October 6, 2011

Living Off-The-Grid.

(all photos by Michael Levin www.zoobird.com unless otherwise specified)


“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”  ~ Oscar Wilde


Living off-the-grid means living without public utilities like electricity. People who live off-the grid may not depend on municipal water, sewage, or natural gas. It also can mean you’re self-sufficient in various ways. There are many third-world citizens who have lived off-the grid for generations. Some people choose this alternative lifestyle to save money. It’s also a way to lower your environmental footprint.

Michael “Mycol” Stevens lives off-the-grid just north of Gainesville, Florida. I met Mycol at a Fall planting workshop called “Fall Harvest Fest” hosted by our local green store, Indigo. He gave a talk about his experiences with self sustenance, organic living and his alternative lifestyle in general. He invited me to his place after the talk.

We hopped in Mycol’s car and he apologized about its condition as a tree had recently fallen on it. “Trailer trash repair” he facetiously said, laughing. So, cracked windshield and tunes blaring, we drove out to “Finca Mycol”.

(photo by Mycol Stevens)

Finca Mycol is about 17 miles north of Gainesville, but seems another world away. We drove down a winding dirt country road and up to a wooden gate. Mycol grinned at me as we turned onto his backroad driveway.  “Coolest driveway ever”, he exclaimed. We drove down the road to his property.

One major issue with living off the grid is water. Irrigation and plumbing is hard to do without electricity for pumps. Rain barrels help. We recently had a a couple of workshops on making rain barrels and micro-drip systems locally. One workshop, on making micro-drip systems, was given by Ron Chandler.

(photo by Ron Chandler)

Here you can see a water cistern system designed to collect rainwater and feed back into a home water system. Pretty easy to make and very effective. Rain collection systems can save you about 1,300 gallons per month during the peak months. The other workshop was at Indigo. Ron’s day job is maintaining the Water Atlas in Florida, a collection of water content data from all Florida’s lakes, rivers and waterways. The Water Atlas is useful for determining whether water from, lakes, for example, is drinkable and how safe it is to eat the fish you catch there.

Another issue with living off the grid and lack of electricity and minimal electricity might be doing the laundry. Well, there are alternatives. Mycol is particularly proud of his “new” washing machine.

I also have in mind that seemingly wealthy, but terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.” ~ Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Finca Mycol is filled with edible plants. Here, you can see some lemon grass, which makes delicious tea. Mycol grows fruit, vegetables and herbs all over the property.

Here you can see how easy it is to make a delicious pot of lemon grass tea, You can also see another alternate energy source: the oil lamp. It gets dark, dark, dark off the grid! Nice! It is interesting how our natural clock (the sun and moon) affects our sleep schedule and how electricity has altered our sleep patterns.

But, again, irrigation is an issue.  Here, you can see Mycol filling a water container from a cistern.  This cistern has now been elevated with cinderblocks to maximize head pressure.

So, shortly after arrival, we headed down to the reservoir with a collection of 5 gallon buckets on a trolly.

It was a good workout. But, you have to be in shape to do it, rain or snow. Work is currently in progress to connect up a solar panel to a DC pump that will pump water up to a pile of fill material about 10 feet in the air.  This water line will be tied in to the living space and have drip irrigation to the designated garden areas.

Water is not taken for granted when you hand pump and carry your water for simple chores as doing your dishes.  Mycol uses a multiple bucket wash system and air dries as you see here.

Finca Mycol has recreation covered with zero energy facilities like this dumpster dove mushroom-adorned basketball hoop.  Mycol is into “functional art”.

Living off the grid doesn’t necessarily mean roughing it, but there are critters out there. I came home with some mosquito bites and a tick that could have made for a mighty collector’s item.

Mycol is a highly principled person who has a beef with beef and pork due to two main reasons:

* Habitat destruction – Mycol personally accounted witnessing vast tracks of virgin rain forest destruction in South and Central America for cattle grazing land.

* Modern ranching techniques that utilize hormones, antibiotics, pesticide, fungicide, insecticide, herbicide and fertilizer use, large amounts of water usage for grains to be fed to these animals, and various disease vectors. Alternately road kill offers unique opportunities to harvest edible meat and usable hides if the timing is right.  Mycol is slowly weaning himself from grocery mart dependence and is very much into edible fungi for his amino acid/protein.


(photo from Mycol Stevens)

Here you see Mycol harvesting meat from fresh roadkill. According to Mycol, if you eat packaged McDonald’s type prepared foods, you are disconnected from the web of life.

And, part of the meat was used to make jerky. Delicious use of an unfortunate situation, and nothing was wasted.  You may also note the dried shitake mushrooms that were dried in this photo.

Mycol takes advantage of natural cooling by burying an old cooler. He uses it to store his homemade mead, technically melomels and metheglin, which are variously prepared with fruit, herbs, roots, mushrooms and honey.

Our next stop was the compost toilet area. Again, off the grid means no defecating in purified drinking water and contaminating the aquifer and water. The refuse is composted into decomposed organic matter and is returned to improve his soils for his fruit trees.

Here you can see the container Mycol picked up somewhere in his travels used to hold water to wash that left hand after using the facilities. Using a hand held bidet instead of processed chlorinated toilet paper cuts down on trees being cut down and is another way to cut back on tree destruction and dependency from the timber industry.

On closer inspection, you can see the adornment on the container.

And, here’s simplicity in action: Finca Mycol’s compost toilet. Mycol tells me that Joseph Jenkins’ “Humanure Handbook” is the definitive source of info on the subject of compost toilets, discussed extensively here.

Solar panels are one way to generate electricity. So, there you have it. Finca Mycol is a different paradigm in living off the grid and connected to nature.

Contact Mycol at [email protected] if you are interested in volunteer WWOOFing at Finca Mycol or having Mycol give a workshop on anything from plant propagation, mushroom cultivation, wild edible plants and wild mushrooms (ethnobotany), fermentation, botanical inventory, drum workshops, ecological restoration of ponds, streams and upland ecosystems, and permaculture design.

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