Saturday, February 11, 2006

Going off the grid for 6 months on $0 a day

Wow. They did it! An Australian family of three lived off their quarter acre suburban block for 6 months without spending 1 cent. Young son Caleb did sell some household produce, eggs and fetta cheese, to buy leggo blocks and lollies, but otherwise the household currency for parents Linda Cockburne and Trevor Wittmer became energy, not money.

They farmed their own food, kept a goat for milk protein, and even managed to live without toilet-paper.

This is the new sport of extreme downshifting. No car, no supermarket, no credit cards and, as mentioned, no toilet-paper. What intrigues me is that they did it in the suburbs. Trevor cycled the 17kms to work through the week and Linda tended the garden, managed the goat, chickens, household and Caleb.

Prior to the experiment they were the typical dual income couple emitting up to 8 tonnes a year of carbon dioxide juggling daycare, commuting and shopping. In fact this is why they went off the grid, according to the booklaunch PR for Linda's book about the adventure, called Living the Good Life and published by Hardie Grant Publishing.
Disillusioned with their lives, Linda Cockburn and Trevor Wittmer decide this is how to break the cycle of too much work and too little time for doing the things that are important, like spending time with their son, Caleb.
They had had a run-up. They had been eating out of their garden for a few years and spent about $21,000 to set up solar power, self-composting toilets and rain water harvesting solutions to get the home off the grid and to the point where they could live without spending a cent.

They had tough times; a drought to deal with, fruit-fly infestations, and they discovered their son had a congenital heart disorder. Medical expenses and health issues over-rode their sustainability rules.

Their quarter acre mainly yielded enough goat's food to provide 4 litres of milk a day - a lot of protein, 147 grams. For every gram of milk protein yielded, they had to produce seven grams of protein for Possum, the goat who was hand-fed with intensively produced food stock.

In a radio program with ABC National they tell how they baked their own bread with flour and other ingredients (rice, sugar and oil) traded for goats milk fetta, made lemon custard tarts, goat's cheese pizza (with roasted pumpkin pieces?) passionfruit gelatos and eggplant burgers. They attest that they really didn't lack for taste or nutrition, although they did get leaner. Feeding their young son pumpkin proved harder though, but you don't have to go off-grid to come up against that problem. Caleb did lose some weight towards the end and his regime was eased up upon.

Trevor missed his beer and meatpies, but only really when exposed to fast food through his working day or listening to his mates talking about the pub. He found the self-imposed restrictions chaffed a little but they got through it. They solved the no toilet-paper problem by adapting a Roman sponge-on-a-stick model where instead of resting the sponge in a jar of salt water they used a mild solution of tea tree oil and water. They grew their own loofas for the sponge which, once used, was dropped into the composting toilet, decomposing much better than does toilet-paper.

Other problems also led them to devise ingenious solutions. Snails, pests in the garden, became tasty protein food in the kitchen when cooked in garlic, just like the French do.

So what else did they get out of the adventure? Blood tests prior to embarking showed they were both low on iron, Trevor had cholesterol and triglyceride levels four times higher than what is considered healthy and Linda's blood pressure was high. At the end of six months of unprocessed, healthy food and exercise they had another blood test and discovered that despite not eating meat for the period their iron levels were 75% higher, Trevor's triglycerides and cholesterol was back down where it should be and Linda's blood pressure was the lowest it had been for 10 years.

I am curious to know how much money they saved. I've ordered the book. Check out their website.

[h/t] Sustainablog

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