Zach Brown, Executive Director
Zach grew up surrounded by the wilderness of Southeast Alaska. With parents in the National Park Service, Zach had ample opportunity as a boy to explore the mountains and fjords of this region, experiences that gave him a lasting love of the natural world.
Attending college in Southern California, Zach studied chemistry and biology. When the opportunity came to travel to the Arctic, his life changed forever. Zach spent a field season in the high Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, observing how seabirds are responding to a changing climate. This unforgettable experience led Zach to pursue a PhD at Stanford University, where he continued to study how changing sea ice affects the marine biological communities of the polar regions, especially the phytoplankton that form the first link of the food chain. During his time at Stanford, Zach was thrilled to undertake multiple research expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.
Completing his PhD studies in spring 2014, Zach set off on a 4-month, 2300-mile solo trek, hiking and paddling from Stanford to his Alaskan homeland, to spread the word about creating Inian Islands Institute, where he now serves as founding director.
Colter Barnes, Lexie & Jordan Hayes, Homesteading Residents
Colter, Lexie & Jordan are Inian’s dream team Homesteading residents. They are the constant presence that keeps things running, (and everyone fed!) at our remote field school. No easy task, but with their combined skills, they make it look like a breeze. Learn more about each of them in their personal bios below:
Hi there, my name is Colter Barnes and I am 34 years old. I was born in Montana, raised in Oregon, and have lived in Alaska the last 11 years; in Kokhanok, Wrangell, Coffman Cove, and now Inian Islands Institute at the Hobbit Hole! I have a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Montana State University and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Alaska. I taught K-12 math and science for 5 years before switching over to the dark side and being a school principal the last 5 years of my career.
Upon leaving the “bush” of southwest Alaska, I sailed to the southeast aboard my Ingrid 38 sailboat “Lionheart” and ended up living in Wrangell and Coffman Cove, where I met and started a family with Jordan and Lexie. While on Prince of Wales Island, I was also fortunate to manage 4 aquaponic greenhouses for Southeast Island School District where I got to “professionally” combine my loves of working with children and growing/preserving/eating food on the daily.
This brings me to my true passion… practicing, learning about, and sharing everything “homesteading”. I have a 2-acre homestead in the village of Kokhanok where I ran a WWOOF farm for 7 years, hosting 29 WWOOFers from all over the world. We kept bees, goats, pigs, rabbits, and chickens, grew outdoors and indoors, foraged, hunted, fished, and milled/built structures with local wood. I also have a (very) remote 17-acre homestead on the south fork of the Kuskokwim River I “won” in the state land lottery for $25. I’ve slowly been developing that piece of land with the hope of turning it into a homesteading school in the future.
My interests are basically everything DIY (do-it-yourself); growing/foraging/preserving food, brewing beer and wine, milling wood, renewable energy, subsistence hunting and fishing, COMPOSTING, tanning hides and skin-sewing, recycling, and basically anything that encourages me to use my resources (people, environment, skills, time, information, etc.) better.
“Do your best until you know better. When you know better, do better.” -Maya Angelou
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” -Annie Dillard
Hello world! My name is Lexie Hayes and I turned 31 the week after I got to the Hobbit Hole. I was born and raised in Wrangell, Alaska, another magical island about 200 miles southeast of the Inian Islands. My childhood was spent running through the old growth forests of the Tongass and playing on the beaches (and in the waters) of the Inside Passage. My first job was on a fishing boat when I was ten and since then I’ve loved everything about fish, fishing, and the ocean. I’ve been able to enjoy almost every side of the fisheries of Alaska: I’ve worked on the slime line, I’ve deck-handed on fishing and tender boats, I got a degree in Fisheries Technology from UAS, I interned with, then did sampling work for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and I raised salmon at Hidden Falls Hatchery. When my daughter, Jordan, was born I moved back to shore and started working for Wrangell Public Schools, where I met and fell for Colter Barnes. He inspired me to branch out and awoke in me a love for growing, foraging, and finding better ways to keep and use my food. As someone already terribly passionate about cooking, it was a natural fit. We moved our little family from Wrangell to Coffman Cove and spent two years with the Southeast Island School District growing food in aquaponic greenhouses, cooking locally grown, raised and foraged foods, and really thinking about the direction we wanted to take our interests and our lives. Colter left public education and our first stop after Coffman Cove was a remote 17-acre piece of land on the Kuskokwim River that he had won in a land lottery. The three of us spent 85 days completely engaged in day to day living. When we came back to “civilization” we decided that we wanted to share the joy that comes from growing your own food, building with your own hands, and really taking control of your own life. We started a business to do just that, Highway Homesteaders, then saw the Inian Islands Institute’s “Homesteading Residency – Call for Applicants”. The more we read about Inian Islands Institute, the more we realized that they want to do what we want to do. So we took a chance and applied. And now here we are, living how we want to live, sharing it with incredible people, and loving every moment.
Alaskan kids are notorious for swimming in cold oceans, splashing in every puddle they see, poking and prodding every fish or critter they find, and being hardy, independent, and curious. Jordan Hayes (aka: the Beast) is eight years old and absolutely no exception. She was born and raised in southeast Alaska and spent her early years camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking, and playing up the Stikine River. Her first job was on a fishing boat, beating her mom by half a decade, becoming a commercial deckhand the day after her fifth birthday. Jordan is a hard worker; she’s helped her mom in a couple different fisheries, tending for the Sitka sac roe herring fishery, and even spent a summer waking up a 5am to go to work at a fishing lodge. But, like most kids, she loves to play and is a very creative and imaginative child. She’s also one of the most kind, considerate, and loving individuals you will ever meet. She’s passionate about filling other people’s buckets. She’ll be the first to tell you how much she loves school and learning, cooking (especially baking), caring for animals, dissecting animals, building forts, hunting for spruce hen, archery, giving tours and teaching, taking care of younger kids, mushroom hunting, living out at our Kuskokim River homestead, swimming, and making friends. After watching the Inian Islands Institute video she turned to her mom and Colter and said enthusiastically “let’s go there!” And what the beast wants, the beast gets.
Erin Ohlson, Administrative Assistant
Erin got her Master’s degree in public administration from the University of Alaska Southeast in an effort to learn how to secure the long-term sustainability of the Gustavus Children’s Enhancement Program (GCEP) – a private nonprofit 501(c)(3) which offers preschool and child care services. Erin grew up in Gustavus, left for about 10 years after high school, and returned in 2012 to raise her two daughters with her husband Travis who is a fifth generation descendant of a Gustavus homesteading family. As many rural residents do, Erin pieces together many part-time jobs to make a living. Currently, Erin is the CEO of GCEP, a bookkeeper for both a private entrepreneur and a nonprofit, a supervisor for the seasonal Alaska Airlines service in Gustavus, and a City of Gustavus Council Member. In her free time, Erin enjoys playing board and card games, exercise, traveling the world, and her family above all else.