Cheese making and wool slippers: Ely Folk School set to open

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If you want to know how to make cheese at home, some wise folks in Ely can soon teach you how.

Home cheese making is one of the classes being offered at the Ely Folk School this summer – a not-yet-open project that hopes to strengthen the community by providing learning experiences drawn from northern Minnesota's heritage.

The Ely Folk School will celebrate its grand opening on Saturday, June 6, with a live performance by Minnesota musician Joey Kenig.

The first class is the next day – a songwriting workshop that will be led by Kenig.

“We look forward to being part of the downtown revitalization that’s taking shape. The novel activities and foot traffic at the school will mesh nicely with the buzz created by the various new business openings and efforts of groups like Incredible Ely and the Minnesota Design Team,” said Board Chairman Greg Heide, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

The school held a fundraiser, setting a goal of $15,000 to get everything started and in place. Instead, they raised more than $24,000, the group said on Facebook.

Classes are scheduled from June to September at this point, and include:

  • Glassblowing
  • Basic first aid
  • Bike maintenance
  • Leaf printing
  • Flatwater canoeing
  • Traditional Finnish sauna
  • Log construction basics
  • Wild rice harvesting
  • Wet felting wool slippers

Anyone interested can register online.

Inspired by Grand Marais school

A news release in The Timberjay says folk schools are a Scandanavian tradition – a way to teach skills such as woodcarving, painting, boatbuilding or basket-weaving to others. The release says there are more than 100 folk schools in operation around the United States right now.

One of those is the North House Folk School, located a stone's throw away in Grand Marais.

The organization was founded back in 1997, and has since grown to include a campus in the North Shore town.

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The school describes the concept – taken from the Danish word and practice "Folkehøjskole" – as a way to share life-long skills and traditions in a non-competitive environment. It was popularized by Danish philosopher Nikolaj Grundtvig in the mid-18th century.

Heide told the Duluth News Tribune the Ely and Grand Marais schools won't compete – they'll serve different tourist groups, he said.

Folk schools

The Minnesota-based folk schools are a condensed version of what happens in many Scandanavian countries, where the curriculum usually lasts a few months, according to It's sort of like college – adults stay, eat and sleep on campus. But there aren't academic requirements or tests.

Instead, it's based on learning the skills needed to be a part of the community, Scandanavian Seminar says.

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