Warba, Minn. — John Munter lives near Warba, a tiny town east of Grand Rapids. He has 40 acres of hayfields and woods. He and his wife, Sharon Therese, and their four children, live in a modern rambler in the middle of the fields.
Munter works at the Northwest Airlines reservation center in Chisholm, 50 miles away. But his heart is here at the farm. It was settled by his grandfather, a Finnish immigrant, 90 years ago.
Munter studied philosophy and earned a divinity degree. But he never became a minister. Five years ago he brought his family here to live.
John Munter has a full beard and wears round, wire-rimmed glasses. He says he feels connected to his ancestors. When he goes out to do the chores, he puts on a fraying denim jacket that belonged to his great-uncle. He uses tools his grandfather used. The plum trees his grandparents planted still bear fruit. Now Munter is planting hazelnuts.
"I just love being out here in the middle of the woods," Munter says, breathing in the sweet fresh air. "You can just sense the ecstasy in which everything adheres."
Behind the old farmhouse, there's a small fenced-in area. Three alpacas are pacing, waiting to be fed. The alpacas look like wooly llamas. But so far Munter hasn't done a lot with their wool.
"They make great manure," he says with a laugh. "And I use that on my hazelnuts, the garden, and the fruit trees."
Munter and his wife have tried selling the wool at a shop in Grand Rapids.
"And we hope in the future to make felt products -- you can make hats and boot linings."
John Munter has a lot of plans. He wants to be as self-sufficient as he can on the farm.
Twelve years ago he planted some hazelnut bushes south of the old farmhouse. They're protected from the north wind here, and they've grown to about seven feet tall. Four years ago they began producing nuts. He's especially happy with one of the bushes.
"It really just pounds out the nuts," he says. "They're not real big, but they're plentiful. Last year we got maybe two pounds of nuts from this little bush."
Another bush produces its nuts earlier than the rest.
"They're a signal to me because when the squirrels start attacking my nuts, they take after this one first because it ripens earlier," Munter says. "One day you can see a whole bush full hundreds of nuts, and the next day it's totally stripped. The next night they take the next bush, the next night the next bush, that type of thing."
How does Munter get any hazelnuts for himself?
"Actually I let the animals have them at this point," he says, "because I'm too busy with all the rest of my projects to process all these little nuts."
You have to take the long view with hazelnuts. These bushes are 12 years old, and they're just beginning to produce nuts. But Munter says in 10 years, he could get hundreds of pounds.
He could sell them to candy-makers, or just eat them. They're high in protein and vitamins. And the oil is as healthy as olive oil. Most hazelnuts come from Europe and Oregon. John Munter is determined to show they'll grow in northern Minnesota.
"They're great for climate change, because they bend and don't break," says Munter. He says they'd have no trouble surviving hurricanes, tornadoes, and windstorms. "If a forest fire burns it over, they'll pop back up from the base there."
Munter thinks a lot about climate change. He's convinced the disruptions caused by global warming are going to throw the northern hemisphere into another ice age.
"They're great for climate change."
Researchers say melting glaciers may be changing ocean currents. That could change climate. Scientists say the earth's climate has changed abruptly several times in the last ten thousand years. They say it can take as little as a decade.
John Munter says hazelnuts could be an important source of food if the climate gets harsher. But if a real ice age comes, he says he'll have to leave the farm.
"I'm hoping just to survive up here for a number of years in the colder temperatures," he says. "At some point my kids'll have to pack south, but we'll see how long we can take it up here."
In the meantime, Munter has plenty of projects to keep him busy.