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100 miles from the middle of nowhere...then take a left another 40 miles or so....
November 29, 2009 5:21 PM   Subscribe

A 47 year old NYC photographer says to hell with it. He takes his 10 thousand dollars or so and buys a spot of land. You are miles and miles from anywhere. John Wells wants to build something for himself and inspire others. John has built the Field Lab and invites all who are interested to explore the idea of living off the grid... that is to use only the power you produce and eat what you grow. He has gotten a little attention...but for the most part has stayed out of the spotlight. You can follow his day to day blog and live a little vicariously. Note: If you want a tour...show up with a six pack or something. Its a long drive to town and he will forever be your friend.
posted by shockingbluamp (38 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
pretty cool. when we go out towards eastern oregon it makes me wish i could buy land out there. something about the remoteness of the place is really appealing. i envy guys like this.
posted by rainperimeter at 5:45 PM on November 29, 2009


During my honeymoon, I had the chance to use wood to keep a fire burning in a fireplace so I could keep warm in what was freezing cold conditions. It was pretty awesome to do that, for a while. Then after a couple of days of constantly moving wood around with a poker and going outside every few hours to get more wood, I realised why humans invented electric heaters.

More power to the guy and anyone else who wants to live off the grid (no pun intended). If that's something you want to do then go for it. But seriously, we have these naturally big brains for a reason, and that's to create new and easier ways of getting things done that we need doing.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:50 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, division of labour is a pretty nifty idea, too.
posted by odinsdream at 5:52 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is really cool. I've just started to learn about self-sufficiency through my experiencing wooffing this past summer. One of the farmers I stayed with recommended to me John Seymour's The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. It's got loads of DIY for the beginner or experienced.
posted by Wanderlust88 at 5:53 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having flipped though the various on how he's doing things, it is pretty cool, but I think there's happy medium in terms of having the modern life, using more eco friendly techniques and cutting back on our power consumption.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:58 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have 10 acres near TERLINGUA. Because you never know.
posted by Senator at 5:58 PM on November 29, 2009


Marc Maron began one of his recent podcasts with a hilarious riff on fantasizing about going off the grid. Worth a listen.

Living off the grid could be really bad (nonfiction), not for everyone (nonfiction, and recommended), and also enchanting (fiction, and recommended).

And then there's this guy.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 6:16 PM on November 29, 2009


To really live off the grid, you would live like a 19th century homesteader, maybe a few metal tools to get going. Not to say it isn't hard either way. It sort of seems though this is more about independence from monthly bills than independence from the grid.
posted by stbalbach at 6:17 PM on November 29, 2009


This is an enormously attractive idea. Unfortunately, I am a deeply lazy man.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:24 PM on November 29, 2009 [13 favorites]


Maybe he'll get a book deal writing about how he chased a loon across a local lake and other such encounters.
posted by pwnguin at 6:31 PM on November 29, 2009


Sorry, but the deeply cynical me totally questions the motivations and merits of a dude who "lives off the grid" while continuously Facebooking/blogging/Twittering about it.
posted by xmutex at 6:32 PM on November 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


This post is terribly written, the grammar is all over the shop.
posted by wilful at 6:36 PM on November 29, 2009


I don't think living off the grid has to mean you shun all contact with others. I don't understand how that makes you question his merits or motivations. Does he have to be a saint, striving away in obscurity? Letting others know about his life doesn't change what he's doing.
posted by twirlypen at 6:37 PM on November 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


I live off the grid too! I have this apartment in the city, and the grid takes care of everything. The grid is awesome, I would not live off anything else.
posted by mullingitover at 6:53 PM on November 29, 2009 [12 favorites]


You know who else went off the grid?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:04 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


To state the obvious: this is not a solution for everyone on the planet.

Nonetheless, this is less a publicity stunt that a few celebrated authors have attempted, and a more authentic choice explained in how to live off the grid. Many have wrestled with how to do this, especially here in the forbidding (read: water deficient) territory of Southwest America.

