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Where should I move to achieve gerthood?

 
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It was hard to choose a proper forum for this post, but I think that homesteading captures it better than anything else. Hopefully this post isn't too rambly.

My wife and I are in our mid-30s. Two young kids - plan is to co-op homeschool. We both have jobs that are so good we would never consider leaving until (hopefully very early) retirement. I'm a tenured professor and make good money - a golden handcuff situation. Since we started our jobs, we've been following a FIRE path - shoveling lots of money into our pre-tax retirement accounts. But as I've gotten into permaculture, I've gotten more interested in augmenting that approach by becoming a producer rather than a consumer and thus needing less money. Where I live now - in south Florida - achieving gerthood is difficult.

I have about 1/4 acre of growing space on my property - which is a lot for the area. In this climate, you can do a lot with1/4 acre. What I like about where I live:

1. No frost. I've seen snow three times in my life, so it would be a huge change living with snow. No putting things up for winter. Can grow food year round.
2. Tropical fruits. They're amazing and there are great staple tree crops like jackfruit to grow.
3. Lots of rain. If I stay here, my next roof will be metal and I intend on collecting lots of rainwater.

What I don't like (and what makes gerthood difficult).

1. It's very crowded and expensive. Getting more land is not likely. Although I can grow a lot of food on my plot, I would like to grow building materials, soapnuts, etc. And much more food, too.
2. It's not very biking-friendly here. It's difficult to get by without a car, so gasoline is an extra expense.
3. Summers are very hot and humid. And long. Maybe I could retrofit my house to go without an AC for now, but into the future, who knows?
4. Hurricanes can take a big toll on my home and staple tree crops (e.g., jackfruit, breadfruit). It also leads to expensive homeowners insurance. In fact, I'm grateful to even have homeowners insurance. My house isn't built to the latest code. If it were, I would maybe roll the dice and go without insurance. Our windstorm insurance is 7500/year right now (which is actually a good price) and rising every year.

I guess what I'm wondering is, given the points mentioned above, does gerthood seem like a possibility in southern florida? Where do you live? Do you like it there? Is there a good permie community? Is it worth checking out?
 
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For folks who don't know what gerthood is:

Scenario Gert: Gert has realized the permaculture dream. Gert lives on a few acres and eats the food that grows there. During the warmer months, gert spends some time harvesting and preserving food. During a week or two in the fall, Gert is working a good 50 hours a week. But for most of the year, Gert is working less than ten hours a week. Gert does spend about 10 hours a week making her meals. Usually it is something quick, but sometimes she makes something more elaborate. Some neighbors sometimes buy some of Gert's excess food. And once a year Gert will help with a permaculture design for somebody. Gert has a little pickup, but she hasn't fired it up in three months. Gert has about $300 per month of disposable income and $4000 in the bank. Gert has trouble spending this extra money. She's not sure what to spend it on. It just sort of accumulates. Gert earns about $7000 per year now. She intends to earn less money in future years. Over the next 20 years, Gert will have earned $100,000.



https://permies.com/t/gert

I don't understand why you would feel you would need to move to achieve gerthood?

To me, Florida sounds like a perfect place.
 
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Check out Jim Kovaleski on You Tube. He is in Fla.
 
Mike Benjamin
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Anne Miller wrote:For folks who don't know what gerthood is:

Scenario Gert: Gert has realized the permaculture dream. Gert lives on a few acres and eats the food that grows there. During the warmer months, gert spends some time harvesting and preserving food. During a week or two in the fall, Gert is working a good 50 hours a week. But for most of the year, Gert is working less than ten hours a week. Gert does spend about 10 hours a week making her meals. Usually it is something quick, but sometimes she makes something more elaborate. Some neighbors sometimes buy some of Gert's excess food. And once a year Gert will help with a permaculture design for somebody. Gert has a little pickup, but she hasn't fired it up in three months. Gert has about $300 per month of disposable income and $4000 in the bank. Gert has trouble spending this extra money. She's not sure what to spend it on. It just sort of accumulates. Gert earns about $7000 per year now. She intends to earn less money in future years. Over the next 20 years, Gert will have earned $100,000.



https://permies.com/t/gert

I don't understand why you would feel you would need to move to achieve gerthood?

To me, Florida sounds like a perfect place.



I'm trying to phrase this in such a way that trolls wont be attracted. Whatever the cause, there appears to be changes taking place to the weather such that over the long haul, south FL could be a very uncomfrotable place to live. But maybe I am giving in to fear mongering too much.
 
