Treehugger profiles off-gridders Abe and Josie about their desert homestead

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66 Responses to “Treehugger profiles off-gridders Abe and Josie about their desert homestead”

  1. mdh says:

    Thanks for doing and sharing.

  2. Takuan says:

    small holders still have community and depend on each other, They just can’t see each other’s houses from their own front porch. In fact, when the only help in an emergency is five miles away, and you’re a hundred miles from the hospital, people try harder to get along.

  3. Anonymous says:

    No need to encourage another’s suicide, Mark. Encourage sterilization. If everyone is sterilized at birth, then only preindustrial societies will breed, and the Earth can drop back to its natural carrying capacity without any Malthusian solution.
    Plus the US of A will get an influx of immigrants, which is what made this country great initially.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I disagree with the opinion that having children is detrimental to the environment… children ARE the environment in the best sense of the word. This kind of ignorant thinking IS detrimental to the environment and a primary rationalization of genocide. If no one had any children we wouldn’t be here. Overpopulation of ignorance is detrimental to the environment and I state that as a fact. I’m not trolling here… I just want to contribute. There’s UNLIMITED ways of making the environment better that PEOPLE can do and are doing when they turn away from the FEAR MACHINE created by the ENERGY THIEVES!

  5. noen says:

    I read the article and visited their web site but I have concerns left unanswered. Specifically:

    Property, Taxes, Medical, Dental, Food.

    I suspect that these people are living what former guest blogger Douglas Rushkoff called “exquisite solitude”. Or in other words, they have not opted out of the system at all but rather are indirectly supported in their lifestyle choice.

    If they own their property then they pay taxes on it. In the US or Mexico? They are lucky enough that they are able to pay state and fed taxes due to their sale of a previous home but honestly I doubt that “Anyone can do this now.”

    What happens in the first medical emergency? I suspect that like most humans throughout history they’ll just die, right? What happens when they need dental care? What happens when their crops fail?

    What happens when they get old?

    There is a reason why humans live together in communities.

  6. robulus says:

    @Noen

    I misread your post as:

    What happens when they find gold?

    And thought you’d misunderstood the image quite spectacularly.

  7. mgfarrelly says:

    The notion that to be environmentally responsible one should not breed is simply nonsense. I think the “Idiocracy” argument comes into play. While the socially conscious are choosing to opt out of having (or perhaps adopting?) children those lacking those genteel sensibilities aren’t going to stop.

    Smart people should have kids, instill them with awareness, excitement and wonder to sic them on the problems of today and tomorrow.

    And talking about sterilizing people as a “solution” is loathsome, no wonder it came from someone too timid to even pick a handle.

  8. coaxial says:

    @11

    Well .7 is more than 3/5. ;)

  9. silkox says:

    We went through all this the first time these selfish people were featured here. This is not admirable living. This is not something to be emulated. This is not something that should be presented as good in any way, with the possible exception of the admirable work ethic. But why not take that work ethic and do something worthwhile with it?

  10. Dragonflye says:

    Well, it’s all fine and good that they can live off the grid in the middle of the desert in Mexico. Let’s see them try it in say, Northern Manitoba and see how successful they would be.

    I am all for green technologies, solar power, wind energy, clean fuels, etc, but I’m also quite fond of indoor plumbing and social systems like universal health care and pension plans.

    If they don’t contribute to government social programs, then when they get old, they had better keep on living off their land without government handouts…

  11. SKR says:

    Hi Abe, since you joined the conversation, how exactly does an anticlastic concrete shell not crack without being ferrocement?

  12. Anonymous says:

    ‘Off the Grid’ is a problematic phrase for people living this sort of eco-modern-rural-diy lifestyle because as Noen points out, they aren’t *completely* off society or its infrastructure (aka the Grid)

    Satellite internet implies not only the collectivist bogeyman of the internet, but even worse an evil corporate satellite! (I keed, I keed)

    Also, prediction: like Noen, I grew up in a decidedly unromantic farming area, and prefer the city. I predict the same for this child of theirs. The grass is always greener — would I be correct Mark in assuming these two spent the vast bulk of their life before this in cities?

