6 Families Who Are Showing Us The Future Of Homesteading
These dedicated off-gridders are blogging about their lives out of the system and teaching those of us still in it what it's like on the other side, from raising kids without 21st-century utilities to how to keep a yurt warm in winter.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CAMILLE STORCH
Henry Storch built a 200-square-foot cabin in rural Oregon by hand in 2003 before his wife, Camille, joined in him the summer of 2005. Together, they added another few hundred feet, plus two kids (Levi, 7, and Charlotte, 5) and a blog, Wayward Spark. The family is totally off-grid in their now-500-square-foot-home, using propane for heating and stovetop, solar panels and batteries for lights and laptops, and a gravity-driven spring for water. The couple blogs about daily life, runs a breeding and selection program for Northwest honeybees, and manages their retail shop, Old Blue Raw Honey, featuring the raw gold drawn from their own hives. “We are proud that our kids are doing astoundingly well in school both academically and socially,” Camille says. “They don’t seem to be scarred or branded as weirdos from their non-traditional upbringing and living arrangements.”
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF GOODIDEASFORLIFE.COM
Five years ago, fiftysomethings Laurie and Ed Essex left city life behind for a homestead in the Okanagan Highlands of eastern Washington State. Now they blog about it. The couple’s home is perched on a 4,200-foot peak and runs without public utilities, just a deep-water well and solar power. From home, the couple has a sustainability e-store, Good Ideas for Life and their blog, Off Grid Works. “How any people can say they left a cushy city condominium for remote living off grid on a homestead?” Essex says. “We didn’t just change locations. We changed complete lifestyles. Basically, we’ve learned how to survive on our own if we had to, and that’s a good feeling. We’ve learned more about keeping farm animals, operating new equipment, and plowing snow, taking care of our water system, well, septic system, and solar system. Most of all we appreciate the benefits of a healthier lifestyle: better food, cleaner air and water, and way more exercise.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY TERI PAGE/HOMESTEAD-HONEY.COM
The words “no running water” and “children” could strike terror into a parent’s heart, but not for Teri Page and Brian Thomas. Teri blogs about raising kids Everett, 4, and Ella, 7, in a northeast Missouri home that uses a water catchment and filtration system for all drinking and cooking. Water from the roof goes right back into the farm, and human waste is disposed of using a composting toilet. A photovoltaic system supplies electricity. “The only things that one might consider on-grid are a cell phone and wireless Internet,” Teri says. “We have built our homestead from scratch in two years. We started with a raw piece of land, and worked really hard to build a 350-square-foot home, solar electric, water catchment, gardens, orchards, outbuildings, and more with our own two hands. We rely on a nearby farm pond for bathing and cleaning water. Keeping two farm kids clean with no running water can be challenging, but otherwise, it’s our new normal.”
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF ESTHEREMERY.COM
Nick Fouch and Esther Emery are bringing up Milo, 7, Stella, 5, and Sadie, 2, while blogging about their shared family values of “permaculture, ethical purchasing, radical homemaking and downward mobility,” as Esther puts it. The Fouch-Emery yurt sits in a mountainous, wooded area of southwestern Idaho, and isn’t hooked up to electricity, water, or communication services. The couple carries water from a natural spring and pond for washing, cleaning and cooking; heat their home with wood; and use a gas-powered generator to run tools. Ester heads to the local library or coffee shop to blog; the couple hopes to soon install solar power and Wi-Fi.
“We are proud of our beautiful, expressive home and landscaping,” Emery says. “But we’re also proud of raising our children to believe they can live according to their own values instead of the rules of a broken society. There’s no question in my mind that ‘off grid’ is becoming a completely viable lifestyle choice. I’ve watched public opinion about our choices shift from ‘What the hell are you talking about?!’ to ‘How do you do it?’”
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF DIY NETWORK
Wendy Tremayne, author of The Good Life Lab, and Mikey Sklar, recently took their off-grid approach on the road. While a friend watches over the couple’s off-grid New Mexico house, online stores, and cat, the couple is blogging their way through a six-month road trip through the West. Their Honda Element’s engine runs laptops, cell phones, coffee grinder and juicer, but Mikey’s creative mind also powers everything he does: He uses a second gel battery and 200W inverter that charges off the car’s alternator and avoids draining the starter battery when parked. “We are enjoying the freedom of boondocking in secluded forest areas or just in the middle of town,” Sklar says. “Since we don’t need electric hookups, we can go just about anywhere without reservations or fees. It’s been fun to start our mornings bathing in a river, then find a coffee shop to gobble up caffeine and Wi-Fi before moving into the mountains for a trail run. We end the day at a brewery before camping for the night in a forest.”
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF RADICALFARMWIVES.COM
The Radical Farmwives blog is co-written by three different women living the simpler life. One contributor, Cher Brown, lives in Bugtussle, Kentucky since the the summer of 2001, with husband Eric, son Ira, 11, daughter Opal, 8, daughter Olivia, 5, and “Sprout Number 4” on the way, she says. The family isn’t reliant on off-farm income, paying their bills with farm produce, which is watered by a hydraulic ram pump. Their home runs on solar power, a spring-fed gravity-powered water system, and a thermo-siphon hot-water system for household needs. “Eric and I are both somewhat introverted and love the wilderness,” Cher says. “We wanted to live in an environment that still felt a little wild, and to raise a family close to the rhythms of nature. We wanted to spend our days together, as a family. To raise our own health-giving food and to be sensitive to the life and creatures we share this land with. When we first started out on our very isolated farm, there was basically nothing. Just an old barn and the 15-by-20 cabin that my husband had built. Slowly but surely, our off-grid systems for our homestead and farm have been developed as needs arise. Our systems are certainly not fancy, but serve our purposes just fine.“