The Understory

at Maine Local Living School

 A homestead-based ecological immersion for thinkers and changemakers

Ages 18 – 28

The Understory is a 9 week ecological immersion for those who want to redesign their lives to “be the change.” We emphasize skills and understanding for long-term social and ecological regeneration: homesteading and handcraft skills to address how we live well in a place, academic inquiry to understand why we are here and how to move forward centering justice, and earth connection/mindfulness to stay grounded, joyful and resilient in the face of the work we are called to do. We believe this moment is overflowing with opportunities for meaningful and critical work. The Understory is a place to dig in.

This program is offered as a partnership between Kroka and the Maine Local Living School (MLLS).

If this program is for you, APPLY! We have a generous scholarship program and offer need-based scholarships of 10% – 80% tuition reduction. Contact us to learn more. See below for more information on tuition and Financial Aid.

This program is for you if:

  • You are concerned for the health of the planet and all her people
  • You want to be (or already are) a changemaker for environmental and social justice
  • You are willing and excited to grow and make changes in yourself
  • You enjoy hands-in-the-dirt, physical work
  • You are hungry for critical academic inquiry into the state of our world
  • You embrace living with reduced material possessions and comforts
  • You are curious to learn skills for sustainable, place-based, human-powered lifestyles
  • You want to be a maker, not a consumer
  • You dare to turn off your phone and turn on your attention to people and place

The big questions we’ll grapple with include:

  • What are the cultural stories/ beliefs that have brought us to this moment?
  • How do we live wisely in this place and in this moment?
  • What does resilience look like in the 21st century?
  • How do we build a regenerative economy?
  • What can I do right now in my community and in my own life to advance climate justice?
  • What is the best pizza topping?

Sustainability at the Maine Local Living School campus:

  • 70 – 80% of your food is grown and harvested on site by you!
  • All refrigeration comes from an ice house filled with blocks of ice harvested in February and stored year-round!  
  • All electricity on site comes from the sun!
  • 90% of the materials comprising the buildings you sleep and work in were sourced from this land. You will harvest materials and continue to build sustainable structures.
  • You will shower with water heated by the sun and fed by gravity.
  • 100% of wastes are seamlessly folded back into the living system to build soil fertility.
  • All water comes from the hand pump or the spring–you carry it for the community!
  • All cooking fuel is locally harvested by you!

Active Hope:

When you care about the earth, it is natural to feel grief witnessing global destruction of ecosystems. When you care about justice, it is natural to despair for a world that was built on injustice. It is not possible in 2022 to simply be hopeful, but it is possible to practice hope.

When thinning a stand of trees you must look into the future. Harvesting one tree to help another is the start of a reciprocal relationship with the earth. In natural systems there is no waste; all waste is energy. You transform the brush from the harvested tree into goat food, the limbs into shiitake mushrooms, the trunk into cooking fuel. When we employ our creativity in service to life, we can transform grief into energy to work for change. This is the practice of active hope.

A taste of the sustainable living skills you will learn here:

  • Processing acorns into bread
  • Threshing and winnowing dry beans
  • Harvest and storage of winter vegetables
  • Apple harvest and cider pressing
  • Spoon carving
  • Mushroom log harvest and inoculation
  • Ecological building
  • Sourdough bread baking
  • Hand tool sharpening and use
  • Cutting and splitting firewood
  • Cooking on a fire, rocket stove and cookstove.
  • Basket weaving
  • Local food culinary arts
  • Hand and machine sewing
  • Goat milking
  • Safe hygienic composting of all wastes including humanure
  • Lacto-fermentation (kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles)
  • Expedition skills for an 8 day backpacking trip

The academic curriculum is interwoven with, and informed by, these projects and their historical, social, cultural, economic and ecological significance.

Courses you will take & College credit:

The three Understory courses interweave with and inform each other and often feel like one holistic interdisciplinary course.  We utilize the journal across courses as a primary tool of recording and reflection.  All three courses are rooted in a social and environmental justice lens.

If you are interested in receiving college credit, contact us. We are currently working towards offering college credit. This fall we will work with you and your college to help you receive credit for The Understory. 