  13. noen says:

    One more question:

    If they live in Mexico (I couldn’t tell) what happens when the local drug lords drive up?

    Humans are not meant to live alone. We are not sharks. Our fundamental unit is not the individual, it’s the tribe.

  14. Svenski says:

    In the 1940′s a guy named Marshall South made his wife and kids live similarly to this in a place called Yaquitepec (Ghost Mountain) in what is now Anzo Borrego State Park. The kids, now older adults, watched their family split apart because of the forced privation. They are still bitter about the experience after all these decades.

  15. Zergonapal says:

    I think I looted some Stimpacks and a Hunting rifle there on my way to Megaton.

  16. querent says:

    @ 29

    “Our fundamental unit is not the individual, it’s the tribe.”

    Says who? Humans are quite malleable. Quite varied. We have, historically, definitely been very tribal. But if myth is any guide to history, there has always been an important role for hermits.

    “Selfish”? meh. self-righteous collectivists, in my experience, don’t live up to their own altruistic ideals. gets kinda miserable.

    i am not belonged by the group.

    :)

  17. Takuan says:

    yeah, but hermits have trouble breeding.

  18. querent says:

    They need still suits.

  19. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    Noen — You are no doubt a lovely and intelligent person, but you seem to have a propensity for focusing on the darkest, most negative aspects of things, and ignoring the positive ones. At least that’s what I gather from reading your posts over the years.

  20. Takuan says:

    well then, grab the rope on her shovel and pull. We are here to help each other.

  21. SKR says:

    Thanks Abe, I’ll check that out.

  22. robulus says:

    What a pity they negated all that effort by having a baby.

  23. querent says:

    Tak,

    right…right…. near hermits anyway. or maybe if you’re convinced that your mate is just in your head.

  24. IamInnocent says:

    Tak: you’re a tribe of one of a sort.

  25. Takuan says:

    only genetically.

  26. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    Robulus: If their sole reason for doing this was to reduce their impact on the environment, maybe. But if they are also doing this because they feel it’s rewarding in other ways, no.

  27. cstatman says:

    ok, maybe I misunderstand, but. “raised their newborn without diapers”

    really? does this mean ‘disposable’ diapers, or ANY diapers?

    i am curious. cause no diapers? uhhh, i’d be walking in a floor covered with poo. My now-3 year old is very, uhh, prolific.

    how are they containing the poo?

  28. DaveX66 says:

    I agree. It’s admirable what they’re doing but raising a kid in that environment is a horrible thing to do a for so many reasons.

  29. Takuan says:

    try it sometime: the shovel holder swings and digs in , one, or two even, with rope tugs on the upswing to throw the dirt. After a few hours of steady work you appreciate the difference.

  30. Anonymous says:

    As one growing up rurally and knowing the couple, they are neither isolated nor hermits. Their baby is the happiest baby I have encountered in many years,quite curious about everything, much like his parents. The environment they live in is both peaceful and beautiful. The misconceptions so many of you have about rural Mexico or rural living are astounding. I don’t want to wash clothes by hand but I would love to have their garden!

  31. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    I don’t agree with you, Davex66. I think he’s a very lucky kid to have such enthusiastic, intelligent, resourceful, and loving parents.

  32. Takuan says:

    it probably helps to chant or sing to keep the rhythm.

  33. Xeni Jardin says:

    +1 to Mark.

  34. robulus says:

    Mark, I’d love to agree with you, but as an avid follower of tree hugger I’ve formed the opinion that having children is detrimental to the environment, regardless of any other lifestyle choices.

    It’s a bit of a pickle because I’ve got 1.7 myself, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with them.

