Millennials On The Move
Hello PP family, my partner and I are recent members and we wanted to reach out to fellow Millennials in the community to help encourage and work together in building resilience in our lives. To start, we wanted to take a moment and share what we are doing on a very modest budget that involves us living mostly offgrid in two used shipping containers converted into a debt free tiny house.
Back in the winter of 2018, after a year of searching, we purchased 11 acres in the Alleghany Highlands of Virginia just north of Roanoke with a goal of turning the land into a farm for selling vegetables and other edible plants. Much like Dr. Martenson, in the Fall of 2019, we felt the need to build a tiny house and decided to use two 8×20 shipping containers as our home. All through the winter of 2019 we worked diligently and despite living three hours away at the time we were able to get most of the work done by the time COVID 19 really erupted. Due to loosing both of our jobs to the pandemic shutdowns, we left our apartment in Maryland and moved into our tiny house.
I cannot stress enough that despite building two other tiny houses previously and being fairly knowledgeable about offgrid living (my BS is in Environmental sustainability and my partner served in the Army and spent time overseas in Afghanistan), the transition was a major culture shock. Going from a life of unlimited electric, internet, heating/cooling, and potable running water to hauling water in buckets from the stream, watching how much energy we use from the solar power system, to washing clothes in a metal tub using a washboard really put us through the ringer!
Like you, not only did we have the pandemic blowing up around us, but EVERYTHING we did was now much more involved and complicated. This made the perfect tinder for some pretty heated arguments and frustrations. Having said that, what really helped us was talking our thoughts and feelings out. Opening up is so critical, especially when you enter this type of lifestyle. Everything is new, and this new experience creates friction that WILL lead to fires.
Looking back, I would say that the first two months were the toughest simply due to figuring so many new things out at once. How to wash clothes, wash dishes, wash yourself with a bucket, make sure you have enough water for all of that along with clean drinking water. Then building a garden from scratch on epically dead dirt with a herd of deranged soul destroying deer eating everything in sight! To dealing with cooking food, growing it, storing it and so on with limited fuels and then there was plenty of humanure that needed proper care and recycling so as not to cause health problems with us or the neighborhood. There were many more things to learn and we are still constantly learning but the initial thrust into this offgrid lifestyle was definitely eye opening 😂
I want to mention that our property has no “official” house on it so it does not have an address. This forced us to seek an alternative mail service and we found that using a private mail box was a great solution.
As stated earlier, the soil here is absolutely dead. Looking through county records shows that over 150 years of plowing and strip mining of soil nutrients has left this place devoid of every macro and micro nutrient. With the onset of modern monoculture corn and the use of toxic synthetic fertilizers, our soil was dead- to the point that planted vegetables only grew 3-6 inches all summer, the soil is so deficient in potassium that our water melons (when they did make softball sized melons) never turned red inside, heirloom corn made stalks 2ft tall when they should have been over 10 ft. Needless to say, we had to get busy building soil!
Reading Bill Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture has really helped shape our entire understanding of our planet and the interconnections we are apart of. I dove deep into compost tea using the website MicrobeOrganics as my go to source for building a simple system out of a 45 gallon trash can, read and implemented composting humanure per the guild lines of The Humanure Handbook, learned how to compost our used chicken bedding, and continue to watch every Geoff Lawton video on YouTube that I can find.
Note: In regards to compost tea, I made sure to use a large enough air pump to make my teas aerobic and safe. The applications that I used on my garden beds, fruit trees, and nursery seedlings has been absolutely stunning. Although I cannot afford a microscope to see how biologically alive my teas are, when I get several feet of growth after applying the teas compared to just inches of stunted grown prior, that’s all the evidence I need.
Im afraid I’ve written a bit too much for one post but there are many more projects and work to be done that includes: finishing the inside of our shed/summer cookhouse which is another used 8×20 container, putting a rain water catchment roof on our containers, adding a greenhouse to the side of the container along with another chicken coop, continuing to improve soil fertility, extend the deer fence for a larger garden, plant out our permaculture designed zone 3-4 food forest systems, expand the edible plant nursery (I’m obsessed with plants so that won’t be too difficult), and so much more. All in good time however because this is all done debt free.
I really think a life like this is soul enriching and empowering. Absolutely there are tones of problems we have to deal with or work around and at times this feels overwhelming. When that happens I find it best to take a breather, talk it out between each other, or just go for a drive to clear my head. This life is not for everyone and I do believe we would be more advanced if we were connected to utilities but for us, that’s not financially feasible for a while. Having said that, I wouldn’t necessarily say this lifestyle is hard per se, but you are much more involved in your daily needs and absolutely more conscientious of your resources that I find personally fulfilling.
When it comes to living in the Long Emergency/Emergence we will have a diversity of circumstances that brings us to this point. What has brought you here and what are you doing to make your life worth living and make a positive impact in your communities?
If it interests you, feel free to check out our Instagram account @alleghanyhighlandsresiliency for pictures of our work.
I look forward to hearing about your work too!
Hey, I’m far from a Millennial, but I want to say I love your passion! What a steep learning curve you guys’ve been on. Congratulations! Looks like you’ve pulled it off.
I took a look at your Instagram. That’s some really fine work in the containers. Everybody’s a “messy builder,” but it cleaned up really nicely. We have a 4-container, 2 story house near us in Vermont. Owners find it tight and cozy in the deepest months of our winters. Yours’ll be great, too, I bet.
Oh. And I get taking the sidearm along for a walk. I do the same, here, for the same reason. It’s the noise factor I’m counting on; my 9mm slug won’t stop a local bear that wants me unless my first shot is absolutely true, and the effective targets are small.
Cool story. Is there some way to view photos on Instagram without an account? I don’t do social media with the exception of some anonymous forums like this one.
Thank you for your really kinda words and encouragement on our work.
I love to hear about others using containers to suit their needs. I was actually day dreaming about using a container “up north” the other day and what I would theoretically do to make it warmer. Great to know they are doing well with it and staying warm. If anyone knows cold it’s y’all up there 😆
There is a guy on Youtube- Containing Luxury, who gave us the inspiration to build our home in such a way as to overcome the massive issue of thermal bridging with containers. Stick built homes and even tiny houses on wheels have the same issue but none as problematic as a big solid metal rectangle. To overcome thermal bridging we totally encapsulated the interior first with 1” rigid foam board using window spray foam and aluminum HVAC tape to seal all connecting pieces. Then we built the framing and subfloor on the foam boards. This creates a thermal break from the cold or heat from the exterior container. The spacing between studs have R15 Roxul insulation. Instead of using plastic vapor barrier to go over the insulation, we put tyvek up instead. Traditional houses can breathe and allow water vapor to escape out (hypothetically) but a solid metal wall would only trap and build up moisture. The tyvek allows water vapor to pass through on the inside. Of course it’s not ideal and I’m sure status quo contractors would pitch a fit but it’s the best I came up with after doing a lot of research. The tyvek has also bounced wood stove heat keeping it warmer too.
In regards to wildlife, yes absolutely something is better than nothing. Unfortunately I found out one of our neighbors feeds the local bears about 300 yards away. One night back in the summer when I was out killing slugs with a flashlight I heard the spookie sound two bears make when they fight over something. I just have to shake my head because there are little kids right next door to them that could be hurt not to mention anyone else at the wrong place at the wrong time with so many bears around.