US locales for self-sufficient living
Give suggestions for places in the US where one reasonably has the option of self-sufficient living. Climate/rainfall/soil that are suitable for raising fruits, vegetables, and fowl. Clean rivers/lakes nearby for fishing. Self-sufficient with respect to water supply, home heating, and some electricity; so it must be legal to drill a well for water, and it would be nice to have a stand of trees that (in a pinch at least) could be cut for firewood. Friendly neighbors. Low property taxes are good, of course.
In practical terms, this must be far enough from major metro areas to make purchasing at least several acres possible, but my first objective is not isolated, off-the-grid living. Rather, looking for a nice place to live where, if the need arises, I could manage most of my own basic needs. I grew up on a farm in the midwest, so I am not completely ignorant with respect to some of the required skills to make this happen.
That’s about it. I don’t want to overconstrain the problem. Be creative.
I just happen to have a lake house for sale on craigslist (search – MN lake jefferson).20 min from Mankato mn and 60 minutes from twin cities. nice neighbors, low maintenance living, shared well, and compliant system. low taxes for a place on a lake and the lake area realestate sales seems to not have depreciated like the city houses. we’ve only had it on the market for 6 months.
we have some solar benefits on the 3bdrm, 1 bath, 1 car garage but we used to burn wood (bought from a neighbor) and there is also a natural gas furnace there. full basement, partiallly finished. Not a high end house for a 4 season lake cottage but comfortable.The place is so sunny in winter I used to grow fresh veggies in the patio door windows.
Fishing is good and plenty of space for gardens. We planted our lot with fruit, nut trees but there’s wooded lots near there for hunting if you get permission.
I loved it there- very sunny when the lake freezes and the sun comes out – no Seasonal Affective Disorder. We bought a 1880s farm to turn into solar/eco friendly living -this will be up for sale when we’ve done on the remodel . . .in about 2 years but it’s going to be a pricey one!
Can’t wait to hear about other good places to hang out during the storm –
Thanks much for your comments. It’s useful to know that vegetables can be grown indoors without artificial lighting in the winter, in Minnesota. Your lake house is about 100 miles north of where I grew up. I remember the winters!
In the long run, I expect tax rates are going up, and I expect that energy and commodity prices are going up. I’d like to insulate myself from those two issues, at least to a large extent.
I’d like to build a house that is very light on heating/cooling requirements. One way to attack this is to live in a moderate climate. Of course, homes are generally expensive in these places (Calif., Hawaii, etc). Another way is to build a house that is well insulated and gets a lot of benefit from passive solar. This, plus having the option of burning wood, could eliminate the need to depend on fossil fuels for home heating.
I expect alt sources, like solar, will become competitive someday, and at that point I can consider adding some such capability. For now, grid power is still cheap and reliable.
I’d prefer to have a few acres, with a little timber, and little bit of land that could be tilled.
You might want to pick up a copy of the book The Renewable Energy Handbook by William H. Kemp. While this is subtitled "A Guide to Rural Energy Independence, Off-Grid and Sustainable Living" you could buy an existing house and retrofit it which might be cheaper and the book covers this as well.
I’m taking my first steps down this road as well. As for location? You might want to consider somewhere close to your relatives – or get something with extra bedrooms (or extra basement space that can be finished to add bedrooms) in case this turns out to have appeal to others who can help minimize the load of sustainability (which in turn frees up time to help bootstrap others to sustainability and so on).
All the best,
Too true – retro-fitting an older home is cheaper, easiest and very rewarding – if you have the time. Just look for a house with a good structure- many older houses are better built than "modern houses" – some just need to be torn down.
Having several acres is nice and we’re in process of "building" a 1 acre weed-less water-less perma-garden and have pastures for some animals. The farm is an expansion of what we did on the .2 acre lake house – we had a greenhouse that housed chickens and grew veggies as well as worms for chicken food besides the seasonal gardens. I guess it’s a make do with what you have!
Climate is a big issue – if you can’t stand the cold – best to stay south. I find a lot of people move to dry arid places for health reasons and besides Nev, AZ and TX, a lot of "northerners" are heading into the Black Hills for the dry air and it’s a little milder weather there . . sometimes. SD also has low taxes and a lot of open spaces.
It seems that you don’t really like the winter thing, but parts of northern New England are very tax-attractive for long-term living. The tax burden where I live is quite low, especially when compared to where I used to live (South Florida). Also, the ability to buy land, enough of it, for a reasonable price is still a reality here. Having had to ‘run’ households in two very different climates has taught me one thing – it’s a LOT cheaper and easier to heat something that’s cold, than it is to cool off something that’s hot! A big consideration if you want to lower operating costs. I heat with wood, and the home I’m trying to build (I’ve got 20 acres, but need to sell a house on 4 acres if your interested!) will run on a high efficiency wood gasification boiler. I estimate my total monthly energy costs to be around $50 / month year-round. That’s without living with candles and cooking on a campfire!
FYI – That house for sale is only 5 years old and it’s going REALLY cheap!!!
I live in an area of western New York known as the southern tier. It has been defined as the north end of Appalachia, and I can’t really disagree with that characterization either geographically or demographically. The land is cheap and plentiful. Property taxes are low, but state taxes are high. 16 years ago I bought my house (built in the 1820’s with plank walls) and about 14 acres of land (mostly young second growth forest) for about $70k. Because we didn’t take part in the real estate boom, we aren’t suffering from the bust. I heat almost exclusively with wood I cut off my land. Our small garden produces a lot of food, much of which we preserve. It could be a lot more productive if we started gardening more intensively. Winters are kind of cold and, depending on what specific area you live in, can be pretty snowy. Other than that the climate here is the mildest I’ve ever lived in, and I’ve lived in several areas of the lower 48. We are on the edge of a large Amish community, so have a built in group that trades mostly by barter. The country is beautiful and natural resources plentiful. There are a lot of lakes, including one of the Great Lakes, nearby. If you’re a hunter, lots of deer and turkey.
Oh yeh, existing housing stock is plentiful and still cheap.
i have posted on this topic many times on this site.
my personal preference is for a warmer climate. lots of water i cant even bgin to think about some place like mn. i have been in arkansas for 34 years (moved here from colo. after growing up in nyc) i moved here because i saw this whole thing coming.
i wanted a place that was as sustainable and self sufficient as i could find.
we have the four seasons but it is much more temperate and the growing season is much longer than the north. yes you can do greenhouses but that requires more inputs.
i initially had 142 acres with a few other people then we subdivided and we ended up with 48 acres. sold 22. 14 acres of fields that can grow anything and 12 acres of woods for lumber and wood for heat. it is close to the university so there is a great cultural environment with art and music.
there are tons of streams and lakes for fishing and recreation. there is a very progressive community here thanks to the univ. and lots of back to the land folks. the area is very friendly.
there are other places in the south like asheville nc. and athens ga. which are great places as well.
we are close to walmart hq and tyson foods so with the u of a and those corps the job market is pretty good.
taxes are low. crime is low –i never lock my house.
i got divorced i 89 and now have 4 acres closer to town my taxes are $384 a year of which i only pay $34 because there is a homestead credit. taxes can only go up 5% a year. all in all i recommend a look.
ps i am a real estate broker who has specialized in rural property for 25 years. i am not very active right now. i have another business which takes most of my time.
good luck i think you are on the right track
Thanks a million for all of your comments. I’m making a list of places to visit, and will definitely put your information to good use.