Gary Skeem: Self Sufficient Homesteader in Idaho

Surviving cancer motivated Gary Skeem to such a new zest for life that he establed his own grain mill company and—even in the face of power company opposition—a self-sufficient homestead.

| November/December 1979


Adversity led Gary Skeem to turn his Idaho home into a self-sufficient homestead.


In some ways Gary Skeem resembles many of today's back-to-the-landers (despite the fact that he's lived in the country all his life): He's a hardworking, industrious man who cares about the earth. His family farm includes a large garden and a greenhouse, as well as chickens, goats, rabbits, and bees.

But other aspects of Gary's life are far from typical. In addition to making sure his mini-ranch runs smoothly, he also manages his own grain mill manufacturing business (the Retsel Corporation). And in his spare time—while recovering from cancer and the loss of one eye—Mr. Skeem up and built a wind-plant and two hydroelectric turbines. Together they  provide enough power to allow him to say "thanks but no thanks" to the Utah Power and Light lines that run along the nearby road.

Just how—you're probably wondering—could one person possibly find the time and energy to manage both a farmstead and a manufacturing business, and then turn around and engineer and build several power production facilities, too? Well, the energetic Gem Stater figures that he "takes direction" from the bent toward natural living and self-sufficiency which the circumstances of his life have lent him.

"I had the bout with cancer right after I got married, and I'm sure that experience had a lot to do with giving me my enthusiasm toward life. Especially with my interest in natural things. You see, while I was recovering, I became concerned about eating more healthful food—such as whole grains, unsprayed vegetables, and unadulterated victuals in general—because I was convinced that my previous diet had had a lot to do with my getting cancer. As a matter of fact, it was my discovery of the horrible things that most commercial mills do to grain that led me to start my business.

"Anyway, since I couldn't find decent food at the supermarket, I started growing my own. That experience put me on the path toward self-sufficiency. Now it follows logically—at least to my way of thinking—that any effort to be self-sufficient makes a person more independent and has a marvelous effect upon that man or woman's outlook and abilities. In fact, the more I learned to depend upon myself, the more successful I became at every job I undertook. When you do good things and do them right, each success leads smoothly into the next project. It's just like the old adage says: 'Success breeds success.' "

As an example of such chain-reaction achievement, the emerging popularity of the Retsel Corporation's grain mills provided Gary with the money and inclination to develop his other "sideline" projects. First came a 2-KW Dunlite wind generator, which proved to be a rather erratic performer in the fickle Idaho breezes. So the impromptu engineer began building a power storage bank to take full advantage of the occasional winds ... and slowly but surely the Skeem root cellar filled with tiers of batteries. But once his wind system reached optimum capacity and was able to offset a goodly portion of the Idaho family's monthly power bill, the backyard electrician turned his attention elsewhere.

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