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Hi Mike,

It sounds as if you are flirting with the idea of moving.  Do careful research. Every location has its positives and negatives.   You need to figure out what is a good fit for you.   In order to maintain income, you may want to look into teaching online.  I taught at the university level online for 15 years and enjoyed it. Be sure your family is onboard. ….really onboard.   You appear to be working on the trade offs … continue to do so.   As for the handcuffs, I suggest you ask yourself “ how much money is enough?”    For some people, there is never enough money.  
 
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Robert Ray wrote:Check out Jim Kovaleski on You Tube. He is in Fla.


Although probably in Maine at the moment... he moves seasonally between the two.

Also check out T.H.Culhane, he is also in southern Florida.
 
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Kenneth Elwell wrote:

Robert Ray wrote:Check out Jim Kovaleski on You Tube. He is in Fla.


Although probably in Maine at the moment... he moves seasonally between the two.

Also check out T.H.Culhane, he is also in southern Florida.



I'll check out TH Culhane. I'm familiar with Jim. It's an interesting concept - spending the winters in FL and summers elsewhere. Pros and cons from a gerthood perspective. It works for him because he is market gardening in both locations.
 
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Kenneth Elwell wrote:

Robert Ray wrote:Check out Jim Kovaleski on You Tube. He is in Fla.


Although probably in Maine at the moment... he moves seasonally between the two.


This article suggests he's in Maine, and he also farms properties other than his own, which is a model that can work, but doesn't come with guarantees.
https://whatswhatnewportrichey.com/working-the-land-urban-gardening-guru-jim-kovaleski-nurtures-food-from-his-front-yard-to-your-dinner-table/

I've also heard elsewhere about some areas of Florida being unfriendly for biking. Cars add a *lot* of overhead even just sitting in the driveway, due to insurance costs.

Moving will require a change in mindset. I get the impression that growing food in Florida is a late fall/winter/early spring thing, which Jim's approach implies is accurate.

However, wherever you move will have pros and cons. I contend with drought during the growing season, and although our winters are relatively mild, they're grey-skyed and threaten rain for sometimes months on end. Compared to sunny Florida, you might find that depressing, whereas we have plenty of ex-pat Brits who consider this normal weather!
 
Mike Benjamin
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Jay Angler wrote:

Kenneth Elwell wrote:

Robert Ray wrote:Check out Jim Kovaleski on You Tube. He is in Fla.




I get the impression that growing food in Florida is a late fall/winter/early spring thing, which Jim's approach implies is accurate.

However, wherever you move will have pros and cons. I contend with drought during the growing season, and although our winters are relatively mild, they're grey-skyed and threaten rain for sometimes months on end. Compared to sunny Florida, you might find that depressing, whereas we have plenty of ex-pat Brits who consider this normal weather!



Your impression of the growing season is correct.

I agree - pros and cons of all areas. Going without the sun could be a big challenge psychologically. I'm going to peruse the subforums for the different geographic regions and see what type of information I can glean about living in these differing areas then start taking some trips over time.

 
Anne Miller
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I have lived in most of the southern states, so if I had a good job and my spouse had a good job, (we retired early) I would probably be content to maybe move to a property that is better suited for permaculture rather than moving to another state.

I ask Google and was given 10 different lists of good places to live.

On one of the lists, Texas was Number one.  Since we are having triple-digit weather that must be an old list.

I feel trying to move somewhere to become a Gert would have many obstacles.  One big one would be learning to grow crops where a person does not understand the new area.

Here is a good example:

https://permies.com/t/220036/gardening-dry-sunny-yard-Waco

I am sure there are many more threads where folks express the difficulties of getting started in a new place.

I loved living in Florida because of all the food options.  One day I went with a friend to their orange orchard and pick oranges right off the tree.  Then there were the mangos, papaya, and guava that neighbors gave me right off their trees.  I have heard that these also grow wild along roadsides.

David the Good might be a Gert who lives in Florida.

Have you seen his videos?

Here are some new ones:









Here is his playlist:

https://www.youtube.com/user/davidthegood

You or others might enjoy his website:

https://www.thesurvivalgardener.com/



 
Jay Angler
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According to David's website, he's currently in Alabama. "...now resides in South Alabama, near the Florida border."
I don't know how different the weather is between South Florida and South Alabama, due to influences of the Gulf of Mexico.

I do know that David's thumb has to be florescent green with sparkles, as he manages to get things to grow despite challenges, but I get the impression he works pretty hard at the beginning to improve the soil. Judging by photos I saw of his current place when he first arrived, he's got more than 1/4 acre to work with.

