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  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

102: Looking at Homesteading

Howdy! My husband and I have been together since summer of 2011. Throughout, we've worked to support each other's dreams. I wanted to travel, while his bucket list included walking in his ancestor's footsteps in Rome. I'm not a "someday" gal. If I'm serious about a goal, I'm making moves now. It's common to have a short anecdote in order to best encapsulate the essence of a person, in an effort to help a stranger understand them, or one's relationship to them. The story my husband shares, when describing me, is how he always wanted to travel. Everybody does. But we got together and I didn't drop the subject. For me, it wasn't a dream but a goal, and I got to work to make it happen. The moment we graduated from college, we got our passports, and as soon as we were settled in with jobs, I planned that trip, looking for (and finding) discounted flights.

This isn't a one-way street though. In 2013, I wanted to be a tattoo artist. He walked out to a bad neighborhood every week night, to escort me home from the shop, so I wouldn't be in danger. No matter how crazy the stories I returned with, he waited until I was ready to quit to admit that he felt tattooing was never the best fit for me—at least in that area—with the way some artists and clients alike, were either directly disrespectful to my face, or loudly threatening of others. Once I have a plan in motion, he finds ways to be supportive. And as soon as he establishes what he wants, I drive us towards it. He always wanted a dog. A week out from our first dog-friendly apartment, I began the hunt, sending out applications for potential pups. I love him, but when it comes to his wants, his dreams, he's a "someday" guy. Without a plan, without accomplishing and checking off steps, that dream isn't a goal. It's a fantasy. It's so easy to slip into contentment with the every day, and forget what one wants. Right now, he's working full time in a well-paying position he likes but isn't passionate about, as opposed to roasting coffee, which he better enjoys, so I can write & paint full-time. Obviously, should circumstances shift, I'll return to the workplace (and given inflation, I'm probably about to), but my point is, we have each others' backs.

And from day one, he's said, ultimately, he wants to fuck off to the woods. He words that differently, but my phrasing better encapsulates his goal. He sees himself living off-grid, in a cabin, on a self-sustaining homestead. Ideally, this is a bill-free, somehow tax-free existence. For my sake, he's been clear that this is a post-relationship goal. In his mind, I'm either dead or we've divorced, when he finally escapes society for good. Again though, why wait? Why not set concrete steps forward, now? He's never going to escape taxes, but with a modest property in a rural county, it's possible to keep utilities & taxes low. As an artist, I need supplies, minimum, meaning forays into town, but I also need to be able to showcase & sell my work. I love squirrels as much as the next gal, but at the end of the day, my work is intended for a human audience. I'm also not going to write off hospitals for the rest of my life. Not to mention the topic of livestock comes up frequently, and they'll require vet care. Aiming to bail fully on humanity is short-sighted, and this is why married men live longer than single.

He doesn't have to wait for my death to move off-grid, but obviously, the dream must be compromised. I hoped to buy an already self-sustaining homestead—ideally, a house with solar panels, perhaps a wind turbine, and a composting toilet, preferably with stream or river access from the plot. My husband is insistent the property, if for homesteading, be a minimum of two acres. It's not that homesteads aren't for sale, it's that they're rare, difficult to locate since there aren't many relevant marketplaces online selling them, and that those for sale, are way out of budget. The impending housing bubble collapse can't come fast enough. Most of the homesteaders advising across the internet, built their houses or live out of RV's—the nomadic life, a big part of the off-grid appeal for them. Ages back, RVing looked amazing. Unfortunately, corporations have bought up most of the lots where RVs can be parked, and raised the nightly cost to absurd amounts. I can't drive so I'd also be borderline useless if we lived out of an RV. Better to own the plot, have the house run off solar/wind/water, and hire a neighbor to watch the pets when we want to fly somewhere. Because as much as he claims being stuck in the middle of nowhere for the rest of his life, would bring him joy, the man loves to go abroad, to visit new cities, eat the food, take part in the celebrations, etc.

