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Rail River Folk School co-founder Rochell Carpenter talks with fiber artist Jane Carlstrom at an open house Dec. 9. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

New school in town: Rail River Folk School gets start in Bemidji

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

A new school has arrived in Bemidji - a folk school, that is.

The Rail River Folk School has been established at 303 Railroad St. S.E. in Bemidji. The founders call it "a 'go-to' spot for all things local and sustainable."

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Jessica Saucedo, a self-proclaimed environmental activist from Bemidji; her husband, Saul, a carpenter who is originally from Mexico; and Rochell Carpenter, a licensed contractor and carpentry instructor from Laporte; hope the Folk School will be a community center focused on teaching traditional northern crafts and serving as a marketplace for local foods.

"We're hoping it can provide training on traditional skills in arts, crafts and culture," Saucedo said. "We want it to provide agripreneurial elements of helping families grow their own gardens and helping small-farm producers bring their products to market."

Caring for the environment has been Saucedo's lifelong passion, she said. When she and her husband moved from the Twin Cities back to her hometown of Bemidji, Saucedo met up with her longtime friend, Carpenter, who also grew up in Bemidji. Together they came up with the idea of starting a folk school.

Carpenter said she had been dissatisfied with what Bemidji had to offer as far as gardening- or carpentry- assistance programs for low-income families.

"I thought, 'Wow, this is something that is needed,'" Carpenter said. "Bemidji has nothing for people that have low incomes who often have to buy their food at Wal-Mart. I was really upset there was not a place to go."

The Rail River Folk School is located in the Up North Mississippi Landing complex, a restored 1929 trackside warehouse building owned by Jay Backstrom. The building is currently being used by the American Civil Liberties Union of Bemidji. The Folk School leases an office room and a warehouse in the same building.

Backstrom said he believes the building was originally used to store fruits and vegetables that were brought in by rail before being distributed. The building has since been occupied by a variety of businesses. He purchased the property in 2003.

"I think they have a great idea," Backstrom said of the founders of the Folk School. "I think they are on a good track. They have a unique space to work with."

The garage portion of the building will be used by the Folk School for workshops, entertainment and programs. It will be called "The Hub," to be designated as an area for local food growers and buyers to convene.

"Initially we just thought of an office space that would be nice to have a place away to launch this idea and apply for grants," Saucedo said. "But then we saw this space. The building owner has been really interested in our ideas. We thought why not just go ahead and jump in."

Saucedo said the building was their inspiration for their ideas.

"This is something that's been around for almost 100 years; this is the way people used to do stuff," Saucedo said. "The timber framing, the beams - we like to think of it as industrious. I think the space alone is enough to draw in a few people."

Saucedo said the group of founders went through "100 different ideas" before coming up with the name of Rail River Folk School.

"We thought of how the Mississippi River meets the rail," Saucedo said. "We would love to make Bemidji the first 'green' city. Also it was the idea that nature can also work hand-in-hand with industriousness."

It was only weeks ago that Carpenter and Saucedo started formulating their plan to start a folk school. All initial startup costs have been paid for out-of-pocket. Carpenter said she thinks it has been worth it.

"I want to make it all the things I wish Bemidji had, that's what I'm striving for," Carpenter said of the Folk School. "I want people to bring their dogs in for coffee."

Saucedo said she wants the Folk School to be a place where people continue to be educated.

"I really don't want to lose these traditional skills," Saucedo said. "I want my son, who is 3, to have a place to meet up with past generations, to listen to common wisdom and learn how to be self-reliant."

Saucedo said the Folk School will eventually become a nonprofit organization, although it has yet to officially file for nonprofit status.

The Folk School will blend old and new in marketing its products. An online virtual trading post will be set up. A calendar of events and blog will be established to allow people to interact, post messages and engage in e-commerce. A mentorship program where novice learners can learn from experienced crafters is also a possibly, Saucedo said.

When asked if the Rail River Folk School would be similar to the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minn., Saucedo said it would be similar in some ways, but also different.

"The classes that will be offered may be similar," she said. "But we want our classes to be way more affordable. We also want to go beyond classes, like learning how to build a chicken coop and then actually placing it into the community."

Saucedo said she was originally inspired by the Driftless Folk School located in Viroqua, Wis.

Some of the challenges Saucedo foresees in starting the new Folk School in Bemidji will be affording the initial start-up costs and narrowing down all of the ideas into one vision.

"We are going out and sticking our necks out financially," she said. "It's getting people out of the woodwork and into the classroom. I think the exchange of ideas is so important."

Saucedo said the Folk School will be collaborating with other organizations in designing classes and opportunities for the public. Currently the founders are working on remodeling the building. They plan to offer its first classes in January.

"We'd love to feature cultural events, lectures, poetry and really get this place alive," Saucedo said. "We love music, we love people, we feel like there is no reason why we can't come together and create a space for whoever."

Classes offered

The following classes are tentatively scheduled to be offered to the public in January at the Rail River Folk School (no times or prices have been set yet):

E Do It Herself 101 - An introduction to home maintenance and repair. Instructor is Rochelle Carpenter.

E Natural Home and Baby Care - A non-toxic approach to cleaning will be taught, as well as methods to reduce the impact of chemicals on the health of families, pets and the environment.

E Families and Gardens 101 - Easy steps to make gardening fun will be demonstrated. Permaculture approaches, soil amendments, composting and seed gathering will also be taught.

More information

For more information about the Rail River Folk School, contact Jessica Saucedo at 218-766-3837 or e-mail her at railriverfolkschool@hotmail.com.

