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The front of the Abazs home is decked out in solar panels. Even though the house does not run on fossil fuels, plenty of modern technology is needed to keep things running smoothly. Matt Suoja
The front of the Abazs home is decked out in solar panels. Even though the house does not run on fossil fuels, plenty of modern technology is needed to keep things running smoothly. Matt Suoja

Finland farm thrives off the grid

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news Two Harbors, 55616

Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

David and Lise Abazs began their journey together in 1986, when they were married in a Buddhist service in Sri Lanka; a Hindu ceremony at Gandhi's ashram in Wardha, India; and finally a Christian wedding service in North Carolina.

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After that, they decided to spend their honeymoon on a research farm in New Mexico to learn about farming.

The couple planned to "farm-sit" in Maine but Lise wanted to move back to Minnesota. She's from the southern part of the state. After some research, David said the only place he would live in Minnesota - he's from New York - was Finland.

More than 20 years later, the couple still lives on 40 acres off Little Marais Road, producing garden foods for 45 families in the area. Melinda Suelflow, the farm manager and a resident on the property, said they grow mixed greens, tomatoes, rutabaga, and cauliflower. They are working on growing every type of rhubarb known to exist. Chickens and sheep can also be spotted on the farm.

The farm serves as a model for how to conserve energy and live off the land with solar panels and other devices required to go "off the grid."

"It really belongs to the future," Lise said.

The Abazs' home is fossil fuel-free. Electrical power comes from the sun and is stored in batteries inside the house. Aspects of the home include a solar oven, a wood stove, and a food dryer. It's not all Spartan: there is a computer, television, refrigerator, washing machine, and deep freezer. Their electrical system doesn't support a clothes dryer.

"We don't want to be complete hobbits," Lise said.

Their well is pumped from a windmill. They also collect rain water. They have a "grey water" treatment system, using household waste water - from sinks and showers - to irrigate orchards and a greenhouse.

They heat with wood. There's sauna out back.

The couple has a non-profit aspect to the farm. David said the farm provides education on sustainable farming and they have taught about it in local classrooms. They also install solar and wind energy systems and provide energy audits.

"In our region, a lot of people live outside of the power grid," David said. He said many of those who rely on alternative energy live in the Finland region.

"Live within the limits of where you live," Lise said.

They do drive cars and use gas for a garden tiller.

The couple had their home serve as a school as well. Both of their children were taught there until the ninth grade. Lise said they raised their kids to realize that energy is not limitless.

Lise works part-time at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center while David is a part-time lighthouse keeper at Split Rock State Park.

David has also been named a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota. "I'm basically at the disposal of the College of Agriculture," he said. He is working on a creating a greater connection between food and farmers.

He is also working with the city of Silver Bay and its eco-park project.

10/10/10

- On Oct. 10, people across the planet will pick up hammers, shovels, and caulking-guns and join the 10/10/10 Global Work Party, the world's largest day of practical action to address climate change.

- There will be an open house and work party 1-6:30 p.m. at Round River Farm, 5879 Nikolai Road, east of Finland followed by a film.

- Visitors will have the opportunity to tour the farm and renewable energy systems, strike up conversations about agriculture, and contribute to the construction of two new greenhouses. The day will include games for kids themed around farming and a potluck meal.

Schedule

l 1 p.m: Event and construction begins, opening speech and instructions.

l 2 p.m.: Kids games

l 4 p.m.: Tour of farm and energy systems.

l 4:30 p.m. Construction of greenhouse expected to be completed.

l 4:45 p.m. Group photo and announcement.

l 5 p.m. Potluck meal, bring a dish to pass and a plate to eat off of too.

l 6:30 p.m. Event concludes, depart for film showing.

More information is available at www.round-river.com.

How to get there

Follow Highway 61 north from Two Harbors and take Highway 1 to Finland. Make a right on County Road 6 (Little Marais Road) and go about three miles to Nikolai Road, on the right. Follow the steep, rocky road until you reach the farm.

Special series

Exploring energy use in Lake County

- As North Shore residents hunker down for winter, the News-Chronicle is taking a look at how some families in the area are going green, using sustainable resources for energy in homes, and techniques for saving energy. This three-part series includes today's story on the Abazs family that lives off the grid near Finland.

- Next week, find out about a city dweller who is selling the extra energy collected in solar panels.

- After that, we look at a unique technology used in a home built in Clover Valley.

- The series won't end here. Let us know how you are saving on energy costs. We'll let readers know just what they can do here in our own back yard. Email us at chronicle@ lcnewschronicle.com

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