Eventually he could quit the full time job if he wanted, but initially, he'd keep it. Perks of work-from-home! He can work anywhere with decent internet, but that does make internet a necessity. Should we succeed at maintaining a low-cost lifestyle, I could probably find a part-time job in town to cover expenses.

An issue with establishing a small homestead in the U.S.A., is that most counties have zoning laws limiting what can be built on the land and how that land can be used. It's common to ban livestock, to set limits on how long campers can visit, and limits on how long RVs can be parked (especially if there isn't a traditional house on the plot). They also make being attached to the electric grid, and septic, mandatory. Washington state regulates compost toilets, meaning they are allowed, but they have to pass inspection. Many plots are located in areas where they're subject to regulations regarding minimal sizes for homes built, something first-time tiny-home buyers often learned the hard way when that trend began. Hope isn't lost though. There are counties with minimal zoning regulations, if not across the board, than over certain plots. I will need to call county clerks' offices to confirm the plot suits our needs before buying. While calling, I'll have to confirm there is road access. It's insane how many plots are for sale, dirt cheap, where the seller admits to never having step foot there, because they're inaccessible. One county with reportedly lax building/zoning regulations is Marshall County, North Carolina.

Eventually, once we've put aside adequate funds, we will buy at least two acres of land. The plan is to buy it out-right to save on the overall cost, though I'm open to a payment plan. The perk, of paying outright, is that we don't have to scale down any changes to the property. Paying off in increments generally means we will be contractually obligated to limit where we clear the land. I've heard 20% is about standard, meaning the buyer can clear 20% of the land, max, until the land is paid off. We'll clear a large enough swathe for a house and a garden. Cleared, the area will be covered with tarps or cardboard, weighed down. Covering the ground for months ensures that the weeds die. Ultimately, I plan on growing herbs and vegetables in box gardens, probably out of large plastic bins (with holes cut in the bottom). This allows me to move them should they suffer from too much rain/sun. Likewise, smothering weeds around the house will compost the dead plants, going towards nutritious soil for the gardens. Between the box gardens, the cleared route will be a path that doesn't pepper us with ticks. Unless we buy a plot that already has a house, we will also be responsible for putting in a foundation.

We're generally open to living in any state, regardless of their god-awful politics. Neither of us are trans, and right now, we don't intend to have children. I'll be a leftist dot in a sea of red. He's a Libertarian but leaves me to research the candidates, so he largely matches my votes. Voting is a bigger link to society than he'd like, but hey, we'll also need gas for the car so. We will take the probability of droughts, wildfires, tornados, hurricanes, flooding, and pollution into account, when buying. By pollution, I have the Ohio railway chemical spill, and subsequent explosion, in mind, but also the plume in Nassau County, on Long Island, in New York. We aren't looking to purchase land in the Love Canal, you know?

As for the house, there are many options, but most don't come with solar panels already hooked up. Unless we're buying a used house (which I would prefer), tiny homes largely lack interior dividing walls, counter tops, etc. Affordable tiny homes require a lot of work. He likes the idea of an earth home, a house that's nestled within a small hill, like in Lord of The Rings. That's a beautiful idea, and the U.S. Department of Energy stands by that it's super energy-efficient for keeping the interior temperate, not to mention it'll be safer if we get stuck in tornado alley, and flame retardant, BUT how are we supposed to build that? That's the problem with all these gimmicky houses. The companies selling them tend to be overseas, and after a few quick articles brag about their ingenuity, they go under. I can find a single company selling earth-home frames right now. The cost is higher than for a used trailer, the shell would lack all interior walls, let alone any wiring, we'd still have to build the floor from scratch, and that price doesn't even begin to include shipping. I did look at the Ecocapsule, and while I'm very impressed but how energy efficient it's supposed to be, it's so small they aren't even marketing it as a tiny home, but a fancified structure for glamping. Besides, as the product is built overseas, what would we do if it broke? Ship our house abroad for troubleshooting? That doesn't work.

