Ask Umbra on living off the grid
Q. Hi Umbra,
You’ve made several mentions of living off the grid in previous columns, and I was wondering where someone should find such things? It seems as though there are secret communities and communes that everyone seems to know about but me. How would you find an off the grid community, or go about living off the grid yourself?
A. Dearest Anica,
No one is hiding anything from you, don’t worry. You just haven’t met any off-the-grid folks. By the way, if you do find anything that could qualify as a secret community, off the grid or no, I would bicycle fast in the other direction. Especially in Oregon or Southwest Washington.
iStockYou have two distinct questions, but of course pursuing either may result in an answer to both. Living off the grid mainly refers to finding some way to produce your own electricity and hence eschew reliance on the public electric grid. This is done firstly through reducing the need for electricity, and secondly through alternative power generation via wind, solar, or hydro. So, to go about living off the grid, I would start researching the potential for wind, solar, or hydroelectric power at my own home. If I were a renter, I would start looking for a home to buy in an area where one of these things was possible. I wrote about micro-wind and solar some time ago, and mayhap it will soon be time for this column to touch on microhydro as a home power source.
Meanwhile, let’s say you do own a home, and you want to start researching whether you can afford a solar array, or put up a wind turbine. You can start with my old columns, which could give you some basics on whether you have enough sun or space for a turbine, but then I would immediately start an internet hunt for solar interest groups or vendors in Oregon in general, and in Portland, Corvallis, and Eugene. I would also keep a sharp eye out at co-ops, natural food stores, libraries, and other places frequented by well-meaning environmentalists who like to post fliers, and I would read those very fliers, hoping for workshops about anything related to off-the-grid living.
The larger “off-the-grid” scene could include workshops on growing your own food, raising your own animals, serious energy conservation, home energy efficiency … things like that. I would go to available workshops, or events, or festivals, and if I were feeling less shy than usual, I might even work up the nerve to talk to someone who looked friendly. If there were a solid-looking solar or wind group on the internet, I might pump myself up to give them a phone call and start getting information. If you want to meet likeminded people, workshops are a good place to start, whether or not they are directly related to your specific needs. Eventually you’ll meet enough people, and they’ll know people, and you’ll find that the secret club has let you in.
In terms of entire communities living off the grid, or at least less reliant on the grid: if the word of mouth and flier technique above does not lead you to them, then you’ll need to formally look for “intentional communities” that have an off-the-grid focus. Start with Communities Magazine and see where it takes you. Some of those Oregon intentional communities could be pretty darn fun to visit (this one has hot springs).
One crazy human wonderful thing I learned about over the winter is kind of related to off-the-grid communities: the Haul of Justice. It’s a group of bicycling volunteers who originally joined together in Eugene and now do yearly rides in various parts of the country, helping anyone who needs assistance. Thanks to my off-the-grid, intentionally communitizing best bud for the inspiring reading about these bicycling wonders, who are now in their own off-the-grid community in Missouri. See, it’s no secret cabal, it’s just human connection — I know my friend, she knows all these people … you will soon know such people too.
Best of luck in your quest for an ungridded life.