Homestead Ecology: Cultivating Abundance

What are the skills, understandings, and practices that allow us to work within an ecosystem to produce abundance?  How do worldviews shape human-ecological interactions?  How do we practice reciprocity with the living world?  How does the life of the body inform the life of the spirit?  What are the criteria by which we choose between traditional and modern methods?  What does the homestead contribute to a regenerative economy, to new metrics of success?  

In this interdisciplinary humanities course we draw heavily upon your daily lived experience on the homestead to explore these questions.  Additional voices from the community, guest teachers, and prominent literary voices from indigenous, bioregional, homesteading and permaculture traditions enrich your exploration of these topics.  For the capstone, you will choose a physical project through which you will demonstrate deep understanding of the philosophy and practice of a specific subsistence skill.

Applied Forest Ecology in a Changing Climate

The forest ecosystem is the source of all life at Maine Local Living School.  The forest provides garden nutrients, maple sugar, nuts, fiber, building materials, goat food, fuel, water, antibacterial ointment, powerful medicines, and, of course, oxygen.  How can we work with the forest to enhance carbon sequestration and biodiversity while providing the human community with forest products?  

Your investigation is both practical and academic.  Emphasizing hands-on observation and study, we delve into field identification techniques, ecosystem dynamics, tree morphology and natural history.  You also learn to think like a forest, fell trees with axe and saw, and sharpen tools.  As a capstone project you and a partner make and enact a management plan for a 1000 square foot section of forest.  Your knowledge of succession, soils, pests and blights, and climate projections will inform your decisions as you plant, thin, cull disease, and tend diversity.

Re-storying Place: Local History, Justice and the Literary Voice

What are the stories of this land? What are the stories of its people? What are the understandings and practices that will bend the arc of our collective story toward wise and just inhabitation? This is an interdisciplinary humanities course in which you make sense of the history of this place through the development of your literary voice. Temple Maine was colonized largely by Finnish immigrants in the late 1700’s. Surrounding our campus are the empty cellar holes of these earlier inhabitants. As we uncover their story we must grapple with larger questions: What were the 12,000 years of pre-colonial life like for the Eastern Abenaki? What was the story the settlers brought with them? Why do some cultures, but not others, engage in conquest? What is the continuing story of colonization in the place we call Maine? Indigenous authors, poets, local authors, scholars, and the land itself all inform your inquiry. This sort of history is soul work, it questions the very yearnings, motives and values of our ancestors and in so doing shines a light on ourselves. Emphasis will be placed on finding your voice as a writer and the power of literary expression as a tool for change.

Tuition & Scholarships:

Tuition includes 9 weeks of ecological housing, nourishing and delicious food, a full curriculum complete with accomplished mentors, guest teachers and elective classes, your own axe and knife, in-course travel, and all materials and supplies for academics and handwork projects.

In all ecological systems, resources cycle through different forms. Surplus leaves are laid down on the forest floor to feed new growth. Your tuition is a part of this cycle. If you are able to pay the full tuition, we need you to, as you are enabling others to enter the circle.

We have a generous scholarship program. More than half of our students receive scholarship funds, and we offer awards of 10% – 80% tuition reduction.  If tuition is an obstacle to your participation, please contact us. We want to make this circle accessible to all.  Click here if you are funding this experience independently. Click here if you are funding this experience with the help of family/friends

2022 Fall Immersion –  $12,500


“At Maine Local Living School we came to understand a philosophy of wholeness wherein our actions form a cycle, borrowing from the earth and returning to it constantly. The experience provided us with a means to live well in a spiritually and physically sustainable way, and gave us the space to explore what that means to us. I will carry with me always the lessons I have learned.”


“Everyday we are a part of everything.
Every night I rest knowing exactly where we are meant to be:
Satisfied, completely in love, with all the life that surrounds me.”


“You feel so engaged in the process of living, you work and watch and eat and laugh and create and try and wonder.”  


So much work has been loved into this land, and into its welcome of humanity. I sense in dreaming how much is possible now, because of the work that has been done. In your land I feel, tangibly, how work creates possibility, and how possibility enables work.”