  35. peterbruells says:

    @40 You don’t. You clean up after your kid if an accident happens. But as far as I know due to carrying the naked infant a lot, both parent and child will learn faster when it’s time to pee or excrete and hold the child over a designated place accordingly.

  36. Stefan Jones says:

    “Real futurists have kids.” — Bruce Sterling

  37. wolfiesma says:

    1.7! You sly devil! More hands to tend the farm and all will be well. :)

    These guys are inspiring. I’ve been bitching heavily about a retaining wall I have to build. But I guess if they can do all that, I can spit out one little wall.

    Wah! Construction is hard!

  38. Takuan says:

    if the extended family is there it makes it easier, but yes, kids do get that gonna-squirt-grimace and a fast hand with the potty can toilet train them in fraction of the time westerners believe possible. Ask someone in Japan.

  39. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    “I’ve formed the opinion that having children is detrimental to the environment”

    Like I said, I have no argument there. What I’m saying is, having a kid has probably enhanced their experience of off-the-grid living and that there are reasons for living off the grid other than a desire to reduce harm to the environment. If you go down that path of thinking that people are awful for the environment then you might as well kill yourself this very second.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      then you might as well kill yourself this very second.

      Whoa! At least wait until you’ve set up the video camera and assigned someone to put it up on YouTube.

  40. robulus says:

    Too dry? It was too dry wasn’t it. I thought I was being clever and now I’ve gone and got in trouble.

    I’ll just give myself a big clip over the ear and stop being a facetious prick then shall I?

  41. das memsen says:

    @ #29 – mexico is not overrun by drug lords, despite what CNN might have you believing.

    @ the naysayers- this couple is alone not because they refuse community but because most people don’t want to live this way. As more people choose this lifestyle, communities will form. As someone pointed out, millions of people already live “off the grid” by default. The difference is that these people are applying modern knowledge to live a higher quality life than what “3rd world” people settle for. I only hope these young americans share the knowledge with their neighbors- poor people all over the world need this kind of info. This will undoubtedly bring up new problems and challenges, but we can take it one step at a time. I’m sure this couple had a lot more resources than most people do (dollars in the bank, friends with the scientific knowledge, etc.) but that’s why we need to keep spreading the good word.

    I would love to live this way, but have no idea where to begin, so I feel overwhelmed and don’t take the first step. The more I see this kind of living, however, the more the idea becomes tangible and attainable, and that first step seems a lot closer.

  42. SKR says:

    Does anyone know how that concrete/fabric roof is going to work? It looks as though the concrete is in tension. Wouldn’t that mean that the fiberglass fabric is providing all the tensile strength for the roof (no ferrocement)? That just doesn’t seem like a lasting solution to me, but maybe I’m missing something. I have seen the thin-shell panels and roofs that they have been creating at CAST in Manitoba, but those are produced in a way that creates compression vaults.

  43. robulus says:

    @Wolfiesma

    No the .7 is a girl so she won’t be doing any manual labour…

    JUST KIDDING!

  44. MollyMaguire says:

    I am not saying these folks should not be profiled, but I do feel that off-the-gridders get more press/respect/props/whatever than people who choose to live simply within a densely populated and densely facilitated urban center. If the peak-oilers are right, when the s*** hits the fan, people are going to be moving INTO cities not out. It’s going to be that change in lifestyle that will have the biggest mitigating effect on our use of resources. All the same, I am dying to build a south-facing, turf-roofed, rammed-earth house someday.

  45. Anonymous says:

    I am the Abe that is profiled in the article. I have to say, I love these comments! So many naysayers! That is awesome, actually, because it makes me feel good to be able to accomplish things that are “impossible” or “impractical”.

    To answer a few questions:
    What happens in medical/dental emergency – we go to the doctor or dentist. In our current location, we get free govt health care, which includes full coverage for our son. But before that, we paid how and when we could.

    We pay income and property taxes, even though I disagree with both, but that is a whole other discussion.

    We built both house out of pocket, pay as we go. I do web design and internet programming, and we live within our means to realize our dreams.

