Monday, August 15, 2011

Off Grid

I am building my home “Off the Grid”. I’m doing this for both practical reasons and philosophical reasons. Practically, I want to increase my resilience in the face of possible dislocations. Philosophically, I want to reduce my ecological “footprint” on the Earth. But this is where I’ve run into a philosophical dilemma: What is “Off the Grid”? Even a caveman depended on other cavemen.

The notion of the lone, off-grid homestead simply doesn’t work in practice.

Your homestead is only truly "Off the Grid" if you are willing to mine your own iron ore, smelt it, forge it into a saws and axes, cut down your trees and then work the timber to make your own furniture. Along the way you also need to build your cabin, grow your own vegetables, hunt your own meat, spin your own fibers, make your own clothes, carry your own water, grow your own medicines, make your own preserves for winter, mold your own candles, and cast your own pot-bellied stove from more of that iron that you smelted. Oh – and don’t forget to make your own gunpowder, temper your own springs, find your own flint, pour your own bullets and cast your own gun barrels, so that you can deal with the ferals that try to eat your chickens each night.

There aren’t enough hours in a day.

Mankind specialized for a reason. You need friends - particularly if security is an issue. If you look at places where self-sufficiency needed to be combined with some level of security (villages in South America, Afghanistan, Africa, etc), the pattern is always the same – small farms radiating out from a small central town or village. The village both allows people to specialize, and provides the security associated with nearby neighbors. Villages are connected by a network of roads to allow further specialization and associated commerce.

This is why I didn’t go down the “isolated farmstead” path. My homestead is being built on an acreage that is less than ten minutes’ walk from the center of a small town. There are three neighboring farmsteads within a kilometer on one side of my property and within half a kilometer on the other side we have a small school, a petrol station/shop, a country pub and a half dozen of the town’s residences.

Our water, electricity and heating, are not dependent on the grid so we have some built-in resilience, but we do have easy access to the advantages of a community within walking distance. Access to community doesn’t reduce resilience – it enhances it.

Off-grid doesn’t mean “hermit”. We all need community. You need to either find one, or build one.

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