The Self-Sufficient Homestead

With motivation, hard work and an Internet connection, the dream of going back to the land is more attainable than ever.

| June/July 2005

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    Nine-inch-thick hand-quarried limestone covers the stud-and-timber frame of the Maxwells’ owner-built homestead.
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    Basement walls are 24 inches thick, resting on smooth limestone bedrock. 
  • Self-Sufficient Home
    Nine-inch-thick hand-quarried limestone covers the stud-and-timber frame of the Maxwells’ owner-built homestead.
    Photo courtesy ROGER YIP
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    Nine-inch-thick hand-quarried limestone covers the stud-and-timber frame of the Maxwells’ owner-built homestead.

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  • Self-Sufficient Home
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I used to daydream about going back to the land and building a place of my own. When I finally did it, I discovered the reality of homesteading was even better than I had imagined.

My grandfather took me to see the original Grizzly Adams movie, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, when I was 12 years old. As I watched the story of a man learning to survive in the wilderness, for the first time in my life I glimpsed a way of living that was in harmony with nature. That idea was extremely compelling to me, even if the story was contrived from a Hollywood director’s chair. One of the main attractions for me was freedom from the need for money. As a youngster, I thought the prospect of a money-free lifestyle in the wilderness looked like a great alternative to the few dollars I earned each week cutting grass and painting garages.

I grew up in a sprawling Toronto suburb, where I was fortunate enough to meet my wife, Mary, during our last year of high school. But by the end of my teens, I couldn’t wait to move away. More than anything, I was thirsty for a piece of land. I wanted a place with plenty of scope for my imagination, a patch of ground with enough room to dream big, get my hands dirty, and forge a sustainable and beautiful partnership with the natural world. More than 20 years later, I’m here to tell you that such a life is possible, and that here in the country there’s room for you, too.

Building a Home

When I was 23, Mary and I bought a 91-acre parcel of farmland and forest on Manitoulin Island, nestled along the north shore of Lake Huron in Ontario. Five years after that, we settled into the mortgage-free stone-and-timber house that we built for ourselves on the property. Today we share this home with our four island-born children: Robert, 14; Katherine, 10; Joseph, 7; and Jacob, 4.

Manitoulin Island is almost 100 miles long, and it’s an uncommon mixture of small farms, clean lakes and healthy forests. About 12,000 people live here year-round; the summer population swells to about 50,000. A few books have been written about the island, but the most telling title is Forever on the Fringe. From one end to the other, this island is the kind of rural area without a whiff of the city anywhere.

One of my founding principles always has been to avoid debt, and this is especially true when it comes to buying land and building a home. When Mary and I bought this property, we economized and bought land without buildings (it cost $16,500 in Canadian dollars back in 1986, which would have been about $12,000 in U.S. dollars). Then, we built an uninsulated 10-by-20-foot wood-frame shed for $550. It was big enough to offer both tool storage and living quarters, but just barely. We lived there for several years while we crafted our house, moving out just a week before our son Robert was born.

Jenny Rasico
9/22/2009 12:45:05 PM

We are also planning a sustainable community , but on a smaller scale. Aprox 6 dwellings with one acre of vegitables to feed them , 4 cows, one of which is for milk, 2 horses for recreation and work, one mule, a couple hogs, a flock of chickens for eggs and meat, a flock of gineas for bug control, a music recording studio and an art studio. The workshops will develope as the needs arise. This is all on 20 acres, which should be enough to sustain the livestock and ourselves. The other 20 acres that we have ( it is all one parcel of 40 acrs) will be an organic orchard and berry patch. Not sure yet if we will be selling directly to grocery stores as well as farmers markets or possibly u-pick. We just bought it and are headed out there as much as possible to build the pole barn we will live in until we finish the main house. My husband and I , 4 children, and so far, one friend....

1/12/2008 12:17:33 PM

Hello Steve, I would like to introduce myself as Maya in my final year Architecture course in Chennai,Tamil Nadu, India. We are required to do a thesis project in our final semester. I have chosen to do a self -sustaining community on the outskirts of Chennai citing increasing globalisation, industrialisation and global warming as major concerns and that unless man chooses to live an ecological way of life, reducing his "comforts",the future generations may not have a rosy life. DESIGNERS` VILLAGE Design is from the Latin de signare, which means “to trace out, define, and indicate”. We are all designers. We constantly make decisions that shape our own futures and those of others. We choose our everyday reality: where and how we live, how we use our time and energy, what we value and whom we care about, how we earn and how we spend. All these choices involve dimensions of design. “A village is a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet, but smaller than a town or city[1]. Though generally located in rural areas, the term urban village may be applied to certain urban neighborhoods too.” A self-reliant community evolving gradually over time on the principles of ecological design. An intentional community of assorted individuals who have come together to lead a life that depends less on non-renewable resources such as coal, petroleum, natural gas and their by-products but instead on resources that are available in nature in abundance, for their energy requirements. Ecological design: “Any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with living processes”. This integration implies that the design respects species diversity, minimizes resource depletion, preserves nutrient and water cycles, maintains habitat quality, and attends to all the other preconditions of human and ecosystem health. The current building practices that are standardized solutions require enormous

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