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Living off the grid involves planning

‘Modern’ homesteading detailed

November 13, 2009
By JOHANNA BOYLE Journal Ishpeming Bureau

MARQUETTE - Homesteading - the term might call to mind American pioneers moving west, living off the land, self-sufficient.

They're not moving west in covered wagons, but modern-day homesteaders, using alternative energy, home gardens and other methods, can largely live off the consumer energy grid, making minimal impact on the environment.

"I always wanted to live in the woods. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to live in the woods and do my artwork," said Steve Schmeck, who has been homesteading north of Cooks since the 1970s with his wife, Sue Robishaw.

Article Photos

Two wood-burning stoves, top, provide heat and cooking power for the 1,000-square-foot home of Steve Schmeck and Sue Robishaw. About 10 face cords of wood is needed every year to power both stoves. Built mostly underground, the home is easier to keep heated than a more conventional home.

Those still on the grid got a chance to learn more about the homesteading lifestyle during a presentation by Robishaw and Schmeck earlier this week at the Peter White Public Library.

The couple moved to the U.P. from downstate with the intention of starting p a homestead. Today all their electricity, water and heat are produced using alternative energy methods. Most of their food is produced in their garden.

"Environmentally, we don't have much impact, other than the miles we drive," Schmeck said.

The couple's 1,000-square-foot home is built partially underground, which helps keep a more constant temperature. It includes an office, a living room, a greenhouse, an art studio, as well as a pantry and root cellar for food storage.

"When we decided to build our own house in the '70s, there weren't too many designs out there," Robishaw said. "After the 25 years we've been in the house, it worked out pretty well."

After arriving in the U.P., the couple built a small cabin while working on the main house. The cabin now serves as a workshop. The main house was constructed with south-facing windows to take advantage of as much sunlight as possible.

"The design of our house is unique to the way we live," Robishaw said. "The house is underground and doesn't take as much to heat as conventional houses."

Solar panels are used to collect sunlight for both electricity, which is stored in a series of batteries, and heat. During the summer, an outdoor solar cooker is used to prepare food and hot water. During the winter, a wood stove is used for heat.

The home's running water is supplied from a well, using a wind turbine to draw it up into a storage tank.

Because Robishaw and Schmeck are responsible for producing all the power and water used in their home, they are very careful about how much is used.

"We are fairly conservative of water," Robishaw said. "We had to haul it a couple times and that really makes you energy conscious.

"When you're your own power company, you pay a little more attention to what you use."

A non-conventional kitchen can also be found in the house - a wood-burning stove and no refrigerator.

Fresh food from the garden, both fruits and vegetables, is canned and preserved for storage in the pantry and root cellar.

"We don't drink milk, we don't have meat in the house," Schmeck said.

A solar-powered dryer allows the couple to dehydrate many of the items grown in the garden from apples to peas, to be used during the winter.

"It can dry corn, snap beans, anything you can dry in a reasonable amount of time in an electric dryer, you can dry in a solar dryer," Robishaw said.

Whatever isn't grown in the garden, like grains, is typically purchased in bulk from the Marquette Food Co-op. Flour is made using a grinder.

About 10 face cords of wood are typically used at the homestead for both cooking and heating per year.

The fuel is collected from the 20 acres of property surrounding the homestead from trees that have died during the year.

Learning how to homestead, from electrical systems to composting toilets, has been quite a process.

"If you want to do something, just jump into it," Robishaw said.

Schmeck agreed.

"This is a lot more complicated than I thought," Schmeck said. "... Back then we had the trend. There were a lot of people who were doing what we were doing."

 
 

 

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