@ Mike Benjamin: 1. Is the 1/4 acre you mention inclusive of house and driveway? Or do you have a full 1/4 acre to grow crops on?
2. Do you have to deal with bylaw/HOA restrictions that limit your options? (like grassed areas)
3. Have you lived in Florida most of your life, or have you had any experience with other climates?

There is definitely a balance between more land/perfect land/rules and regs/ neighbors. My eldest sister lives on a property that would make a lovely gertdom if it weren't for a City Hall that's even banned honey bees. Her friend got fined for having Milkweed in her garden, even though another branch of gov't was encouraging planting it in cities to support Monarch Butterflies. (and in fact it is was legal for her to do so, but then she had to go to the hassle of proving it!)
 
Mike Benjamin
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Jay Angler wrote:
@ Mike Benjamin: 1. Is the 1/4 acre you mention inclusive of house and driveway? Or do you have a full 1/4 acre to grow crops on?
2. Do you have to deal with bylaw/HOA restrictions that limit your options? (like grassed areas)
3. Have you lived in Florida most of your life, or have you had any experience with other climates?

There is definitely a balance between more land/perfect land/rules and regs/ neighbors. My eldest sister lives on a property that would make a lovely gertdom if it weren't for a City Hall that's even banned honey bees. Her friend got fined for having Milkweed in her garden, even though another branch of gov't was encouraging planting it in cities to support Monarch Butterflies. (and in fact it is was legal for her to do so, but then she had to go to the hassle of proving it!)



The 1/4 acre does NOT include the house, pool, and hardscapes. We bought this property because it had an oddly big lot for the suburbs. We do have an HOA, but there is nothing in the bylaws related to landscaping other than the swales (which I am not counting towards my 1/4 acre of grow space, but I to tap into it a little bit). It's also a very hands off HOA in an old neighborhood - not like a golf course neighborhood or something. My front yard has only a strip of grass between my plantings and side walk to make it blend in with the neighborhood, but that's it.

In some ways, if it weren't for the cost of living (especially windstorm insurance on the home), I'd be completely content. My 1/4 acre is mostly perennials, largely modeled after a food forest with the understory at the moment being mostly nitrogren fixing ground covers and chop and drop material. More edible plants will be worked in over time as the soil continues to build.
I've lived in florida my entire life - some years on the northern end. The idea of living where I have seasonal variation is appealing, but I can't jump into a self-reliant lifestyle in ohio, for example.

Summer teaching for us is optional, so we have several summers to travel as a family, explore different areas, and see what resonates with us. Maybe we will find something that seems to be a better long term fit than what we have going on here, maybe not. I've researched a lot of different areas online, so thought that complementing it with this post could help. I've gotten great perspective.

To Anne Miller - I've learned a lot from David the Good early in my gardening journey. And I 100% agree that there are many hurdles when moving to a new place and trying to grow food there. I've helped many northern transplants understand how to better grow food down here!
 
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Mike Benjamin wrote: I've helped many northern transplants understand how to better grow food down here!

And I'm sure if you decide to move north, you will find many locals and permies more than willing to help you get up to speed in a new eco-system!

It does sound like you've got a great set-up where you are. However, even if trees seem to survive a hurricane, my friend who's coped with them in Nova Scotia says that they often see a bunch of die off 2-4 years after the storm and that the local tree experts told them that this was to be expected. I don't know enough about Florida to know if the same thing happens.

Insurance is becoming an issue all over North America. Most of our houses are being built to be cheap, not good.

"Right now we’re based on lowest first cost and cheapest financing,” he continued. “That’s all the banks are doing."

Dave Sellers
A thread just started today: https://permies.com/t/222494/build-house-year  on how to build a house to last 500 years.
Mr Sellers also says,

“You can have the most efficient, net zero, the best-of-everything building, if it’s butt ugly it’s going to be torn down in 10 years and you’ve wasted those resources,”  

 
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Living in Gertville seems more like a mindset (how you think), than a location (where you live).
 
Anne Miller
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Jay Angler wrote:According to David's website, he's currently in Alabama. "...now resides in South Alabama, near the Florida border."
I don't know how different the weather is between South Florida and South Alabama, due to influences of the Gulf of Mexico.  



Thanks for letting me know that David has moved as I had no idea.

Here are a couple of posts that are related to Florida that folks might be interested in:

David, said, "It now has 200 illustrations from over fifty artists, over 150 plant profiles, and all you need to know to turn a Florida yard into a beautiful forest of wonderful food. Species are recommended by cold hardiness as well, so this book is great for both North and South Floridians.



https://permies.com/t/180730/Book-Release-Create-Florida-Food

David said, "Between the North Florida project and the tropical urban food forest down south, it's been interesting to see how things just start to "pop" over time.

