BACKUS -- Jason Edens and B.J. Allen of Backus live off their land and try to be as energy efficient as they can.
They grow a good portion of their food, and their heat and hot water are provided by the sun through solar panels. They plan to install 30 more solar panels to have enough energy for electricity.
"We plan to be totally off the grid once the 30 panels are installed," said Edens.
Jason Edens and B.J. Allen's home in Backus is heated by these three four-foot wide by eight-foot long solar panels. The couple also has 30 smaller solar electric panels to incorporate into their home. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger
Edens and Allen said living simply is one of the things that attracted them to each other. They have been married for seven years. They both believe solar energy is the way to go. They said society has reached its peak with fossil fuels and the number of fuels available in the future will decrease.
They prefer solar energy because the power is provided by the sun and it does not pollute the air, like fossil fuels.
"If it's good for the environment, it is good for your health; and if it's good for your health, it has to be good on your pocketbook," said Edens.
Edens said solar heat and electricity save money in the long run. He said families can qualify for fuel assistance through the state to help pay their bills if they use solar energy.
Jason Edens and his wife, B.J. Allen, talked about how well their vegetables grew this summer, including the different types of lettuce produce. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger
Solar systems also help improve the environment and a person's health, Edens said. Another advantage to solar energy is a person does not have to worry about electricity prices and power outages.
Edens founded the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, a nonprofit organization that installs solar heating systems to low-income households. The nonprofit also sells solar electrical and wind equipment.
"We believe that renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, presents a viable alternative to fossil fuels that is both environmentally sound and socially empowering," Edens said.
RREA also provides hands-on training and internship opportunities in renewable energy design and installation to students at the Pine River-Backus Alternative Learning Center, where Edens is a teacher.
Edens said his students learn how to create solar heating systems and other equipment that can be operated by solar energy, such as a lawn mower. His students built a renewable energy demonstration trailer that stores batteries and stereo equipment that is used as an education tool for solar energy.
This battery-powered lawn mower was built by Jason Edens' class at Pine River-Backus School. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger
Edens and Allen raise chickens that produce six eggs a day. They do not butcher the chickens because they are vegetarians.
The couple grows a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as apples, cherries, plums, carrots, different lettuces and edible potted peas.
"We still have to go to the grocery store for food," said Allen. "We are just starting out. I'm not going to grow wheat and I like bread."
Having good soil to produce enough vegetables and fruits is a lifelong process, the couple said. They do a lot of mulching and add manure to their sandy soil.
The couple is in the process of building a four-season solar greenhouse to allow them to produce vegetables and fruit year-round. Once the greenhouse is up and running, they will be able to can and store more food for the winter.
Second in a series
Oct. 15 -- Kathy and Steve Connell of Sebeka rely on the sun for their home's power and use generators as backups.
Friday -- Jason Edens and B.J. Allen of Backus live off their land and try to be as energy efficient as possible.
Oct. 29 -- A goal of the Hunt Utilities Group research campus in Pine River is to heat and cool every building on the campus without fossil fuel.
Edens and Allen are constructing the greenhouse where an old house used to be. They removed the old foundation and block walls by hand before they began building.
"People think we are insane," said Edens. "But, by doing this by hand we get a workout, there's no cost and we are recycling everything so it is good for the environment."
On the couple's property, Allen grows organic flowers that she sells. Allen, who owns The Flower Girl, said her side business allows her to stay home more, which in return saves energy since she does not have to drive as much. Allen, who also works in the Pine River-Backus School District, said she does not put any pesticides or chemicals on the flowers she grows, such as scabiosa and delphinium. She said this is more environmentally safe and healthy.
Allen said, "The flowers I grow are grown locally right here in Pine River, so they don't have to be shipped halfway around the world full of chemicals like most of the flowers found in the flower shops."
Allen said living simply is not for everyone. However, she said each person can do one or two things, such as walking to work, to conserve energy.
"I don't want people to feel guilty and I don't want to be a role model," said Allen.
Edens said, "The things we are doing are not new. We are not reinventing the wheel. These simple techniques have been tried."
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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