To see images of the building, visit www.bemidjimarina.com.

A new school has arrived in Bemidji - a folk school, that is.

The Rail River Folk School has been established at 303 Railroad St. S.E. in Bemidji. The founders call it "a 'go-to' spot for all things local and sustainable."

Jessica Saucedo, a self-proclaimed environmental activist from Bemidji; her husband, Saul, a carpenter who is originally from Mexico; and Rochell Carpenter, a licensed contractor and carpentry instructor from Laporte; hope the Folk School will be a community center focused on teaching traditional northern crafts and serving as a marketplace for local foods.

"We're hoping it can provide training on traditional skills in arts, crafts and culture," Saucedo said. "We want it to provide agripreneurial elements of helping families grow their own gardens and helping small-farm producers bring their products to market."

Caring for the environment has been Saucedo's lifelong passion, she said. When she and her husband moved from the Twin Cities back to her hometown of Bemidji, Saucedo met up with her longtime friend, Carpenter, who also grew up in Bemidji. Together they came up with the idea of starting a folk school.

Carpenter said she had been dissatisfied with what Bemidji had to offer as far as gardening- or carpentry- assistance programs for low-income families.

"I thought, 'Wow, this is something that is needed,'" Carpenter said. "Bemidji has nothing for people that have low incomes who often have to buy their food at Wal-Mart. I was really upset there was not a place to go."

The Rail River Folk School is located in the Up North Mississippi Landing complex, a restored 1929 trackside warehouse building owned by Jay Backstrom. The building is currently being used by the American Civil Liberties Union of Bemidji. The Folk School leases an office room and a warehouse in the same building.

Backstrom said he believes the building was originally used to store fruits and vegetables that were brought in by rail before being distributed. The building has since been occupied by a variety of businesses. He purchased the property in 2003.

"I think they have a great idea," Backstrom said of the founders of the Folk School. "I think they are on a good track. They have a unique space to work with."

The garage portion of the building will be used by the Folk School for workshops, entertainment and programs. It will be called "The Hub," to be designated as an area for local food growers and buyers to convene.

"Initially we just thought of an office space that would be nice to have a place away to launch this idea and apply for grants," Saucedo said. "But then we saw this space. The building owner has been really interested in our ideas. We thought why not just go ahead and jump in."

Saucedo said the building was their inspiration for their ideas.

"This is something that's been around for almost 100 years; this is the way people used to do stuff," Saucedo said. "The timber framing, the beams - we like to think of it as industrious. I think the space alone is enough to draw in a few people."

Saucedo said the group of founders went through "100 different ideas" before coming up with the name of Rail River Folk School.

"We thought of how the Mississippi River meets the rail," Saucedo said. "We would love to make Bemidji the first 'green' city. Also it was the idea that nature can also work hand-in-hand with industriousness."

It was only weeks ago that Carpenter and Saucedo started formulating their plan to start a folk school. All initial startup costs have been paid for out-of-pocket. Carpenter said she thinks it has been worth it.

"I want to make it all the things I wish Bemidji had, that's what I'm striving for," Carpenter said of the Folk School. "I want people to bring their dogs in for coffee."

Saucedo said she wants the Folk School to be a place where people continue to be educated.

"I really don't want to lose these traditional skills," Saucedo said. "I want my son, who is 3, to have a place to meet up with past generations, to listen to common wisdom and learn how to be self-reliant."

Saucedo said the Folk School will eventually become a nonprofit organization, although it has yet to officially file for nonprofit status.

The Folk School will blend old and new in marketing its products. An online virtual trading post will be set up. A calendar of events and blog will be established to allow people to interact, post messages and engage in e-commerce. A mentorship program where novice learners can learn from experienced crafters is also a possibly, Saucedo said.

When asked if the Rail River Folk School would be similar to the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minn., Saucedo said it would be similar in some ways, but also different.

"The classes that will be offered may be similar," she said. "But we want our classes to be way more affordable. We also want to go beyond classes, like learning how to build a chicken coop and then actually placing it into the community."

Saucedo said she was originally inspired by the Driftless Folk School located in Viroqua, Wis.

Some of the challenges Saucedo foresees in starting the new Folk School in Bemidji will be affording the initial start-up costs and narrowing down all of the ideas into one vision.

"We are going out and sticking our necks out financially," she said. "It's getting people out of the woodwork and into the classroom. I think the exchange of ideas is so important."

Saucedo said the Folk School will be collaborating with other organizations in designing classes and opportunities for the public. Currently the founders are working on remodeling the building. They plan to offer its first classes in January.

"We'd love to feature cultural events, lectures, poetry and really get this place alive," Saucedo said. "We love music, we love people, we feel like there is no reason why we can't come together and create a space for whoever."

Classes offered

The following classes are tentatively scheduled to be offered to the public in January at the Rail River Folk School (no times or prices have been set yet):

- Do It Herself 101 - An introduction to home maintenance and repair. Instructor is Rochelle Carpenter.

- Natural Home and Baby Care - A non-toxic approach to cleaning will be taught, as well as methods to reduce the impact of chemicals on the health of families, pets and the environment.

- Families and Gardens 101 - Easy steps to make gardening fun will be demonstrated. Permaculture approaches, soil amendments, composting and seed gathering will also be taught.

More information

For more information about the Rail River Folk School, contact Jessica Saucedo at 218-766-3837 or e-mail her at railriverfolkschool@hotmail.com.

To see images of the building, visit www.bemidjimarina.com.

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