Very thoughtful and practical web contribution.
posted by kozad at 8:00 PM on November 29, 2009


This post is terribly written, the grammar is all over the shop.

Rule 37: Any complaint about bad spelling will include spelling mistakes and any complaint about incorrect grammar will include grammatical mistakes.

Rule 38: Hardcore descriptivists will complain about inherent paternalism in the philosophical underpinnings of Rule 37.

Rule 39: Shut up shut up nyah nyah nyah I can't hear you.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:08 PM on November 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


Man, the rules get really boring after 34.
posted by Reverend John at 8:39 PM on November 29, 2009 [9 favorites]


Sorry, but the deeply cynical me totally questions the motivations and merits of a dude who "lives off the grid" while continuously Facebooking/blogging/Twittering about it.

The guy lives miles from anyone. His most constant companion is a longhorn cow named Benita. A heavy rainfall leaves him pretty much cut off for days. Honestly, the main way he has to keep in touch with friends is via email and the internet. I have known John for a couple of years, and yeah, he admits that he enjoys a little bit of publicity. But I think it's a lot more about sharing what he's learned, to help other people who might want to do something similar (to whatever extent they desire). It's not easy to do what he's done, and it's risky- I think he just wants to create a resource for sustainable living.

He's not trying to completely sever himself from modern life, I think he just wants to live mindfully and sustainably, and on his own terms, and he's done a pretty good job of it. He's one of those rare libertarian dudes who really puts his money where his mouth is.
posted by kingv at 8:59 PM on November 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm glad to see a guy getting a little famous for living his dream. I mean, he's not just on Twitter tweeting "shitting in a bucket," but he's also shitting in a bucket. I also like his list of caveats regarding shipping containers: "Even with all the hype, they are difficult to obtain and expensive to ship long distances." Well, there you go. If you had asked me yesterday about shipping containers as housing stock in the desert, I wouldn't have had an informed answer. Now I do.
posted by lucius at 9:33 PM on November 29, 2009


Been there, done that. My parents moved off the grid and built a log cabin in the Ozarks in 1979, with a couple of kids in tow, real Dick Proenneke stuff. Lasted a few years, but it's HARD. We eventually came back to civilization. Wouldn't trade the experience for anything though. We still have the place, just went there for Thanksgiving this week, actually. Nearly broke one of the SUVs on the so-called road.
posted by smcameron at 10:05 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think this is really cool. His blog is really interesting, think I'll end up reading quite a bit. My favorite line so far "The other night I had cocktail hour on top of one of my shipping containers while the sun set - all blissed out on the fact that I don't have to look at any neighbors from my view.....just a dirt road and a star filled sky."
posted by shinyshiny at 10:09 PM on November 29, 2009


Phone Service? Internet? I'm more off the grid than this guy during a bad storm.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 10:39 PM on November 29, 2009


Living off the grid, mobile version.

S**k it, cubicle slaves!
posted by HTuttle at 10:39 PM on November 29, 2009


Reminds me of my favourite ever road sign, when crossing the Nullabor Desert.

The road is long and straight and goes on for a thousand and a bit kilometres, with the odd turning here and there to very, very remote settlements.

About 400km out from Norseman, there is a sign at a gas station that simply says "Norseman Caravan Park: turn left at the T junction."
posted by MuffinMan at 12:46 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I want to do this, but for a slightly different reason: I want to have a parcel of remote land with a little bitty house on it so I can drag the kids there once a year to help them realize what they have.

this will probably last two years, after which my wife will refuse to go, then a few years later my kids will too, then I'll end up living out there after the divorce caused by my refusal to sell the land. also my beard will get really long which is cool
posted by davejay at 2:03 AM on November 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Actually, if everyone lived in a city like Manhattan, dense, lots of public transport, etc, we would be fine. Solar panels and wind turbines are fine, but chances are he'll probably be doing a lot of driving.