The big thing I would miss is long hot showers. Collecting and filtering water is do-able, so long as we stay out of drought-country. Setting up a rudimentary shower that uses the collected water shouldn't be insanely difficult. When I lived in Maine, I visited relatives frequently, where in order to bathe, they heated the water first on the stove, then poured it into a tub. I'd rather it not come to that, but it would work. Showers, bathes, would be more labor intensive, and time consuming. They'd go from a daily means of relaxation, to a weekly or bi-weekly project of necessity. I'd rather have running water than not, but we'll see how things go. Any land known to have hot springs will be way out of budget. As for irrigating the box gardens, I'm looking at oyas/ollas. They're basically clay pots full of water, with a narrow opening at the top, through which they disperse moisture—after they've been buried—to the soil around them.

Once the foundation is in place and we've got a house on it, along with a power source (solar is probably the easiest, if not the cheapest), a means of collecting and utilizing water, and a working toilet (I vote compost, but being hooked up to septic wouldn't be that expensive of a monthly bill, assuming the property already has it attached), I could focus on food, growing and raising. I'll read up on what crops thrive in our climate zone, and plant those, as per the recommended schedule. We'd like a greenhouse, for germinating seeds, and protecting seedlings, sprouts, and plants that can handle being transplanted, after the first frost. We'd also like a root cellar for storage, which could be as simple as burying a lidded trash can. Fruit trees are great and all, and we'd plant those too, but namely, we'd be planting a lot of squash varieties, potatoes, sweet potatoes, radishes, carrots, beans , peanuts, etc. The sturdier and the more filling, the better. Right now, I have a very limited space where I'm gardening. I'm learning as I go, basically chao-gardening, but paying attention to what problems come up and how other gardeners are solving them.

We would need a wood stove or similar, inside, mostly for heat, but also to cook on when we can't grill, outside.

We would need a carport, but that could be as simple as tying a tarp to four trees, and then pulling the center of the tarp farther upward, connecting that to the trees as well. If the tarp doesn't come to a peak, it would be in danger of collapse, from too much rain or snow. We would also need at least one storage shed, for tools, and perhaps another, for art.

That first year, I'd get a handle on food preservation, learning how best to utilize our property, what's worth foraging, etc. If we have access to a lake, river, or stream, we'll fish. My husband would like to take up hunting, which is fine, but he'll need friends who know what they're doing. I plan to learn canning, methods for preserving eggs, how to make bread from scratch, how to make jams, how to make cheese, how to ferment an alcoholic beverage, etc, before we even buy the property. Right now I have a casual understanding of how all those work, but without following step by step instructions, and practicing, I lack those skillsets. I'm sure I'll make a ton of mistakes as I go, storing too much, or not enough, and killing plants. Not to worry though. We'll have the funds to grocery shop, plus whatever food we bring to our new home in the first place. We'll also be getting a large dog. I love my two 30lb pups but they aren't going to do well in a stand off against a coyote, wolf, gator, boar, or bear. A large dog can act as a deterrent. A buddy lives in rural Florida and he's got a lake touching his property. He's got several stories of shooting near, or at alligators, for taking an interest in one of his dogs. Mine are much smaller than his, and must be kept safe.

The second year, we'll get chickens, or maybe quail. They'll need a weather proof house all their own, feed, water, and safety. They'll need regular physical exams as well, and if the bird flu hasn't waned by then, perhaps vaccines.

I happen to be familiar with a family of farmers in Maine. They've lived on their property for ages, and every year, they learn a skillset to help them be more self sufficient. One year it was bee-keeping. Another, they took up raising goats, and learned recipes utilizing goat milk. That seems like a positive means of progressing. Maybe in the third year we'll build a kiln and take up brick laying, to enhance structures around the property. I don't know. We'll play it by ear.

