January 10, 2015 at 12:00 am #63624betsyParticipant
I thought I’d add my voice here because perhaps my experience will be helpful to people who are dreaming of moving off-grid.
I live on a small island with about 100 other people, and the whole island is entirely off-grid. We have no stores, no paved roads, no tourism, no public utilities. My internet comes through using my smartphone as a wi-fi hotspot, although it’s very slow because I’m in a fringe coverage area. I moved here in 1990, although I lived on the mainland from 2001 to 2008 when my kids needed to attend high school.
I am now single, although I was married when I moved here. I currently support myself through online content writing, but over the years I have done a wide variety of jobs: selling many types of artwork, making cards and soap and candles, working at the island post office, being a custodian at the school, teaching ESL via Skype (wireless internet used to be possible out here, but the server has dropped its coverage). Not to mention selling eggs and home-made bread, but those don’t net a lot of money.
For those of you dreaming about off-grid living, I would say that the first step should be to figure out your livelihood. I know that it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of from-scratch living (and it IS beautiful), but you really aren’t going to be leaving the rest of the world behind when you go off-grid.
No matter how much food you grow, how many animals you keep and how much hunting you do, you’re going to need a steady cash flow. Some of the posts on here seem to be a bit heavy on the dream of leaving the money-centered society behind — and believe me, I sympathize, having chosen to live somewhere with zero stores. However, off-grid utilities are by no means free:
To start with, remote connectivity comes at a premium. I just spent $300 on a signal booster, and my phone/internet bill is over $100 per month for a pokey non-streaming connection. House batteries for a simple setup like mine need replacement every eight to ten years (about $1200 total), and the pump in my well gave out after about 10 years as well ($650 for a new DC submersible pump plus barter to a friend for installation.) I pay $12 per bag at a dump to dispose of trash that can’t be burned, and $35 for a five-gallon container of gas for my generator. Getting firewood in for a long winter requires a ton of work and (in my case) some tractor help to get the wood out of the forest and up to my woodshed. I just spent about $500 for a new used propane tank and the crazy-expensive connectors for it, and now have to barter with a plumber friend to do the installation. Semi-annual propane fills from the propane truck are not cheap, and don’t even get me started on dental bills.
Those animals you plan to keep need LOTS of feed and straw, even if you let them free-range a lot, and that garden you’re going to eat from needs supplements, netting, cold boxes or hoop houses, and some irrigation. The sheer amount of hauling required to keep a homestead going is fairly mind-boggling, so you need access to a reliable truck (which means repairs, fuel, insurance, parking, etc).
My neighbors here live about as close to the land as is possible, including growing some hay and feed grains for livestock, hand-splitting shakes for building, home fermenting, food preserving, hand-building houses and boats, and so on. None of us, however, magically live without a source of income. Selling produce at farmers’ markets requires a substantial amount of transportation and infrastructure, and any other cottage industry requires marketing, sales and internet savvy, tools, transportation, electricity, workspace, and so forth.
If you’re interested in going off-grid, your first step should be to consider what type of pursuit you love that will make you a viable income, and then start building that business. If it’s the kind of thing you’d need local connections for, I’d suggest moving to the area you’re interested in and try renting somewhere for a while to check out the marketability of what you have in mind.
Build networks; talk to people. Parachuting into some unfamiliar location just because you’ve found some acreage to live on won’t be sustainable for very long. You will need to cooperate with your neighbors, see how you can fit in to the local economy, and become involved in local civic issues. This is my 25th year of living out here, and I’ve seen plenty of people land on these shores filled with dreams. Some succeed, others don’t. What makes the difference — what makes remote off-grid living sustainable at all — is actually your skill at integrating into the larger world.
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