    Any other questions can probably be answered by reading through our web site at velacreations.com.

  46. feralman says:

    All this is inspiring to me, particularly in the way Abe and Josie keep such an upbeat and positive POV. It’s the easiest thing in the world to criticize, but to do this: wow!

  47. Larkin says:

    Ok, this is really inspiring and all… but how the heck do you finance it?

    I mean maybe I’m thinking inside the box here, but if I go off to build a sustainable lifestyle somewhere off the grid… well my boss is going to stop paying me.

    Does this guy hold down a nine-to-fiver AND do the whole natural living thing at the same time?

  48. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    OK, I get it now, Robulus!

  49. Anonymous says:

    While I wouldn’t do this, I’m amused by all the naysayers who spring up in threads such as this to criticize someone doing something different than them even though the “something different” doesn’t hurt the critics, or even impact their lives, in any way.

    Look at all you cute little non-conformists, mad at someone doing their own thing differently than how you do your thing. I just want to give you an hug and a cookie!

    Someone wants to live off the grid in a mud hut and have bunches mud-hut-dwelling babies? Good for them, I’ll send a pie if I can find their address. I’m not going to join them, but I support them in their pursuit of happiness.

  50. mdh says:

    Does anyone know how that concrete/fabric roof is going to work?

    through trial and error?

  51. Takuan says:

    does this mean all those third world families struggling to get by as they have for centuries are “off the gridders”?

  52. Babau says:

    Why is there a rope tied to the shovel in the picture? I can’t figure it out for the life of me.

  53. robulus says:

    @Mark – Phew! (c:

  54. Takuan says:

    a rope means two can dig. They do it all the time in places where things get done by hand.

  55. hongaku says:

    @Babau – so two people can use the shovel together?

  56. Thebes says:

    Early adopters? I know people who’ve lived off-grid with solar electric for over 20 years. My wife and I have since 2002, and have had off-grid internet through one means or another for most of that time. Both my wife and I work from home and have relied on the internet and cellphones for our livelihood.

    As for kids (we have none, don’t believe in bringing them into this world), its a different childhood but I think most of the good parents off-grid give their kid a better lifestyle than those in town. Now, the bad parents…. I’ve seen some of those too… those turn out considerably worse.

    Oh, and YES, most people could go do this right now. Even in the United States. It might mean living out of a run down RV for a few years with one or two lights, a laptop and a propane fridge, but I’ve seen plenty of people who started with NOTHING do a pretty decent job of it. My wife and I started out offgrid on less than it would have cost to RENT a house (deposit, utility connections, first and last month’s rent)…. thats a hard life though until you get set up.

  57. Daemon says:

    That’s impressive and all, but I really don’t see the attraction. I don’t want to live on the grid so much as deep, deep inside it… but I’m at least as much a cyperpunk as anything else.

    All praise Tesla!

  58. noen says:

    MDH
    “noen, I think mark was just mentioning that you talk about the dark”

    Things which are obscure are more interesting aren’t they? I will admit that it may also say something about me as well.

    shecky
    “how do you protect yourself from meteorites?”

    It was just a joke and really it wasn’t about me anyway. I could walk out my door tomorrow and get killed but in general modern society is far far safer than in previous generations. It is a historical fact.

    “I suspect there is greater risk of harm at the hand of others by living in civilization than not.”

    About this you are simply, factually wrong. Murder rates per capita today are far lower today than 100 years ago, 300 years ago or about as far back as one would like to go.

    Abe — Thanks for your reply. I hope you understand that 1) I’m kinda jealous. I grew up in a rural environment and it was great. Castrating pigs was not fun but all in all, it was a good childhood. 2) Just… being older now those are the kinds of concerns that naturally leap to my mind. I think you have a right to pursue your lifestyle choice.

  59. noen says:

    Mark:
    “You are no doubt a lovely and intelligent person, but you seem to have a propensity for focusing on the darkest, most negative aspects of things, and ignoring the positive ones.”

