"Real results require real change. It's not about working harder. The key is in conserving materials, energy, money and time to get more out of what you have. Since all things are connected, saving some of one tends to lead to savings of the others in a positive feedback loop that just gets better and better. Conserving energy conserves money which conserves time since you don't have to work quite as much. And if you have time to spare then you can achieve your greatest Dreams."
--Thomas J. Elpel
Escaping the Job Trap
Immersion Program FAQ's
Wilderness Survival, Sustainable Living, and Green Business Development
What are your ground rules?
As long as we are all reasonable, then we won't need a lot of rules!
Fortunately, we've never had issues we couldn't resolve amicably with our students. The ground rules are pretty basic. We have a family atmosphere, and we are mildly conservative, which translates to living healthy in mind and body:
- No alcohol, tobacco, or drug use allowed.
- Use clean language at all times.
- Please minimize use of the Elpel family's personal space.
- Clean up your own messes.
- Recycle everything possible.
- Take your turn with everyday chores like cooking and dishes.
Do I need my own wheels?
Our base of operations is River Camp, four miles from the small town of Whitehall, Montana (population 1,000). The nearest big towns are Butte (40 miles), with a population of 34,000 and Bozeman (60 miles), with a population of 39,000. Consider how long you can be comfortable in one spot with limited transportation. You might be okay on a bicycle, but you might also feel trapped after a month or so.
Whether or not you bring your own wheels, at least a driver's license is highly recommended. We often carpool and swap drivers on long journeys. Once in awhile there may be an appropriate time to borrow one of our vehicles, or we may need assistance to transport something or someone from one place to another. Having a driver's license greatly simplifies logistics.
How much spending money should I bring?
How much spending money you will need depends mostly on your habits. How content are you with a no-frills lifestyle? If you have never experienced such a lifestyle before, then expect cravings for such things as candy bars, pop, or movies... sometimes just a desire to spend money on anything.
Day-to-day expenses are exceedingly low. Green University® LLC is a fully-immersive program, with students living onsite and cooking communal meals. We typically harvest, process, and eat a lot of roadkill game (legal here in Montana), plus we forage for wild foods, grow a small garden, and provide basic groceries such as vegetables, rice and beans, and such. If you want expensive organic food, then you will have to buy your own. Taking all of this into consideration, we recommend bringing a minimum of $500 in discretionary spending money for the year-long program. In addition, plan on spending $300 to attend Rabbitstick Rendezvous in September (materials fees may be required for some workshops at Rabbitsick), and there may be opportunities to attend other gatherings and special classes as well, so it is helpful to have funds available to cover those events.
Will I be able to earn an income during my stay?
Tuition includes shelter and basic food, freeing participants to focus on the activities at hand, rather than going job-hunting and trying to pay rent. Any type of regular employment would be wholly incompatible with our schedule, or lack-thereof, since we tackle projects or take-off on adventures at any time, without regard to weekends or weekdays. However, short-term jobs, such as helping a neighbor for a day or two, can be squeezed in around other activities.
Helping out at Green University® LLC is expected as part of the communal living experience, and student participation helps keep tuition low. Plan on helping out with occasional construction projects and regular clean-up and maintenance work.
For those who are interested, it is often possible to earn back some or all of the Green University® LLC tuition. We may be able to find ways to collaborate on worthwhile projects, varying from producing books and videos to launching green businesses. Some of our past students have made a net profit from their Green University® LLC experience. In our opinion, that's the way the program should work!
Will I have access to a telephone and e-mail?
There is internet and phone available at the Elpel house in Pony, located twenty-five miles from River Camp. You are welcome to use the phone and internet as long as you don't abuse the privilege. Most participants have mobile phones, and there is good cell coverage both at River Camp and Pony. You are welcome to bring your own computer for internet use if you have one.
What is the climate like?
Here in Montana the grass greens up in April and the trees leaf out in the last half of May. June is often our monsoon season when it rains for days at a time, except during drought years, which are frequent. The wildflowers put on a pretty amazing show, starting at lower elevations in May, and rising up into the mountains throughout the summer. By late July the grass starts to dry out, unless we have a really wet year.
In normal years there are forest fires somewhere in the state in August, but they are usually far away. Our place is within walking distance of the forest, and a few hundred thousand acres of scenic mountains, lakes, and streams for hiking, camping, and recreating. In drought years, however, the fires seem to be everywhere, sometimes filling the valleys with smokey haze days at a time.
