"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!
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.
- Please minimize use of Elpel family personal space.
- Clean up your own messes.
- Take your turn with everyday chores like cooking and dishes.
- Recycle everything possible!
Is Green University® LLC an accredited institution?
At Green University® LLC we advocate for hands-on skills and experiential knowledge and wisdom over paper credentials. We are not yet accredited, although we may pursue that option in the future.
Green University founder and director Thomas J. Elpel has authored multiple books that have been adopted as textbooks by accredited institutions. Most prominently, Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification is used as a textbook at colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada. Living Homes and Participating in Nature have also been utilized in college courses. Anyone can enroll at GU to study with the author and staff on these and other subjects.
In terms of degree programs, our Immersion program is most closely aligned with a Bachelor of Integrated Studies (BIS) in which students design an interdisciplinary, self-directed course of study tailored towards their individual interests, goals, and life path.
Fortunately, there is no need for a paper certificate to follow one's personal dreams. Green University provides a mutually supportive tribal community where participants have the freedom to find their own path.
Do I need my own wheels?
Our base of operations is River Camp, five miles from the small town of Whitehall, Montana (population 1,000). The nearest big towns are Butte (40 miles), with a population of 35,000 and Bozeman (60 miles), with a population of 55,000. 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 minimal. Green University® LLC is a fully-immersive program, with students living on site 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 a minimalist stipend for communal grocery purchases. 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 $300 per month in discretionary spending money.
Also consider bringing a canvas bell tent, or purchasing one after you've settled into life at River Camp and are ready for your own personal space.
In addition to Green University classes, students often enroll independently to attend regional primitive skills gatherings, such as Rabbitstick or Between the Rivers, and sometimes Winter Count in Arizona, if folks are looking for a winter road trip.
Bottom line: The more discretionary funds you have, the better, but you can also get by with very little.
Will I be able to earn an income during my stay?
Tuition includes shelter and limited 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 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. Some students have taken temporary jobs working at wild game processors, helping out on a llama farm, and even in the acting biz, as extras for a television production company filming a Fur Trade Era docuseries. These opportunities complimented and enhanced the experiences they were gaining in the Immersion program at Green University, LLC.
Helping out at Green University® LLC is expected as part of the communal living experience and the work-trade discount built into the tuition cost. Plan on assisting 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 after an extended stay. 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!
What is your refund policy?
We understand that circumstances change, and sometimes it is necessary to bail before the end of a six-month or twelve month Immersion Program. Our budgeting for instructors, teaching materials, and supplementary food is based on the amount of tuition received from students, so unexpected departures do complicate planning.
Nevertheless, we don't want to keep your tuition if you are not here to benefit from it. We will prorate your time at Green University ® LLC at $1,250/month, according to the length of your stay, and refund the balance of your tuition. For example, the pro-rated cost for three months is $3,750, and we would refund the remainder of your semester or yearlong tuition.
Will I have access to Internet?
You are welcome to bring your own computer for internet use if you have one. There is free Internet available at the Whitehall public library five miles from River Camp. Most participants have mobile phones, and there is good cell coverage at River Camp.
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. River Camp is near several national forests with 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 normally 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 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?
Yes, no, maybe. Preferably not. We often have dogs here, sometimes a whole pack of them. Your dog might fit right in too, but other people have shown up with dogs and had to leave because pets can complicate easy things and make some things impossible. However, we are flexible on the issue. Our program is small enough to accommodate dog companions, provided they are reasonably well behaved and won't fight with other dogs or kill the chickens or chase the 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. Please inquire BEFORE bringing your dog, thank you. We will likely ban dogs from the program altogether in the future.
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. It is a great community to explore independent projects with the support of peers and instructors.
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.