    Selection bias. I don’t talk about the beautiful sunset I witnessed sitting with a friend nor how, to me, it feels like heaven just to be alive. I feel a deep sense of gratitude everyday that I have been given the privilege to experience the world around me. Why would I talk about how I spent 20 min a couple weeks ago waiting for the bus during the golden hour and watched the scrawny little tree across from me as it transformed into an incandescent flame of beauty? I also don’t talk about the disability I have that on bad days makes it difficult just to hobble across the room.

    I’m middle aged and very aware that my continued survival depends on the social services provided to me by the state. That’s why I asked what happens when they get old. What will they do I wonder? This summer I had a life threatening dental issue. What will they do when they face similar medical problems? How will they pay for treatment or will they at that time suddenly decide they like socialized medicine after all?

    When I was young I had to get up before school to milk the cow or cop wood for the wood burning stove when the temp was 20 below and the wind chill a minus 40. Our only source of water was a hand pump driven by a jury rigged electric motor to continuously fill the cistern. Having been there and done that the idea of “roughing it” sort of loses it’s romantic appeal for me.

    Shecky:
    “what happens when the drug lords drive up to your house?”

    The police come and shoot them dead. We have a neighborhood watch patrol that walks around and reports suspicious activity to the police, with whom we have a good relationship. Everyone does their part, that’s what a community does.

    querent:
    “Says who? Humans are quite malleable. Quite varied. We have, historically, definitely been very tribal. But if myth is any guide to history, there has always been an important role for hermits.”

    Ok, I’ll grant that. It’s just that being older than these young whippersnappers (get off my lawn) I guess I have a different perspective. I am more aware of how dependent and vulnerable I am. But that is just my perspective, all perspectives are equally valuable.

  60. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Nooo! They be stealing mah shovel!

  61. jphilby says:

    “What is refreshing about this couple is that they are not rebelling against modern times. On the contrary, they are embracing it … dependent on emerging technologies such as affordable DIY energy harvesting, satellite internet, and other modern advances.”

    Stewart!!! Time for another WholeEarthCatalog methinks! Stewart???

  62. mdh says:

    noen, I think mark was just mentioning that you talk about the dark more than the light, which struck me as more of an observation than a judgement.

  63. Anonymous says:

    Hey, this is Abe again. Thanks for the comments to everyone.

    @SKR – check out Latex Concrete Habitat for a detailed explanation, but basically the roof is a series of hypar shapes, which place the concrete in a double curvature with both tension and compression members. The latex actually gives the concrete some tensile strength, but the fiberglass fabric is the main tension member here. It is basically the same as ferro-cement, with a few differences:

    1) The whole system is a lot lighter than ferro-cement, as steel is not the tension mechanism. Also, the overall thickness is about 3/8 of an inch thick, making it VERY lightweight.
    2) It is cheaper to build, and much faster than ferro-cement. On the first section of the house, we did ferro-cement walls and roof, so we could compare both systems. Latex concrete uses less cement, and being so fast and easy, greatly reduces the labor and materials cost. This roof cost us $4 USD per square foot of living area, including all labor (our time included) and materials. We built the entire thing in 7 days, from frame to finish.
    3) It is way easier to do than ferro-cement. One of the big issues we have with ferro-cement roof systems is the overhead stucco, which is slow (=costly) and hand on your shoulders and neck. We absolutely hate it! With Latex Concrete, just slap on the first coat, and paint a coat on underneath. Its fast and easy on your body.

    All in all, I would say that Latex Concrete is the perfect roof system, but it is closer than anything else we have done, including metal roofing, ferro-cement, poured concrete, shingles, etc. I still want to build a brick vault and dome, similar to Hassan Fathy’s methods, just for a cost and time comparison, and maybe there might be a hybrid Latex Concrete/Compressed Earth Vault system that would turn out to be as perfect as we can get it!

    Thanks for reading!

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