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Woman dies after being thrown from boat on Cass Lake

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Milt and Jamie Lee built their sustainable home in Cass Lake using earth bags, straw bales and a clay mixture. Their goal was to use no concrete in the home. Kayla Prasek | Bemidji Pioneer

Sustainable homes tour to be held

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CASS LAKE - To build their now 3-year-old home, Milt and Jamie Lee went back to the earth.

The Lees' straw bale home will be one of seven homes featured in the 2012 Bemidji Sustainable Homes Tour. The tour, sponsored by the Bemidji Sustainability Committee, will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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"Our goal was to build our home with no concrete," Jamie Lee said.

The home sits on an earth bag foundation. It was then built using a pole structure frame to hold the steel roof up, and straw bales were stacked to build the walls. A combination of straw, sand, clay, cattails and shredded paper was used to cover the straw bales on both the inside and outside of the home.

"It's been a lot of work," Jamie Lee said. "The basic structure went up in six weeks, but we've been working on it ever since."

The Lees started construction on their home Aug. 1, 2009. A final finishing spray will be applied to the home's exterior this summer.

"We both were looking at 'Whole Earth' magazine and got intrigued with all the sustainable stuff," Milt Lee said.

The home's windows and cabinets were all purchased secondhand to help the Lees reduce their carbon footprint.

"We're old hippies," Jamie Lee said. "This was the thing back then -- gardening and living gently on the land. It just seems smart to live in a smaller place and have a smaller footprint on the earth."

When the couple started working on the house, they didn't know what they were doing, Jamie Lee said.

"We studied books and learned as we went," Jamie Lee said. "We were a little unrealistic about the timeline for building it."

Jamie Lee said she would encourage people to go on the Sustainable Homes Tour to see alternatives and to know they have choices.

"There is a lot of sustainable design and innovation in our community," Brett Cease, MNGreenCorps member, said. "We wanted a big variety to show that sustainability has many faces."

Some of the homes on the tour are higher-end, but the tour will also feature houses that average Bemidji citizens could build, Cease said.

"We're encouraging residents to feel connected," Cease said. "Sometimes people feel like sustainability is far away in urban areas. We want to inspire people and show them what their neighbors are doing."

The Lees' goal is to show people that their home, while built from straw bales, still has all the modern amenities, Milt Lee said.

"We think our house is elegant," Milt Lee said. "Just because it's sustainable doesn't mean we are giving anything up."

The Sustainable Homes Tour is free and open to all, but registration in advance is encouraged.

Each of the seven homes has a specific time that tours will be given. To see home locations and tour times, visit http://greenlivingbemidji.areavoices.com.

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