Guest Post: Going Off Grid - Montana Style!
Submitted by Brandon Smith from Alt-Market
Going Off Grid - Montana Style!
The concept of off-grid living is often encumbered by numerous false assumptions and associations. Many think that to delve into the lifestyle you must be either a grizzled anti-social mountain man, a pompous starry-eyed hippie, or, a criminal on the lam. The spectrum of characterizations range from “kooky” bunker building militia members to spoiled Al Gore worshipping vegan hipsters out to prove they are better than everyone else by reducing their “carbon footprint”. The point is, for the average television-fed American, the idea of off-grid life automatically conjures visions of the extreme.
I believe this reaction is due in large part to our society’s obsession with feeling “connected”. Ever challenge a friend or family member to go without touching their cell phone for a day? Ever ask them to shut off their TV and see if they can find other ways to occupy themselves? Ever ask them to leave modern conveniences behind, if only for a weekend, to take part in some simple camping? I can say that in my own experience, nine out of ten people will stare at you pale faced like you just kicked them square in the loins. For them, leaving behind the buzz of our make-believe culture is the same as stepping outside of time, or abandoning one’s very identity. The whole suggestion is alien.
Luckily, here in Montana, I’ve encountered far hardier souls than in most other places, and the pursuit of an existence disconnected from dependence on the system is not treated as quite so outlandish. In fact, many here have taken the leap into self-sufficiency and gone 100% off-grid. I was lucky enough to meet one of these pioneers recently, and take a tour of his farm, but what interested me most about him were his origins, which were rooted about as far away from his current environment as you can get…
Rich Scheben was once a highly respected sales associate in the world of big-pharma, who had spent much of his life in the urban landscape of New York. He received accolades for his performance working within titanic companies like Merck and Glaxo, but his dream had always been to pursue a career in forestry. Despite having a degree in the field as well as a long history participating in wilderness sports, he soon discovered that affirmative action quotas within state and federal institutions were stringent. His applications were passed up time and again while others with little to no experience or training were hired immediately because of their politically designated victim-status. The corporate world too was rife with people who climbed upwards on the efforts of more worthy employees, or who were given positions of prominence based on their willingness to schmooze with management, rather than work hard.
Finally, when Rich noticed troubling health difficulties creeping up on him, a fateful doctor’s visit revealed severe damage in his spinal column. The company immediately found out, and sidelined him.
These circumstances led Rich not only to question the structure and meaning of his efforts within the circus-like corporate framework, but to also question the structure and meaning of modern America. Today, he is an avid supporter of the Liberty Movement, a devout Constitutionalist, decidedly anti-corporate oligarchy, and even anti-big pharma. His day-to-day financial existence is built upon savings, sound money, and living below his means. His health habits have taken a 180 degree turn, and he is now subsisting on largely organic and home grown diet. Everything has changed.
Rich Scheben holding a bull trout caught in his backyard
In a beautiful corner of Northwest Montana, Mr. Scheben found a sizable plot of land to begin his off-grid adventure. He recommends varied terrain, rather than flat. The more rough the terrain, the more resources are generally available, and the more privacy you are usually afforded. With hills, valleys, gorges, and even a river, Scheben has an incredible array of land types at his disposal.
The main cabin is a straightforward structure without a lot of the elaborate design often seen in average suburban McMansions. Electricity is provided by a small solar array and a minimal battery bank. I have always said that it does not take much in terms of solar power in order to adequately supply an off-grid retreat or farm, and Rich’s system is a perfect example. With only four deep-cycle batteries charging on a minimal array, Rich is able to fulfill all his electricity needs.
The cabin itself is heated by a single wood stove, which is fueled by cords of wood from timber growing on Scheben’s land. Water is supplied by a well and pump, which is then hoisted to a large tank on the second floor. The tank uses gravity to feed the faucets on the first floor below. Bathroom cleaning is handled in a number of ways. Hot showers can be had using a solar shower filled and placed near the wood stove to warm. Water can be heated and poured into the bathtub. Relieving one’s self is handled in a good old fashioned out-house.
Scheben's wood stove, which adequately heats his entire cabin
Though Rich still stocks bulk foods from town, his farm is completely capable of providing enough food that he would never have to leave if he so desired. His garden area is not immense, and can easily be worked by hand. In fact, it does not take much space at all to grow more than enough produce for a family if needed, and Scheben’s lifestyle proves that if every landowner used a corner of his yard for a garden, centralized farming and food production would disappear. Livestock rounds out the food necessities of Schebens farm, including chickens for meat and eggs, goats for milk and cheese, turkeys, etc. With land surrounded by Montana wilderness, wild game is abundant, and there is little to no chance of Scheben ever going hungry.
Scheben's homemade greenhouse with bathtub for summer bathing
Wild elk roaming through Scheben's property
One issue that is constantly raised when discussing Off-Grid living is that of cost. The problem is that so many people only consider the initial expenditures involved when diving into this new life, but never take into account the extreme SAVINGS involved after they have settled in. Scheben’s daily costs are next to nothing. His land provides nearly every essential imaginable, and the financial drain after setting up shop is minute in comparison to the average suburbanite. This is what preppers in the Liberty Movement need to understand when uncertain about the Off-Grid strategy. Ultimately, it is about providing for yourself for next to nothing what you once had to pay out the nose for!
Going off-grid also does not necessarily mean abandoning technology, and I was glad to see that Scheben felt the same way. He uses LED’s, not hurricane lanterns. He surfs the internet and keeps up with news events, instead of isolating himself in the backwoods from the concerns of the world. He rides ATV’s back and forth across his land, not horses (though horses are great if you can keep them). There is a serious misconception out there that going off-grid or living through a collapse will automatically necessitate a return to a pre-industrial 18th century type of existence. This is simply not so. The technological advances of today should be mixed and melded with the agricultural skills of yesterday. Neither should be hastily cast aside if we are to find balance once again in our culture.
In light of our current chaotic economic situation, as well as the potential for social breakdown, energy crisis, hyperinflation, freight disruption, and global war, the off-grid life is not just a hobby, but a valuable form of insurance. There may come a day when, whether we like it or not, we will all be forced to survive off-grid. Some will be prepared with the expertise required to make it work. Some will have at least a practical understanding of the methods and philosophies that drive decentralized and independent living. Others will not.
Frankly, if a former New York big-pharma salesman like Rich Scheben is able to wake up to the social catastrophe looming in our country’s future, and the extraordinary significance inherent in off-grid knowledge, then anyone can, and the dismissive excuses I hear so often from those who can’t wrap their heads around the importance of this step in the realm of survival, now tend to ring lazy and hollow…