Shannon

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I am wife to Stewart, mama of five, homeschooler, messy cook, and avid fermenter. This is where I tell our story... of building a sustainable off-grid homestead in a Christian agrarian community... of raising this growing family of ours... of the beauty and the hard and the joy in all of it.
894 articles written by Shannon

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Sometimes people ask us what it looks like to live off-grid. Like many words, it has different meanings depending on who you talk to. Our version of off-grid infrastructure has had many iterations in the five years we’ve lived here and where we are at currently is probably the most workable it has ever been. By that I mean that, while we still have more improvements to make, it seems like we have finally landed on the right tools for the job.

I thought the above picture of the back of our house was a good representation of where we are currently at.

Shelter

The house is just under 700 square feet, 400 of which is sleeping quarters. The rest is the kitchen with a small bathroom and a laundry sink area for washing by hand. At some point, Lord willing, I’d like to share more details about those.

This was the entirety of my kitchen while the current space was under construction.

The current kitchen.

This kitchen literally changed my day-to-day life; it sounds dramatic but it’s actually quite true. It allowed me to get past many shortcomings in infrastructure in order to let go of some of the excuses I had given myself for not putting in the effort to properly nourish my family.

It made fermenting and canning garden vegetables a simple part of my everyday chores. And I can’t imagine that I could have done all of the recipe testing I did for Traditionally Fermented Foods without the counter tops and kitchen sink setup that we now have. I am very grateful that the Lord provided everything for the building and that he put it in Stewart’s heart to make it such a high priority in the construction of the house. In many ways our family is healthier because of it.

Helpful Resource: The Solar House: Passive Heating and Cooling

Water

We catch rainwater and currently use two large black tanks to store it for use in the home. In the lead photo you can see the tank on the right which we elevated to bring gravity-fed water into the house. This goes to a hose in the kitchen sink, the laundry sink, and a bathtub.

Lord willing, we hope to add another water tank to catch water from the forthcoming barn roof. In washing laundry at home by hand for seven people we go through a lot of water. This new tank will be mostly dedicated to that use. I should also note that I don’t always wash laundry at home. When water or time – or both – are short, we frequently wash many loads at the laundromat when we are going to town for other errands.

Helpful Resource: Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond

Ponds

That “pond” at the forefront of the lead photo is actually the hole we dug to build our underground house in. For now it contains a solar-powered water pump which waters our gardens and fruit trees and as such has been a great blessing to our agrarian endeavors. 

We have two other ponds that we dug with a backhoe the first spring we lived here. Both are located near the main garden and orchard areas but the front pond has now had so much erosion that it is now more of a cattail garden than anything.

The goat pasture also includes small ponds for watering the animals and helping to keep water on the property.

Helpful Resource: The Bio-Integrated Farm

Most of the solar panels are located on this roof.

Power

We have solar panels (not pictured) that power a small solar refrigerator, minimal lights, and the laptops we use to work from home. We can also charge power tools and fans when we have plenty of sun.

Propane

Last year we decided to replace the small propane tanks we were filling regularly with a large one we wouldn’t have to go to town to fill. This we use exclusively for the cook stove in our kitchen.

The wood stove when it was shiny and new.

Heat

We have a wood stove we use for heat and cooking in the cooler months (mostly November – March). We also have a lot of south-facing windows which makes a huge difference in the amount of wood needed to heat the house on sunny days.

We put the wood stove in with the bedrooms originally out of necessity since that was built before the kitchen. Now we heat only the bedrooms at night (and sometimes during the day) and close the door to the kitchen. Most of our firewood has been reclaimed from a local sawmill or harvested here on our acreage.

Waste

Here’s the thing that’s a huge priority but no one wants to talk about. We have mostly used a bucket system since moving off-grid. Our first temporary outhouse was an A-frame with a tarp and their is a hilarious story involving one of the children and a huge gust of wind which tells of its demise. I’ll leave out the details of that incident but ever since, we have used what I call the inside outhouse.

To accommodate our larger family, and since we live in a neighborhood where outhouses are the norm, we’d like to dig and build an outhouse to go along with it, if the Lord wills.

Helpful Resource: The Humanure Handbook

So that is where we are, five years on. Looking back, there have been great changes to our infrastructure from then to now. It was admittedly quite difficult for a few years when our set up didn’t quite match the size of our family or the needs of our circumstances… but it certainly was a learning process and one I am grateful for.

And while there are many things Stewart and I say we would do differently, the Lord has been faithful through this process to show us many things about sustainability and, more importantly, what was in our own hearts. May He be glorified through this agrarian journey and teach us to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness…”.

beanpot

It isn’t the big, flashy foods that feed a growing family through the flux of the everyday. It is those staple foods left on the back burner (no pun intended) that give calories and nourishment – raw and roasted vegetables, sourdough bread, raw milk, plenty of chicken soup, eggs, soured porridge, kefir, kraut, lots of sweet and Irish potatoes… and, of course, beans and rice.

cuminseeds

We eat beans pretty much every day and sometimes more than once. This dish – or a slight variation – shows up once or twice a week to the lunch or dinner table, depending on what the day holds. It’s nothing fancy, but topped with avocado, onion, and sauerkraut it makes for a simple and nourishing (not to mention frugal) staple food.

beansand-rice

The thing that turns something so ho-hum into a meal we scrape the bottom of the pot for is the simple act of frying the onion. A generous amount of lard or coconut oil give the otherwise bland staple a richness that makes all the difference.

Everyday Rice and Beans

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup lard or coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1.5 cups long-grain white rice
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce (one pint home-canned)
  • 4 cups prepared beans (approximately three 15 oz cans)
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 1/4 cups broth or water

Directions

Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for several minutes, until the onion is translucent and beginning to brown around the edges. Add the cumin seeds and rice and saute several more minutes or until the rice just begins to take on some color.

Add all remaining ingredients and stir together to combine. Bring to a simmer, cover, and turn heat down to low. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so, until rice is tender.

Serve with diced onion, avocado, and kraut.