Paul and Erica Wisner talk about homesteading mistakes they have made and mistakes they have seen other people make: big mortgage, long commute, breaking equipment, etc. They talk about some solutions for those pitfalls. They also wander a bit on the topic of Rocket Mass Heaters.
Credit: Julia Winter
Come, grasshopper, and listen to Uncle Paul and Aunt Erica dispense advice about pursuing your homesteading dream...
Don't make the same mistakes we have! Whatever you do, DON'T get into having a mortgage, out in the country. The classic error is the couple who decide to buy a place a ways out of town, but keep working their full time jobs. This way lies sadness.
Paul still thinks that living in community is the only way to succeed, but he's still working on how to really make it work. The Ant Village up at Wheaton Labs is turning into a pretty nice community, you might want to look into that, huh?
Erica thinks family can be a great source of community, she and Ernie are sharing land with Ernie's dad, and that is working well for them. Living out in the country is surprisingly expensive, the things you need to spend money on, like snow removal, and broken well pumps, are different than what you spend your money on in the city. Erica's advice: if there are two of you both working, make sure that you can cover your expenses with less than one of the incomes.
We get some side trips into rocket mass heater function and safety: Erica reports the first ever chimney fire associated with a thing that could maybe be identified as a rocket mass heater, albeit not a very well made one. There should never be creosote with a good rocket mass heater. Ernie and Erica's book details the ratios and relationships that are needed for a good, functional and thus safe rocket mass heater. Paul explains why he's super skeptical of "batch box" RMH's - they suck, unless they have a really good door, and making the door is harder than all the rest of making the whole thing! We get a run-down on many of the heaters currently in use at Wheaton Laboratories and Basecamp.
Both agree that a better path is to save until you can buy your land outright, then build a shack (it can be the barn, later on) and after you've learned a whole lot about building by doing this, then you build your house.
Paul shares the story of a woman who invested time and money into making her suburban plot a permaculture paradise and then found that the value of her gardens and fruittrees and geothermal heating and cooling system, and solarhot water, and, and, and... was not appreciated by the people who might actually buy the property. So, the property did not sell for some time, and then it finally sold for less than the asking price, and then the new owners bulldozed the property. He contrasts this with the situation of Evan, the first Ant up at the lab. It doesn't seem that Evan is going anywhere, but, if he decided to move on, being that he's invested in his plot of land that is in a community of like minded individuals, he will find buyers that value the things that he has there. There are people in the world who may have more money than time, and they would love to buy into a place that already has established hugelkulturberms, and fencing, and a sturdy house.
So, we're back to the idea of joining the Ants, up at Wheaton Labs. If you have permaculture dreams, you don't have to chain yourself to a big mortgage to pursue them. Paul and Erica swap stories about people who start out as WOOFers, or interns, and end up becoming a valued part of the community and maybe even inheriting the land. Joel Salatin regularly works to hook young farmers up with old farmers, in the hopes that the land will transfer that way. If you are easy to live with, and a hard worker, it can totally happen. This will never happen if you sit in front of a computer in the city. Get up! Get out! Go and do.