Living and Giving Off the Grid

March 30, 2021Donor Stories

Chris Schimmoeller and Joel Dufour may live off the grid, but they are integrally connected to their community.

“I grew up without a telephone, television or running water. We heated with wood and hauled our water up the hill from a spring. But I had love, the outdoors and lots of books, so I always felt rich,” says Chris.

Both Joel and Chris grew up in rural poverty. Chris and her family were tenants on a tobacco and cattle farm in Woodford County. Joel was raised in southern Indiana, working on his family’s farm and in their small-engine repair shop. Along with his six siblings, Joel was home schooled throughout his entire education. In his free time, he explored the old-growth woods on his family’s land, read extensively and taught himself to play drums.

Today, Joel owns and runs Earth Tools, the largest retail dealer of walk-behind tractors in North America. Earth Tools serves professional gardeners and market farmers worldwide. All of its facilities are run 100% with solar energy.

Chris, a graduate of Georgetown College and Fulbright Scholar to India, has been involved in numerous environmental efforts, including national forest protection, regional water planning, smart growth initiatives, comprehensive planning and fighting natural gas liquid pipelines. She currently serves as president of Envision Franklin County, which she helped found in 2003.

Joel and Chris and their daughters, Natalie, 17, and Sophie, 14, live in the woods of northern Franklin County in an off-the grid, earth-bermed straw bale home that Chris and Joel built themselves. They are within walking distance of Chris’ parents, siblings and their families.

Chris and Joel have a profound respect for the land and are committed to its stewardship.

“The forests of the eastern United States are both precious and essential, yet they are in a continual state of crisis because of development, logging, extraction and neglect,” says Chris. “We need large tracts of intact forests for a stable climate and to support the biodiversity of life.”

In 1992, Chris helped found Kentucky Heartwood, a forest advocacy organization that works to protect public lands such as the Daniel Boone National Forest and Land Between the Lakes. In 2007 she helped establish Woods & Waters Land Trust, a nonprofit that assists landowners in permanently protecting forests and streams in the lower Kentucky River watershed.

To further support the environmental causes they care so deeply about, Joel and Chris partner with BGCF. They established the Fund for Wild Kentucky, an endowment to support efforts to protect, restore, expand, and connect natural lands in Kentucky and the region in order to promote functioning ecosystems. Additionally, they helped establish the Woods & Waters Land Trust Endowment Fund and the Dufour/ Schimmoeller Family Fund to support environmental work in the state.

In a testament to their belief in the importance of community, Chris and Joel donate 5% of each gift from their Family Fund to the Franklin County Community Fund (FCCF). “As individuals, we don’t know about all the good work that deserves support,” says Chris. “The FCCF has a local board that understands local needs.”

FCCF is one of a network of endowed community funds under BGCF’s umbrella. Each is overseen by a local advisory board and supports local causes. In 2020 the Franklin County Community Fund granted $30,270 to Franklin County grassroots organizations for COVID-19 relief.

“Joel and I want to support the terrific environmental and community work that gets done by nonprofits in Kentucky,” says Chris. “BGCF makes charitable giving easy, and we support its mission of doing good.”

To learn more about the Franklin County Community Fund and other community funds at BGCF, contact Jane Higgins.