Off-Grid Homesteading in Vermont

Reader Contribution by Ashley Hetrick and Vermont Mango Plantation
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We always knew we wanted to homestead in Vermont.  We’ve lived other places, but none resonated as “our place” more than Vermont.  It’s the little things here, like the complete lack of billboards, that make the everyday scenery more magical.

We searched for land that we could afford and kept coming up short.  Like many young couples, we were impatient.  When we finally found our homestead, it was everything we’d ever dreamed.  Plenty of space to stretch out, a greenhouse, a pond and mature woodlands.  The main attraction was that it was well back from the road, but that meant something else…it was off the grid.

I know many people dream of moving off-grid, but that was never part of the plan.  We’re not tinkerers, and neither of us are mechanically inclined.  Our homesteading ambitions were more focused on gardening and time in nature, and we didn’t know the first thing about solar or wind power.

We were young and decided that there’s no time like the present to learn. Over the years we’ve learned a lot about managing our system, but for the most part, we’ve been surprised at just how much electricity a few panels can generate.  Even in Vermont, far to the north, we have more electricity than we can use nine months of the year.

Before we moved, we assumed we’d have to give up just about every electrical appliance we owned.  Now we’re actually buying “summer appliances” to make use of the free electricity we have so much of the year.  In truth, our off-grid home has more luxuries than our suburban home ever had.

The winter months are still hard.  The days are short, and it takes a long time for the solar panels to clear after snow and ice storms.  We’d be fine sitting by the fire reading a good book, but since we were so impatient to get onto land as soon as possible, we still need to make a living to pay for it.

With a little creativity, we’ve managed to work out ways to make a living off-grid without ever leaving our homestead.  Many of the ways we make income require a dependable internet connection, which means dependable power, which means we run the generator more than we’d like from December to February.

It’s Been a Learning Process

So what is the hardest thing about transitioning to off-grid? For me, it’s admitting how little I know.  More often than not, when something breaks it’s a simple fix, but it can be time-consuming and frustrating to trace it down.  We blew a single fuse that shut down our electricity for days until we traced the problem.  One $20 trip to the hardware store later and our house was back up and running. 

Problems like that are hard to explain to our friends.  When your washing machine breaks, you can call a repair person.  They’re standardized, and there are repair manuals.  Every off-grid installation is a bit different, and it took us years to find a repair person that can help us when things are over our heads.  Solar companies these days have experience installing panels and setting up net metering systems, but once batteries are involved it’s hard to find someone willing to help.

We’ve been on our land for 6 years now, and we’re loving it.  For now, we’re working on reducing our expenses as much as possible so we can pay off our home before we hit 40.  We’re also planning for the long term.

A big part of our homesteading dream was to be able to produce all of our own food, or as close as we could get.  We’re willing to make exceptions for flour and salt, but beyond that our goal is to grow and forage just about everything.  We’re planning our root cellar now to be built this summer or next, and we’ve already planted an orchard with enough storage varieties to supply us with fruit all year.

Things just got a bit more complicated now that we have two young children, but this is the only life they’ve ever known.  They’ve never seen a television, and my not quite 3-year-old daughter can identify most the trees in our woods by their bark.  She’ll calmly sit and teach her baby doll all about mushrooms, and how to identify morels and chanterelles. 

This is the life we dreamed of when we were sitting behind desks at our corporate jobs, and 6 years into our journey, I can’t imagine ever going back.  My “promising career” is shot, and my resume has a 6 year whole that I can only explain as “off living life.”  I wouldn’t trade that decision for anything.

Ashley lives in a solar and wind powered home in Vermont with her husband and two young children.  She writes about gardening, foraging, DIY and all things off-grid aPractical Self Reliance.  You can find pictures of her homestead adventures on Instagram, or follow along on Facebook or Twitter.

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