If this all reads like I'm living in my head and I don't know what I'm doing, don't fret. It feels that way to me too. Still, the idea that someone will dwell on a goal for years, never working towards it, makes me very uncomfortable. For all his talk, my husband hasn't really been seriously looking at how to buy these sorts of properties, nor the market for relevant houses. Sure, he's watched just about every bushcraft video on Youtube, and he's talked to guys about going hunting, but he's content. When I suggested we buy a home, after we found a beautiful property last year (that was sadly already under contract), he started putting funds away for a house. But not his dream home, just a standard house we could see a future in. I'm not a fan of the concept of starter homes. In the spirit of Ms. Norbury of Mean Girls, I too am a pusher. Better to get the right house from the get-go and make it ours. If he's serious about going off-grid, then why would we buy a place in the suburbs? Just to sell it later? So I'm doing the research and talking to people and compiling resources. We've got plenty of time to figure stuff out. The housing market hasn't crashed yet!

As for those resources, here are some that I've found promising. I tried to stick with free resources but sometimes learning costs money. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Cheap Land For Sale:

  • Land Century: Purchase land by making monthly payments under $1000

  • Land Flip: Purchase land outright or with monthly payments. I've set a cap of $5000 in the search. There are mostly properties in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. Most of the plots, without a ton of hoops to jump through, are in the desert. At a glance, Sierra Blanca of Hacienda County and Valentine of Jeff Davis County Texas, Ramah of McKinley County New Mexico, Holbrook of Navajo County Arizona, Edwards of Kern County California, appear to have lax legislation regarding what can be built, and how long campers can remain on their property. Specifically, Costilla County Colorado can't give that land away because there are too many regulations attached. It is expensive to build a house from scratch and connect it to the grid, so counties insisting on that, when selling empty plots, are setting themselves up for that land to sit unused for a while.

Eco or Tiny Homes For Sale:

  • Green Homes: They offer a selection of off-grid, energy-efficient, and rammed earth homes for sale. These are generally not cheap.

  • Green Magic Homes: These are the outer shells of hobbit homes. They're not cheap and without contacting them, you can't get an estimate for shipping.

  • Jamaica Cottage Shop: They sell tiny homes that you can customize for your needs. I'm partial to the "solar cabin." If you intend to live on the property, I'd suggest ordering it set for 4 seasons, so there is sufficient insulation.

  • Zillow: Zillow is for buying properties. I've pre-set the parameters for a max of $50K, a minimum of 1 acre, with the search-term, off-grid.

Earth Homes Info:

Capturing Water, Info:

Solar Panels, Info:

Composting Toilet Info:

  • 8 Billion Trees: What is a Composting Toilet? The Dirty Truth About How They Work

  • Planet Natural: Composting Toilets: What They Are + Top Picks for 2023

Canning, How-To:

Making Bread From Scratch, How-To:

  • Wikihow: How to Make Bread from Scratch

  • Taste: Step-by-step basic bread dough recipe

Raising Chickens/Quail, How-To:

What To Plant & When:

  • Gilmore: Planting Calendar & What to Plant By Zone

How to make Drinkable Alcohol:

Foraging How-To:

Places for relevant Discussion & Asking Questions:

  • R/Homesteading: The community is for sharing how better to homestead.

  • R/Homestead: The community is all about sharing how better to homestead.

  • R/UrbanHomestead: The community is for sharing how better to make a small property, with nearby neighbors, be more self sustaining.

  • R/OffGrid: This community shares how better to live offgrid.

  • R/OffgridLiving: This community shares how better to live offgrid.

  • R/Preppers: This community is for being prepared for emergencies. What emergencies varies, and you'll notice there are a lot of posts about stockpiling weaponry or protecting electronics from EMPs, but there are also folks discussing making their properties more self sustaining. Some comments are extreme, and some posters seem to think their farm, in the center of rural America, is about to be ransacked by mobs of foreign gang members. There are plenty of sane folks too, but you'll be rolling your eyes a lot, here.

  • R/TwoXPreppers: This community is for helping women be prepared for emergencies. They've largely migrated from R/Preppers due to the other's conservative male lean. There is less discussion of stockpiling weaponry, buying armor, and shooting pets in an emergency here.

  • R/TinyPrepping: This community is for helping folks with small properties to prepare for emergencies.

Note: Today and tomorrow, most of reddit is on strike, meaning these subreddits will be accessible after 06/13/23.

Thanks for stopping by! If you're looking at moving off-grid, I hope you found any of this helpful. I drop a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!

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