The first killing frost comes in September. The leaves turn in October, and they are really spectacular along the rivers. Winter usually comes to stay in November and persists through December, January, February and March. Overall, our winters are mostly sunny and dry. The temperature may dip down to -20F to -30F a couple times each winter, but we can also have a warm spells with T-shirt weather right when you least expect it.
There are hints of green and some really nice days in March, yet just when you think spring is here, we often get some of the biggest blizzards of the winter! We often get our heaviest snows in April, sometimes even in May, with at least one snowstorm (often several) during June, July, and August. That is the reality of life in the northern Rocky Mountains!
May I bring a child?
Children are welcome in most Green University® LLC classes, outings, and the immersion program. We do not charge extra for the additional person. We are a community, and we believe in the adage "It takes a village to raise a child." Students and staff usually enjoy having vibrant kid energy in the tribe, and you will likely find volunteers to assist with mentoring and entertainment.
However, as the parent, you are ultimately 100 percent responsible for all aspects of their care: shelter, food, safety, sanitation, entertainment, and liability. Our facilities have not been child-proofed and there are numerous potential hazards, including, but not limited to: knives and tools, campfires and stoves, dogs, buckets, bags, ropes, and a river and pond. As the parent and guardian, you accept all liability for the child's welfare at Green University® LLC.
In addition, our facilities are limited. For fall and winter, plan on bringing your own wall tent and stove or potentially a camper for your family. Be courteous to other students who did not enroll at Green University® LLC to babysit and may burn-out on excessive child presence. Be prepared to manage cooking and entertaining in your own space as appropriate to give others a break.
May I bring my dog?
We often have dogs here, sometimes a whole pack of them. Your dog might fit right in too, but consider that others have shown up with dogs and had to leave because dogs can complicate easy things and make some things impossible to do. However, we are flexible on the issue. Our program is still small enough to accommodate dog companions, provided they are reasonably well behaved and won't fight with other dogs or kill our chickens or chase neighborhood cows and sheep. Dogs do pick up worms from chewing on old bones. It's unavoidable but easily treatable. You may need to rent space in a kennel from time to time when dogs are incompatible with certain classes or adventures.
May I bring a gun?
For safety reasons, new students are not allowed to bring firearms to Green University® LLC. Come join the tribe first. Become part of the community. Take time to get to know us, and give us an opportunity to know you. Settle in for a couple months. Then we can consider your request to possess a firearm for appropriate purposes, such as Montana's fall hunting season.
For ethical reasons, we encourage hunting primarily by primitive means. Guns can give an artificial sense of power that separates people from nature and removes the killer from the act, reducing sensitivity to the sacredness of all life. Hunting with sticks and rocks or bow and arrow is more challenging, and it cultivates a deeper sense of respect for one's prey. Without the reach of a gun, one must match wits against quarry, which can be a deeply humbling experience.
Hunting by any means is the sole act and responsibility of the individual. Our instructors are not licensed outfitters, so we cannot legally guide you to a deer and instruct you in how to place the shot. On the other hand, if we are hiking together as friends outside of formal class time, we are all equally free to pick up sticks and rocks and throw them at legal quarry such as nongame animals like ground squirrels and cottontail rabbits.
Will the experience live up to my expectations?
Green University® LLC is a highly unique program. We don't spoon feed information like high school or college. There are scheduled events, yet not always. Green University® LLC is whatever you make it to be. At times, it may seem like there is nothing happening here... until you ask a question. Ask a question and discover that there is much more here than meets the eye. Think of it as a gold mine. All you have to do is dig a little bit. Keep expectations realistic, and you may discover opportunities you never even imagined!
What other considerations should I be thinking of?
- Can you get along and live with people from different backgrounds and different values and varying social and political attitudes?
- Can you cope with people with different habits, such as night people, morning people, gregarious, quiet, tidy, or sloppy people?
- Are you a self-starter? Can you motivate yourself without a leader to show you every step?
Ready for an Adventure? Join us!
Registration: How to Apply
Two years ago I arrived at Green University to begin the year-long immersion program, learning how to make buckskin and learning other primitive skills like fire making, shelter building, and edible plants. While there I discovered I really liked working with animal hides.
Today I'm at my first taxidermy competition with Amy's Animal Art Taxidermy, competing with my first mount. If you told me that two years ago I wouldn't have believed it. It's amazing looking back over the last couple years and seeing how I've changed, and how my life's path has changed.
I won second place in the amateur division at the South Carolina Association of Taxidermy show! Had a lot of fun and learned a lot too! Several people were impressed that this was my first mount, one said his first deer didn't look anywhere as good as mine.