A lot of people these days are talking about how they dream of living in a sustainable off-grid community. Often their comments take on a wistful tone, as if what they’re looking for is only possible in some other place and some far-off time.
My advice if you want to live in a sustainable off-grid community: Start now, where you are. Reduce your dependence on centralized water, electricity, gas, and other “grid” systems. You can live an essentially off-grid life even while connected to the grid.
I offer tips throughout my book and this blog for constructively disengaging from dependence on large centralized systems. Note, if you live in a city you’ll still most likely need to maintain an account with the power company, city water/sewer service, and so on. Even so, you can save yourself a lot of money by minimizing your need for electricity and city water and all that. I live in a conventional, fully on-grid house, but have reduced my electricity use to less than 5 percent of the average USA household’s! My electric bill when I’m here by myself is only about $11; even with housemates it’s generally under $20.
But the real prize, beyond money savings, is the peace of mind that comes from being able to rely on natural resources readily at hand (sunlight, rainwater, wind, microbes) rather than being vulnerable to failures of large centralized infrastructure.
Now, there’s one grid you don’t want to try to go “off” of, and that’s the social grid. Unless you really want to live all alone out in the woods and grow or forage or kill all your own food and make your own shoes and never deal with another person again, you’re going to need to build and maintain some kind of ties with your neighbors. You don’t have to be best buddies but you do need to find ways to get along and work together; we all do.
Social cooperation is the most important element of building a sustainable community. Everything else follows from that. Growing food, sharing tools, sharing labor, avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort.
If your dream is to live in an off-grid community, your dream starts now, at home, right where you live. Even if you rent rather than own; even if you don’t have a roof over your head right now.
Off-grid living starts with unplugging your dependency on something. Pick something. Start where you want, and expand from there.
• Cancel a subscription (streaming service, etc.) that’s expensive, especially if you’re not using it.
• Try doing without an appliance you’ve always used, such as a clothes-dryer or dishwasher.
• Start collecting rainwater, even if it’s just a bucket under your roof-line.
• Learn how to make (or mend) something you’ve been relying on large faraway corporations to supply you with.
• Get a little solar charger as an emergency backup to charge your cellphone and laptop.
• If you’re not already growing or foraging at least a bit of your own food, start today. If you’re already growing or foraging some, take steps today to expand the amount or variety.
• If you love some food or drink that comes from far away, requires a lot of processing, etc., see if you can find a local substitute. Extra bonus points if you learn how to grow or make a substitute yourself! (Some local dried fruit, a tea made from a plant native to your area, etc.).
And finally, while disengaging from excess dependence on physical grids, boost your local social grid. If you haven’t done so already, go meet your neighbors, at least your immediately adjacent ones. You could also make a post on NextDoor (or another online channel such as your neighborhood watch’s email list or Facebook page) asking if anyone else shares your interest in building sustainable community.
If you don’t get any responses to that, try making a post offering to share something. Extra seeds are always popular, as are plants. I’ve met a lot of neighbors by offering seeds and plants via NextDoor.
Also: Buy from local growers and other local businesses as much as you can. Buying local is where the social grid and the physical grid intersect in a most abundant and beneficial way.
And a final note: Living off-grid isn’t about being self-sufficient and independent, not needing anyone. Rather, it’s about being self-reliant, and being inter-dependent with neighbors and other local people who genuinely have a stake in your physical and social and economic wellbeing. And, to the greatest extent possible, eliminating dependency on faraway, impersonal and/or centralized entities who don’t have any vested interest in any aspect of you other than your wallet.
Likeminded people are out there. We saw that just now when someone in a gardening group asked if anyone knew of any off-grid sustainable communities where people are growing food, etc. There are many, many of us doing this, as evidenced by the many people who responded to just that thread. The only difference between a lone person and a community, is that the lone person reached out and found their people. You can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t judge a person by their clothing or their front yard. Until you take the time to talk with a person, you just never know who might be your people! And oftentimes they are much closer at hand than you ever imagined.
• Grow Permaculture / Our Permaculture Farm (727-495-6145; located in Brooksville, FL) offers tele-consults to people interested in forming intentional community. The following is from my friend and colleague Koreen Brennan, one of the resident-principals of the farm. (She was responding to a question from someone in one of the gardening groups, who asked, “I have a dream of a community dedicated to growing food, solar power and sustainable living in Florida. Does this exist?” I thought her response might be helpful to some of you too, so I’m sharing it here.) “There is some misinfo in this thread that could be discouraging. Living in these communities can be heaven, it’s truly a smart way to go and there are many ways to do it. In most of Florida, you can be strictly on solar and battery power, but need to also have a grid hookup. You can catch all the rainwater you want in most places in FL and some counties will even give you rain barrels and teach you how to do it. There are a number of intentional communities in Florida, in various stages of existence. One place some are listed is ic.org. There are all different kinds of these. There are people creating them in their neighborhoods. We are doing that in Brooksville with our permaculture farm (growpermaculture.com). Don’t let anybody discourage you if you want to start a community or join one! It’s a really wonderful way to live, especially if you know a few things about how to avoid the pitfalls. We do counseling for existing or forming communities to avoid common pitfalls. There are some great books out there on the topic too, and other materials. Don’t let anybody discourage you, if you want to do this! The most successful ones are ones where the people forming it are dedicated to being persistent and are willing to get educated on the process and their options.”
• Online Permaculture Design Certificate Course from Grow Permaculture/Our Permaculture Farm: This just in!! Course starts May 15; visit the link for details, and register now to secure your space. At this time, the ONLY courses and events I am endorsing are either online; or outdoors AND within walking or cycling distance of where you live. This is GP/OPF’s first-ever online PDC, and is a golden opportunity for people anywhere to study and practice the permaculture design principles with some highly experienced and successful practitioners.