Living Off-The-Grid.

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(all photos by Michael Levin 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.

The Elephant Ecosystem

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anonymous Apr 24, 2013 9:54am

Fantastic article! You are an inspiration.

anonymous Apr 2, 2013 4:30pm

Sorry I forgot what do you think of the Earthship?

anonymous Apr 2, 2013 4:29pm

What do you of the Earthship? I like to hear the whys or why not any thoughts you may have!

    anonymous Sep 1, 2014 1:48pm

    It not that you own me any because I done nothing for you but it don't look you answer questions posted here i just saying your a cool dude in all with a great idea! Thanks!

anonymous Feb 15, 2013 9:36am

Wow, how inspiring! I would give up being a vegetarian and run away to live with this guy in a heartbeat! 😉

anonymous Nov 28, 2012 12:16pm

[…] old tub? Don’t toss it…use it for graywater or…beer party…or dog-stay-cool-on-hot-summer-day-water…or kiddie pool in the […]

anonymous Apr 10, 2012 10:44pm

There’s practically nothing I fancy more compared to visiting this blogging site every week following work. Thank you for all of the great posts!!

anonymous Jan 9, 2012 11:07am

[…] time, returning home with a better, perhaps more enlightened, sense of our own origins. How can we effectively straddle that line between living in the world and observing it? How can we best communicate our experiences in order to connect with other living, breathing human […]

anonymous Oct 19, 2011 12:09pm

This is amazing! Loved the photo essay and the progression of pictures. I felt like I was getting to know Mycol and the life he leads through the progression. It's fantastic to have people like Mycol show us that we can be completely sustainable in the US. Thanks for this post!

anonymous May 31, 2011 3:15am

Quel magnifique article, je l’adore !

anonymous Jan 2, 2011 7:24am

[…] […]

anonymous Sep 6, 2010 6:18am

Guten Tag,

ich hoffe das hier wird nicht als Spam behandelt, aber ich habe da eine Seite gefunden wo man günstig Ersatzteile herbekommt.

anonymous Jun 12, 2010 6:58pm

my parents grew up off the grid , they grew up on farms in TN. But my mom liked living on the grid better. I think it is useful to know how, because the way we are going I think we will have energy problems in the future

anonymous Apr 9, 2010 5:36pm

[…] will remember Mycol Stevens from the “Living off the Grid” article here on Elephant Journal. Mycol told me about this event last night at a pot luck […]

anonymous Jul 7, 2009 4:23pm

What I'd like to know is how many hours per week it takes to maintain this system. Living off the grid is an attractive idea, for sure! But what if you have a job that consumes 50 hrs + per week? And how much does the time investment go up when you add more people? Say, what does it take to do this for a 4-person family?

anonymous Dec 26, 2008 12:31pm

What mushrooms have you been eating? Hopefully you shake hands with your right hand. Estamos buscandote una Pocahontas colombiana para que te acompañe, pero ella probablemente quiera usar papel higiénico. Esperamos que nos vistes prnto. El perro se veía rico, tanto como las pizzas de mi tio jim. un abrazo de todos en colombia. love, gina

anonymous Dec 25, 2008 3:36pm


I’ve patented a miniature water treatment system that purifies raw water sources like lakes, streams, rivers, etc. It’s been successfully tested on the Ohio River. If interested, check out the website. Soon we’ll have a 12V DC model that will be about a third the price that can be run off a solar panel.


anonymous Nov 17, 2008 11:42pm

Yo Frankies, THeo, ROsanne, Brittany and Evelyn and your 6th grade class,
Its awesome to hear you all are into what world I am creating down here and hope you can come down and stay out and experience this way of living someday soon. Maybe this will pique some interest in your classmates and you can look into what PERMACULTURE is…maybe even write a report on it for a boring english class!

Evelyn is my friend who is a botanist that lives in the middle of Africa in Zambia on the Zambizi river near VIctoria Falls which is incredible!…so what up Evelyn! kinda cool how we can maintain contact on these extremes of the planet! I think your journey to your hut is a little more incredible! Can you say hey to Dr. John and his son and the Scottish guy and the drummer locals that were so kind to us. I was still amazed at their drumming skills! say hi to some of my cool cuz’s from Ohio.

back to general about the finca:
I get alot of satisfaction (and sometimes frustration) with what it is I am trying to accomplish. I am currently working on a water cistern that catches the water high in the air and gravity flows the water to the garden areas without any electricity! THat is tied up to a solar powered pump that I will pump up to the top of the hill where I am securing a 1700gallon tank….thats big! you’ll have to see it. I gotta have water to grow the plants!

I have volunteers that want to stay on my land and help out called “willing workers on organic farms” WWOOFers for short.

If you want to see more pictures look me up in the FACEBOOK world under Mycol stevens.

I think Theo should join ya’ll together and we can have a family weekend at my place maybe in the summer. I live near the most magical Ichetucknee Springs.

love to ya’ll

anonymous Nov 14, 2008 9:20am

my class thinks you rock! from frankie and class

holly vinson

ben “farthead” kerns


anonymous Nov 14, 2008 9:19am

hi mycol, its me frankie from the 6th grade all the kids in my class think the way you get your water is awesome. many kids in my class are circling around me to read about you. everybody thinks your awesome!

from frankie

anonymous Nov 12, 2008 5:00pm

Hey Mycol Michael! Greetings from your family in Cleveland, Ohio! Theo says hi too! You look so happy and content in the pix I’m glad for you. But, dude, what’s up with the crocs? I’m hoping those were a gift? Anyway, we’ll come out next time we’re down there!
Keep banging those drums and drinking the mead!


anonymous Nov 10, 2008 8:06pm

hey mycos how’s it goin? does mead taste good? anyway u don’t take things for granted like other people in america. can u share something for my 6th grade class? like a bottle of mead?hope your doin’ good

frankie, chris, and big frank

anonymous Nov 10, 2008 4:11pm

Hi Mycol Michael
Great to see those pictures! I’m still reading the story but you look increasingly wild as it goes on. the path to your house looks like the one to Bovu Island!
thanks for your message and for keeping in touch.

anonymous Jun 4, 2010 1:55am

i should check this more often…i hope that my cunada Gina is doin awesome in Colombia or whereever you may be! but not gettin too fat on my bro's cookin!____helena, I have a new sawdust humanure compost toilet that is working like a charm! it is quite a "throne" as we say!____adrienne, connect with me via the facebook world or wwoofing network. I have a small solar panel system that is enough for computer, lights etc…the big loads are AC and refrigeration which we don't need!____peter, i too work but usually no more than 4 days a week but I am out on the road doing field botany work. this is where wwoofer or volunteers (or you family) can help keep a place going. Once the infrastructure investments are done, there is not too much cost…I would say it is more than feasible if you have a team family. why do you need to work 50 hrs.____cory, recommend buying a solar kit with panels and charge controller etc…its relatively easy. good luck on marthas vineyard!

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Michael Levin

Michael loves sharing what he’s learned about organic lifestyles like living off the grid and bicycle commuting. He calls it “lifestyle entrepreneurship”. He’s into organic gardening, mindful living, and realizes that we only have this life and each other. His favorite quote is “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.” (James A. Michener)