The All-inclusive life of an Off-the-grid Raw Foodist Homesteader
I've written this saga about our raw food vegan self-sufficient off-the-grid year-round gardening lifestyle in response to questions and inquiries that we have received over the years from customers and visitors of Rawganique.com. I will describe the different aspects of our homesteading life, which includes solar panels, wind generator (no gas generator), our assortment of pet animals (ducks, geese, chickens, dogs, and cats), our organic garden, our love for clay-bottom ponds, and the many sources of inspiration that have propelled us to seek our current lifestyle. Look at the top of the page or upper right hand column for the list of articles available in this series.
It's interesting what actively living this kind of a life for ten years can do to you: well, yes, it makes you physically fit and emotionally joyful & exuberant but also turns you into a deeply philosophical thinker as every aspect of your life is a result of independent and conscious thinking. One day, out of the blue, the story of our lives for the past 10 years just bubbled out of me. It's all in the living of it and once you've lived a concentrated, aware, and busy life for a significant period of time, the experience is automatically compressed and distilled in your mind and the words just flow out of you when they are good and ready (kind of like what happened to Thoreau at Walden Pond). This series is the result. It is illustrated all through by photos from my trusty Leica which I take with everywhere (so many photo opportunities). Enjoy and long live the simple life!
I co-founded Rawganique.com in 2000, the year we relocated to our homestead on a small island of 500 households situated in the Strait of Georgia on the Southwest coast of Canada with a mild coastal climate similar to that of Seattle. Before that, I had lived in such metropolitan areas of the world as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Stockholm, and Vancouver, and towns in South Carolina, Vermont, and New York. My friends and family thought I was crazy to pursue this homesteading dream at the age of 27, and my new neighbors didn't think I would last 2 months out here in the country.
One of our many natural ponds. This one is the preferred swimming pond. The homestead sits atop the hill in the far distance.
View of the homestead from the valley below in the warm light of the evening.
View from our hilltop house and garden: A misty morning resulting from a cold night giving way to warmer air. Cold fog lifts as the weather becomes warm and sunny.
For our homestead, we managed to purchase a low-price 42.5-acre parcel that was once a clear-cut gravel quarry that nobody seemed to want as there was no soil (but lots of gravel, rocks, limestones!), and no timber value (there were a few straggling little saplings and leggy hemlocks that didn't have value for the loggers). There was no power, no septic, no phone lines. The property looked like a wasteland, but we fell in love with its raw beauty and potential: it had 7 natural ponds, a creek, a waterfall, and a hilltop location that looks onto a snow-capped mountainous horizon and looks over our valley and meadow below. Its varied terrain of high and low areas seemed perfect for a stand-alone homesteading lifestyle. It had a full South and Southwestern exposure so that during our long growing season there would be sunlight from 6 AM to almost 10 PM. Since we wanted to live a sustainable, self-sufficient life by generating our own power, we didn't care about the lack of power or phone line (most people did; that's why the property was on the market for 15 years with hardly any interest in it).
We didn't know that you weren't supposed to live off the grid this far north without a back-up generator, so we went ahead and built our cabin and system without any provision for the dim days of winter (we've since found out that we always have sun every five days, even during the worst weather the winter has to offer, which puts us just on this side of OK for our small system, thanks in part to our wind generator which harvests wind power during storms when there's no sun — plus we are very frugal with our power consumption, so it has worked out OK). If we had known, we wouldn't even have attempted it, probably. Beginner's luck, I guess. We have been living this way for several years now, and it has worked very well for us. It's a rustic life, but a comfortable one. In the winter, we shower Japanese style sitting in a clawfoot bathtub, pouring warm water from a coconut shell over ourselves. The hot water comes from the woodstove and the cold water from the rain. After a long day of work in the garden or in the office, it's a great feeling showering like this. It's a meditative experience. In summer, our solar batch collector yields 60 gallons of boiling hot water every 3 hours, which is more than enough for all our domestic use, even with 3-4 guests visiting. Our outdoor shower has a great view of the mountains (see photo below). And yes, we do have running water (we have a 12V pump that gives pretty good water pressure). 2010 update: long live the Japanese Ofuro (wood-fired hot tub). I'll be writing about the cedar Japanese ofuro that we just got soon: it makes all the doldrums of winter go away. It's so nice to soak in a hot tub out in the open; it relaxes you and eases away any tension in your muscles. Story and photos to follow.
If you were standing in front of our cabin and garden, this would be the view you'd see on a clear sunny morning in February.
This is one of our bigger ponds. There is a beaver family in residence. Go to Animals page to see beaver.
The waterfall becomes but a trickle in the heat of summer. Rare maidenhair ferns, wildflowers, and insects abound in this special ecosystem.
We built a log cabin with a 600 square-foot footprint (it looks much larger from the road because of the wrap-around covered porch and attached 25-foot greenhouse we use for growing subtropical trees) and proceeded to hand-oil all the walls, ceilings, and floors with organic hemp oil, tung oil, and linseed oil. Then we added 12 solar panels, a wind generator, and a battery bank of 12, enough for our modest use. Luckily, because our building site was a quarry and a clear-cut one at that, we didn't have to cut down a single tree to clear the site for our cabin. We have a refrigerator, freezer, washer (no dryer), solar water heater, and solar water pump, so our life is not that primitive. We even have a computer and an ipod for entertainment. A wireless internet connection allows us to work from home when we feel like it (like on gorgeous sunny days: we can just sit and work on the porch overlooking our garden and pet animals).
In the beginning, we decided to garden down in the valley where there is plenty of water in the form of ponds and creek, but quickly found that the growing season was much shorter down there than up at the top of the cliff where our cabin is, plus slugs are a big problem in the wetlands down below. In addition, it's always best to grow food right where you live. The added burden of having to lug buckets of produce up a 110-foot cliff via a steep gravelly incline will discourage even the most determined of homesteaders. So we decided to grow our food up by the cabin. But the problem was, there was no water and in our part of the world, one can count on 3-4 months of drought from June that could last until September. There was no source of water nearby except a seasonal swamp in the outback that had standing water only in the winter. But we went ahead with our plans anyway. (2009 update: we finally got a solar piston pump this year which allows us to pump water up the hill into our garden; you can read about it in the article on solar piston pumps.)
We knew that ducks love water, but we just didn't know how much! They are practically fish. Our ducks spend time outside of eating swimming and grooming themselves in the pond. Well, when the geese are not using it anyway. When the geese are in the pond, which seems like all the time, no one else is allowed to use it.
There was no soil up on the cliff, only gravel and rocks. So we did the best with what we had. We got a bunch of baled hay and laid them down on top of the gravel and planted our garden on the hay. The idea is that the hay will soak up the rain during our rainy winter season and keep the moisture for the roots of the plants to grow through the growing season. It worked and we got plenty of produce from our garden that first year already. Within three years of mulching, we actually ended up with beautiful black topsoil teeming with earthworms. Our soil grows richer every year, thanks to the tireless work of earthworms and other little critters.
We also planted over 200 fruit and nut trees (and lots more since) all over the property the first year, as we knew that these would take some time to bear. Read more on each of the aspects of our homesteading life in the articles listed at the top and top right of this page.
I would love to hear from you! Due to the number of message I get and my busy schedule, what with Rawganique.com and running the homestead, I may not be able to respond (sorry! sometimes I wish I had more hours per day), but I promise I'll read your message. In fact, I cherish every one of the messages that have been sent to me over the years. Thank you! — Touch
©2000-2009 by Touch Jamikorn