit Koviashuvik and work with the Knapps for two nights and three days. After that, they need to provide two written recommendations and write a short essay explaining why they would be a good fit at the school.

Apprentices work on Koviashuvik projects six days a week, with an eight-week minimum stay.

Apprentices live in a dwelling adapted from the traditional Cree earth lodge. The lodge is insulated with sod, has windows and a skylight, and a small stove for heating and cooking.

During Hardy's fall apprenticeship, she said she'll be learning to harvest acorns and apples, preserve food, build things such the outhouse, and crafts.

Hardy said she hopes to pass on the skills to the next generation of her family.

"I definitely want to be able to teach my kids some of these things. I think it's vital to get kids involved in this type of stuff," she said.

Kaitlin Schroeder can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:


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