Jayne Pearson holds an earth-oven baked pizza after a workshop at the Alan Day Community Garden this summer. photo by Jesse Pearson Jesse Cottingham


Jayne Pearson first came to Norway over three years ago. She worked at Cafe Nomad and the Alan Day Community Garden and is currently, a nursing student. She sang in choirs as a girl, including the Minneapolis Opera’s Girls Chorus and now runs the Wednesday night Community Sing at the UU Church in Norway. Though Pearson and her fiancé Jesse Cottingham live in a small off-the-grid house in Otisifield, they are in the process of designing a larger house. One of three siblings, Pearson says she was “not the forgotten middle child.” Though she lives far from her family, she is very close to her older brother Carl, who lives in Minneapolis, her younger brother Willie, who goes to the University of Wisconsin, and her parents, who still live in St. Paul. 
I was born and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota. My dad, an environmental toxicologist, works from home. He is a consultant on occupational health and safety issues. My mom works at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. She is a nurse, as were both of my grandmothers.
My dad has five siblings and my mom has six. There were a lot of cousins who lived nearby. We had a lot of fun. I had a dreamy childhood. I lived in a loving household.
I went to Catholic school. It was a pretty liberal place. It was not a place where nuns slapped students. We had great teachers. The religious education which included world religions and different spiritualities and cultures. That was formative for me.
I went to church as a kid, though neither of my parents was very religious. In middle school and high school, I joined a youth group at the Episcopal Church. Religion was just one element of my family life. 
I grew up doing a lot of camping in state parks. We went to summer camp and my family spent a week each summer at a YMCA family camp. In high school, I went to YMCA camp called Menogyn. It is located on the edge of the Boundary Waters, which is a pristine wilderness area with no boat traffic and no airplanes flying over it. You can only travel it on foot or in canoes. It is magical.
Camp Menogyn was all women. We did these intense canoe trips which involved being in the woods for a couple of weeks. To do that with a group of strong women was a definite confidence booster. It was pretty cool.
I graduated high school in 2011 and went to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Decorah is a small town with lots of energy. It reminds me of Norway.
I did a double major at Luther in biology and international studies, which was interdisciplinary and which included anthropology and political science. My focus was on Latin America.
I also worked in the college garden. They had a small vegetable farm that supplied the cafeteria. I had not gardened much other than planting flowers with my aunt. That was an eye-opening experience. 
My more narrow focus was public health. I studied abroad in Costa Rica and worked with the Ministry of Health on a public health project. We studied obesity. Senior year I wrote my thesis on the obesity epidemic in Latin America. 
I graduated from college in 2015. That same year, my younger brother Willie graduated from high school. I had always wanted to go back to Costa Rica. He and I spent a month there and then traveled south by bus through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia on our way to Chili. We were gone for five months.
Annie, my best friend from college had a food corps job at Roberts Farm. Just as I was getting ready to return stateside, she invited me to visit Norway for a month. I ended up staying. I applied for a job at Cafe Nomad and at the Alan Day Community Garden. I got both. I also worked at Sweet Roots Farm in Lovell.
I met Jesse Cottingham at the Community Garden. I ended up moving into the tiny off-grid place he built in Otisfield. We still live there and are now engaged.
I continued working at Cafe Nomad. I spent two summers doing a youth leadership program at the garden and also worked at Oxford Hills Middle School as an After School Program Coordinator.
I loved working with young people and seeing them learn new things, but it was not the career that I wanted. That’s how I turned to nursing. As an undergrad, I was interested in health care. I just hadn’t decided. Then, nursing seemed like a natural fit.
I am now in my third year at the University of Southern Maine (USM) in Portland. Because I had a BA, I had lots of the prerequisites. I have three more semesters, including this one. I will graduate in 2020. I live here and commute to Portland, where I have a place to stay. The program is really intense, but I like it.
USM has a holistic health minor. This semester I am taking nursing classes and also a mindfulness-based stress reduction class. I am still learning what my exact interest is, but I know I want to help people take care of their health. I also want to integrate alternative approaches with Western medicine.
I love living in the woods, waking up and walking out and hearing the trees and the birds. I also love living off the grid. We have solar power, but we haul water in pails from Jesse’s parents’ place next door. We heat water with a wood stove and in the summer a propane stove. We have a wood-fired pizza oven for cooking and baking. 

Living off-grid can be inconvenient, but it forces you to slow down and appreciate all the resources you use as a human. We have electricity and light, but we notice when the sun comes up and goes down. We are connected to the seasons and to changes day-to-day. It’s great to be in tune with that. It’s an awesome way to live. It’s my happy place.

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