This state should be COVERED in food forests!



https://permies.com/t/44523/resource-Florida-Food-Forest-creators

Rather than his new youtube, I should have posted his old ones, though the playlist would have the older ones,also,

The new videos on the website are for South Florida, go figure?

https://www.thesurvivalgardener.com/south-florida-gardening-success-tips/

Whatever his location is I still feel he is a Gert.

I am from South Alabama, close enough to go to Florida for lunch so maybe 45 minutes to a favorite restaurant.  I have also lived in Lakeland, Lake Placid, and Miami.  I have an aunt who lived in Tallahassee so I spent a lot of time there. Maybe Miami is hotter though I don't remember Central Florida being much different from South Alabama.
 
Jay Angler
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Anne Miller wrote: Whatever his location is I still feel he is a Gert.

I think he works too hard to be a Gert - but then, most Gert's aren't feeding and clothing a passle of growing boys!
However, he's not only a Gert Wannabe, he's trying to get everyone in the Southern States to increase their food security by following in his footsteps. In my books, he's a Permaculture Hero!
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Living in Gertville seems more like a mindset (how you think), than a location (where you live).



I agree to a large extent. A consumer mindset will make gerthood unachievable anywhere. But living somewhere with high expenses means more reliance on a "traditional" retirement approach (i.e., shoving money into index funds and hope that the stock market just continues to go up forever). Also, everywhere has natural disasters, but the toll taken on long-term perennials by hurricanes can be devastating. I'm sure everyone has seen the news concerning the temparture of the water off of south FL. This will make hurricanes stronger and production of important perennial tree crops like jackfruit and maybe even coconut less reliable. I suppose everything has to be looked at as a serious of pros and cons. The 365 day growing season in south FL means attaining food security on a small plot is more feasible. And it can be done with much less work than growing a similar amount of food in a cold climate on a larger amount of land. But the cost of land means that even with 365 days of growing, it is difficult to grow as much food as one may have the time and desire to do and other costs mean building a larger nest egg and perhaps maintaining some type of paid employment, even if variable, on the side.
 
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I was going to recommend David the Good, too -- he's in southern Alabama now, but grew up in southern Florida and has a lot of gardening experience there.  

I wouldn't move too far north, if you do move.  Florida does have some disadvantages, but that long growing season and the ability to raise tropical stuff is a big advantage.  I'm in southern Kentucky, and wouldn't recommend being much farther north than that.  Tennessee and farther south are probably best.  

You do have a couple of contradictory requirements, that I'm not sure can be reconciled:  it sounds like you need a large college or university for employment, but those are usually located in or near major urban areas, where it's going to be expensive to purchase property.  Although...if you could work on-line, perhaps tutoring or teaching on-line classes, that would allow you to get out of town and maybe find less expensive property.

The requirement for gerthood to be able to walk or ride bikes everywhere is also difficult to reconcile with wanting less expensive or less regulated property.  In order to be able to reach all of your necessities by walking or biking (or even with a horse and buggy, as the Amish do), you need to be in a somewhat built-up area, and that, by definition, is going raise property prices and increase regulation.  So I think there are some trade-offs to make.  You might be able to live in a less expensive area but only go 'out' to run errands once in a while, perhaps with a bike and trailer, or -- if you had enough land -- a horse and cart.  If you can produce sufficient income without leaving home daily, good planning can reduce the number of trips away from home that are needed (especially if you are growing most of your food at home).
 
Mike Benjamin
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:I was going to recommend David the Good, too -- he's in southern Alabama now, but grew up in southern Florida and has a lot of gardening experience there.  

I wouldn't move too far north, if you do move.  Florida does have some disadvantages, but that long growing season and the ability to raise tropical stuff is a big advantage.  I'm in southern Kentucky, and wouldn't recommend being much farther north than that.  Tennessee and farther south are probably best.  

You do have a couple of contradictory requirements, that I'm not sure can be reconciled:  it sounds like you need a large college or university for employment, but those are usually located in or near major urban areas, where it's going to be expensive to purchase property.  Although...if you could work on-line, perhaps tutoring or teaching on-line classes, that would allow you to get out of town and maybe find less expensive property.

The requirement for gerthood to be able to walk or ride bikes everywhere is also difficult to reconcile with wanting less expensive or less regulated property.  In order to be able to reach all of your necessities by walking or biking (or even with a horse and buggy, as the Amish do), you need to be in a somewhat built-up area, and that, by definition, is going raise property prices and increase regulation.  So I think there are some trade-offs to make.  You might be able to live in a less expensive area but only go 'out' to run errands once in a while, perhaps with a bike and trailer, or -- if you had enough land -- a horse and cart.  If you can produce sufficient income without leaving home daily, good planning can reduce the number of trips away from home that are needed (especially if you are growing most of your food at home).



