The Thoreau College Fellowship Program is an opportunity to challenge and develop yourself across many dimensions of your humanity, in harmony with the cycle of the seasons and in the context of a community of shared values and striving.  With Viroqua, Wisconsin and the surrounding Driftless Region as an extended campus, Thoreau College Fellows are immersed in the life of a vibrant rural community of farmers, craftspeople, educators, artists, and social entrepreneurs, while experiencing mentorship and camaraderie in an intimate circle of teachers, advisors, and peers. Through meaningful practical work, immersions in nature, conversations about ideas and literature, workshops in the arts, crafts, and homesteading skills, and participation in shared community governance, Fellows have a unique opportunity to take stock of where they have been, who they are, and where their lives are calling them to go.

What will I learn and do?

The Thoreau College Fellowship Program is organized around the seasons of the year, so the activities and skills will differ depending on when you are here.  However, throughout the year, Thoreau College strives to offer activities embracing all Five Pillars of the Thoreau College curriculum – Academics, Labor, Arts, Nature, and Self-Governance.  All program participants work with a Guide to craft a program of activities that will meet their goals, as well as the labor needs of college enterprises.  

Each Fellow’s experience will be somewhat different, but a typical Fellowship would include –

  • A focused manual labor assignment of 10-15 hours per week working on the college’s farm, garden, and greenhouse operations, as well as upkeep and development of college facilities.  
  • Regular workshops offered by guest instructors on arts, crafts, and homesteading skills like cooking, food preservation, woodworking, foraging, fiber arts, and more.
  • Guided solo and group expeditions in different natural settings around the region.
  • Discussion-based, non-competitive academic courses, such as courses on local history and ecology, environmental literature, ethical philosophy, spirituality, and systems of meaning
  • Active participation in the governance of the college, especially a pertaining to the community life in the residence, as well as an opportunity to contribute to the ongoing development of Thoreau College

Here are some of the things you might learn and do in the different seasons of the year – 

SUMMER – June 20 – August 26
  • Cultivate a garden
  • Make raspberry jam
  • Make hay
  • Pasture sheep
  • Apply biodynamic preparations
  • Make medicines from wild herbs
  • Start a fire
  • Sing!
  • Canoe the Kickapoo River
  • Intern for a week at a local farm
  • Sell plants at the Farmer’s Market
  • Read The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
FALL – September 6 – December 16
  • Make sauerkraut and can tomatoes
  • Make cheese
  • Butcher chickens, deer, and hogs
  • Make sausage
  • Carve a wooden spoon
  • Plant garlic
  • Make biodynamic preparations
  • Press grape juice and apple cider
  • Identify and harvest wild edible mushrooms, nuts, roots, and herbs
  • Tan animal skins
  • Learn how to knit
  • Paint a landscape
  • Camp solo under a tarp in all weather
  • Read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
SPRING – January 23 – June 9
  • Make soap
  • Bake sourdough bread
  • Shear sheep
  • Prune grape vines and apple trees
  • Build and repair fences
  • Tap trees and boil maple syrup
  • Stay in a cabin alone
  • Make firewood
  • Paint a portrait
  • Clean, card, and spin wool
  • Weave a basket
  • Start and transplant plants in a greenhouse
  • Plan and plant a garden
  • Build a compost pile
  • Read Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Who is the program for?

The Thoreau College Fellowship Program is designed for motivated and mature independent learners who are interested in challenging themselves and getting their hands dirty, literally and metaphorically, in the context of a supportive community.  The ideal Fellow will have had some prior experience of independent living, such as attending a traditional college, living on your own, or holding a regular job.  We expect the majority of Fellows to be between 19-25 years old, although people older or younger than that are welcome to apply.  This is a great next step for someone who has finished a college degree or who has decided that traditional college is not right for them, or for someone who is interested in trying out life in a rural community.  

What is it like to live at Thoreau College?

Up to 10 Thoreau College Fellows live together in the Thoreau College Main Building, which also houses our classrooms and office, and is located on about 7 acres of gardens and meadows on the edge of Viroqua.  This is a new facility for the college, and during 2022-2023 the Thoreau College Fellows will play a key role in developing this facility and initiating gardens, animal operations, and educational activities there.  Most Fellows are able to have a private room.  The Main Building is about a 15 minute walk or a 5 minute bike ride from our other main site, the Thoreau’s Garden greenhouse, and other businesses and locations in Viroqua.  Fellows are welcome to bring their own bikes and vehicles.  

Viroqua and the Driftless Region are a hotbed of good food and excellent local ingredients, and food is an important part of the culture of Thoreau College.  Meal planning, food preservation, and culinary skills ranging from bread baking, to pickling, to butchering are taught throughout the year.  The Main Building includes full kitchen facilities and the Thoreau College gardens, orchards, greenhouse, and farm produce a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats that are available for use at different times during the year. Fellows are responsible for planning and cooking most meals, as well as for the purchase of ingredients beyond those produced by the college or partner farms.

Finally, as part of our effort to cultivate a healthy culture of presence, awareness, and deliberate living, Thoreau College asks all program participants to abstain from alcohol and recreational drugs during their time here, as well to limit their use of digital media, especially in shared spaces and activities.  Smoking of any kind is not permitted in Thoreau College facilities.

How do I apply?

The Thoreau College Fellowship Program is not currently accepting new applications.  We expect to open applications for the spring and summer of 2023 during the fall of 2022.  In the meantime, please use the form below to let us know that you are interested in learning more.  We will be in touch with you to discuss what we have planned for the coming year!