The land out there is not really all that amenable to farming either, that's why it's so cheap.
posted by delmoi at 2:23 AM on November 30, 2009


350 years ago they would have just called them diggers.

And if you're interested in Gerald Winstanley and his group of true Levellers then I'd heartily recommend watching this 1975 film on his life called Winstanley, shot for a pittance and using mostly non actors. It's wonderful.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:20 AM on November 30, 2009


Then after a couple of days of constantly moving wood around with a poker and going outside every few hours to get more wood, I realised why humans invented [...]

... having a log basket next to your fire.
posted by cillit bang at 4:22 AM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you have to go outside to gather wood for a fire for living off the grid, then you are doing it wrong.
posted by DU at 4:50 AM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do his phone company and blogging hosts also live off the grid?
posted by gjc at 6:02 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very interesting, thanks. I love this guy. He actually socializes more than I do, and I live in the center of a major metropolis. Of course, I'm an urban hermit, and he's a remote rural extrovert. :) I disagree with all the sneering about internet/blogging, etc. - he just seems to be doing what he wants to do, as opposed to living some pioneer reenactment or survivalist wet dream. But he should get another dog. (Sorry, John Wells! You know the internet peoples always gotta be giving advice. Carry on, and be happy!)
posted by taz at 7:07 AM on November 30, 2009


Well, the important thing is that there is one less photographer in NYC.
posted by fuq at 8:26 AM on November 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


He takes his 10 thousand dollars or so and buys a spot of land.
[slow fade-in of gentle uplifting solo, clarinet or muted trumpet]

John has built the Field Lab and invites all who are interested to explore the idea of living off the grid
[gradual swell to orchestra, strings introduce melody of hope]

use only the power you produce and eat what you grow
[staccato trumpet and french horn announce industrious worker's theme]

show up with a six pack or something. Its a long drive to town
[cue full radius record scratch]
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:25 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


He has to refill his ice box every two days - does he drive to town that often?

And I know this isn't a fair comparison, but I was impressed recently by the ice house at Monticello. It's sixteen feet deep.
posted by exogenous at 12:16 PM on November 30, 2009


He mentions Design Build Bluff as an inspiration for his building design. I sit on their board. They do excellent work, not only for the people who are receiving the houses and structures they build, but for the students who are given a chance to think creatively and environmentally about architecture before they leave school.
posted by pashdown at 2:29 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


show up with a six pack or something. Its a long drive to town
[cue full radius record scratch]


It's an experiment, a work in progress, so I hope he either gives up on cold stuff or adds some more solar panels and a 12V fridge like a Sun Frost. The biggest (still smaller than typical from-grid 'fridge) draws 1.02 kWh per day in 90 deg F surroundings.

Motor vehicles are ludicrously heavy and use a lot of energy. Two days running that Sun Frost is equivalent to getting 32.64 horsepower out of an engine for 5 minutes. An ICE is less that 100% efficient, so that's more than 2.04kWh in from the fuel. Using gallons of gas equivalent, the two days of refrigeration is 1/33 of a gallon of gasoline (or 1/29 of diesel).

That's why I'm looking at an electric-assist velomobile for commuting. I'm not (completely) lazy, but don't have enough time for human-only power at 2 hours/day.

He might be better off running a propane-powered fridge and driving in once a week for refills instead of ice.
posted by morganw at 8:09 AM on December 1, 2009


Wondering about the efficiency of a propane powered fridge led me to look up how they work and I found a solar powered ice maker [pdf] from Home Power magazine (an awesome resource). It's simpler and less convenient than a PV-powered compressor refrigerator as you have to carry the ice to your ice box every morning & refill the icemaker with water before the night cycle begins, but it might end up cheaper than those pricey PV panels.

For you <hodgman>non-readers</hodgman>, a TED video about a campfire powered refrigerator (for medicines in the 3rd world).
posted by morganw at 9:09 AM on December 1, 2009


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