Thanks Kathleen. As I think about it further and integrate insights, the car is less of a problem then the high windstorm insurance and loss of crops due to hurricanes that I face here. Rather than relocating, I can speak with a contractor about costs associated with bringing my house up to current codes. That likely wouldn't reduce my windstorm insurance rate, but it could make going without insurance if I choose to do so once my home is paid off more reasonable. Many people take this route, as after a few years without paying windstorm insurance, you can readily save up enough money to cover damages out of pocket. This is especially true as I continue to develop DIY skills.

There's a lot to digest about the feedback I've been getting. I 100% agree on the benefits associated with my climate. The lack of land and hurricanes are the major impediments, but need to be weighed against other issues.

If we go the relocation route, we can do this without leaving our jobs until we are ready to pull the trigger on early retirement by using our summers to set up our property in a new location. While we are gone, we can trade our summer fruits to a friend who runs a fruit stand in exchange for feeding our worms :)
We are very fortunate to be in a sound financial position and we can afford a summer property while we are working, but we will need to pick one for retirement, especially a gert-eque early retirement.
 
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Northern Florida might work for you -- less hurricanes hit, if you are inland a bit.  Or southern Alabama, where David the Good is now.
 
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:Northern Florida might work for you -- less hurricanes hit, if you are inland a bit.  Or southern Alabama, where David the Good is now.



Thanks Kathleen. That's exactly what I've been thinking lately. I used to live in coastal North Florida and liked it there. I don't know much about the more inland areas, but I've started researching them. This project also provides a lot of great insights and my gardening knowledge will still be reasonably applicable: http://www.phys.ufl.edu/~liz/home.html
 
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Mike Benjamin wrote: This project also provides a lot of great insights and my gardening knowledge will still be reasonably applicable...

If you're moving to only slightly cooler growing conditions than you're used to, there are also a lot of permaculture approaches to help moderate any extremes of wind and temperature.

Heat traps, rock mulch, and careful placement of compost piles are 3 ways I've read about to increase the warmth in winter. We have a neighbor who uses the older Christmas light strings wrapped around lemon trees in case we get some below freezing weather, but that trick takes electricity - cheap here, but more expensive elsewhere, and not always available when you need it most.

Wind breaks of tough, expendable plants are the best I've read about for high wind issues. With wind you're trying to deflect and slow it, and I've read that objects that allow it through actually do a better job than solid objects that force it into swirls. If you can find a larger property, you may have room to have some decent hedge-row type plantings that protect the plants you want/need the most. Those hedge rows can still provide useful/edible plants, but just shouldn't be plants you're depending on for reliable yearly harvests. They also support a lot of wildlife which many areas desperately need.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:

Mike Benjamin wrote: This project also provides a lot of great insights and my gardening knowledge will still be reasonably applicable...

If you're moving to only slightly cooler growing conditions than you're used to, there are also a lot of permaculture approaches to help moderate any extremes of wind and temperature.

Heat traps, rock mulch, and careful placement of compost piles are 3 ways I've read about to increase the warmth in winter. We have a neighbor who uses the older Christmas light strings wrapped around lemon trees in case we get some below freezing weather, but that trick takes electricity - cheap here, but more expensive elsewhere, and not always available when you need it most.

Wind breaks of tough, expendable plants are the best I've read about for high wind issues. With wind you're trying to deflect and slow it, and I've read that objects that allow it through actually do a better job than solid objects that force it into swirls. If you can find a larger property, you may have room to have some decent hedge-row type plantings that protect the plants you want/need the most. Those hedge rows can still provide useful/edible plants, but just shouldn't be plants you're depending on for reliable yearly harvests. They also support a lot of wildlife which many areas desperately need.



Thanks Jay. I've been researching areas in the southern half of zone 9b in central florida - higher ground, more inland (somewhat less severe hurricane force winds than compared to more coastal areas), and much cheaper (though still not cheap - especially as you get closer to Orlando) land. There are many lakes in central florida and I hope that if I get property on the southeast side of a lake, that combined with other techniques can give me growing conditions closer to zone 10A. I doubt coconuts would survive there, but I should be able to make mangoes and jackfruit work - 2 fruits that would be hard for me to live without!

Homeowners insurance is also much cheaper in this area, as storms get less severe as they travel over land.
 
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Del Norte County in NW California has worked well for my gertitude.
 
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