"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

State of the Homestead, Part 1

"In the future, we will need to have new functioning systems to replace the old systems that will presumably not be available or not be affordable. I'll call these alternative utilities. We will need new knowledge and skills. We will need supplies, and we will need to have some provision for security. Lastly, we will need to provide for food security. It might go under "supplies" but because of the size and complexity of the issue, it gets it's own category."

The above is an excerpt from my other blog, "the worry book," way back in 2009. I was attempting to formulate a plan for creating a more or less independently functioning homestead on these, our then recently purchased five acres. My goal was - and is - to build a place (no other word I can think of is right ... Compound? too scary and militaristic. Commune? too open-ended, too public, too hippy-dippy) where my extended family and progeny can survive and thrive despite the upheavals of the near-to-medium-term future.

Long ago, I looked around me and decided that the future of America was going to be a pretty scary place. Without going into detail and without inviting debate, I can say that I expect that the America of my children and grandchildren will be a poorer place; that they will not be able to depend on services that my parent's generation took for granted. I hope that things will not be so drastic, but I have to prepare for a possible future in which my children and grandchildren may have to live without health care, without reliable utilities, without police protection, without the security of a well-stocked grocery store down the street, and without easy, cheap transportation. Not to mention access to higher education. Even basic public education is beginning to look like a thing of the past.

I assume that the very well off will still be able to purchase the above amenities for several generations into the future; but I do not have the ability to amass the kind of fortune that will place my descendants among their number. Although I have the very very good fortune of being born into a well-to-do family, I am well aware that by the time my children are raising their own families, my savings will look paltry. I cannot count on leaving my children enough cash to establish themselves among the new world elite. Even if I thought that would be a worthwhile endeavor, which I do not.

Instead, I started thinking about what kind of security I COULD offer my descendants. I said my family was well-to-do. My grandparents and great-grandparents made their money in real estate, and it was passed down to me in my mother's milk that land was the ONLY real form of wealth. "it's the only thing they aren't making any more of," my mother used to say. Now, it may seem that the recent housing crisis and real estate bubble gives the lie to that sentiment, but I beg to differ. It's true that urban housing has suffered a crushing decline in many areas, but that's not "real" real estate. "Real" real estate, my friends, is in potentially productive land.

Don't get me wrong, urban housing will come back... at least in strategic markets. I wouldn't count on Phoenix, Las Vegas, L.A., or the Southwest in general, where water will become a pressing issue within ten years. I wouldn't count on border states, which will be subject to serious issues surrounding immigration as climate refugeeism becomes more common. But northern areas with historically mild climates, good water supplies, and liberal (read generous) governmental traditions will be extremely desirable in the next twenty to forty years. If you have a house in a market like that, hang on to it.

But no typical urban property is really potentially productive. Forgive me, but the entire "urban homesteader" movement is unsustainable. It depends on cheap water and other utilities, on cheap police protection, and basically on the survival of the intact infrastructure of 20th century cities as they exist today. God willing, that infrastructure will survive another generation or two, but I'm not particularly hopeful.

Therefore, I decided to try and create a more independent lifestyle on a larger piece of property outside of any city limits. I looked for land that was within striking distance of a decent sized city (We decided on Bellingham or Olympia, and Bellingham won out), that had easy access to major highways, that had good soils and good sun exposure, and was within the catchment area for a good school system. We were extremely lucky to find such a property. We were slightly less lucky in that said property had a house on it - an old farmhouse - that was pretty much falling apart and would require major maintenance for many years into the future - but the advantages of the land were enough to outweigh the drawbacks of the residence.

All of this is backstory, and available to those who are interested in details by searching the sidebar. This post is meant to detail our progress so far, and what you need to know is that when we moved in, we had a falling apart, leaky house; five acres of beat-to-shit ex- dairy farm land; tons of concrete, rubble, and other debris plowed into the ground, and nothing else.

After putting many thousands of dollars into basic repairs on the house (new roof, plumbing fixes, updated wiring, rot repair, et cetera), we were able to start thinking about creating a real homestead. The categories above (Alternative Utilities, Knowledge and Skills, Supplies, Security, and Food Security) do not provide an adequate framework for writing a chronological narrative of how we proceeded, but they do provide a decent framework for outlining our progress so far. So, beginning with "alternative utilities," here we go:

The basic utilities, for an urban dweller, are those that s/he pays for every month: electricity; water, sewer and garbage; gas or propane or heating oil; telephone, and whatever I might be forgetting. When we moved here, we decided not to hook up a land line, since we both had cell phones. Water is unbelievably cheap- $20/month for un-metered usage. Garbage is cheap too- especially since we opted for once-every-other-week service. Electricity is the same as it was in the city - good old Puget Sound Energy. Heat is the main difference - back in Seattle I had a natural gas furnace which cost me virtually nothing, even though it was twenty-something years old. Where I set the thermostat just wasn't an issue, financially. Up here, we have a big fat 500 gallon propane tank out back and have to pay cash up front tom fill it. Minimum delivery is $150 gallons, which works out, most recently, to - oh hell can't access the calculator but a lot, even at an indoor temperature of 63 degrees. it's not that it's so awfully expensive, it's that you have to come up with $500 just to get a delivery.

Oh I've been writing for an hour and a half now and I haven't even even begun to outline our actual homestead. But it's getting late and I have to get supper on the table, so it will have to wait for tomorrow. Stay tuned!


AnyEdge said...

One of the benefits of Global Warming is a great deal more water in the atmosphere. Don't count on the southwest being unlivable: the rains are coming. The rivers will be fat.

Laura said...

Amen. I have the issue now of having an electricity-dependent water delivery system (well) for the first time in 8 years. My last two places had an artesianing well, so when the power went out I could still get water to the animals and me), and a gravity-fed spring - didn't even have a pressure tank!

I'm working towards the rehabilitation of my beat-to-shit (by my own hands, darn it) pasture. I've more or less given up on the house. Being one person severly limits what I can do, but with new knees, those limits are less than last year!

I look forward to your future posts.

Aimee said...

Bro, everything I've seen predicts drought. National geographic has an excellent, detailed map
Of the best current predictions surrounding future rainfall. It's true that precipitation will increase In many areas, butnit will come on more concentrated form - more flash floods, more severe drouth the rest of he time. Major public works can capture rain of course, but I doubt our ability to organize and fund such major public works much longer.