Off the Grid Farmers

A few farmers' stories about life off of the grid.

Photography

Kim

Julie Tomaro

Julie Tomaro, 32, lives with her husband in a 315-square-foot yurt that they built themselves on 40 acres of land in southwest Wisconsin four years ago.

It’s lovely to live in [the yurt] because the walls are not soundproof. You hear the birds chirping. You hear the crickets at night. You are never going away from nature, even when you’re inside.

We did live a couple years without any electricity whatsoever. We had a very nice oil-burning lamp. There were long winter days. We couldn’t watch a movie. Couldn’t play any music, except on the phone, but couldn’t waste phone battery either. We had a little crank radio. In the summer it was not so bad, though keeping cool was hard. We bought a lot of ice.

Today we are off the grid, but we do have four 250-watt solar panels. They charge a battery bank system. Then we have that backed up with a generator. If the sun doesn’t shine for maybe three days, we have to run the generator. We have a very large chest freezer. The freezer is what the whole system is based around. Light bulbs take very little power. Computers, we rarely use them. We don’t have Internet out here.

We have three dairy goats that we milk. We have three pigs that we raise for meat. This year, for the first time here, we are doing meat chickens. And in the garden I grow tomatoes, beans, kale and asparagus. I have a young asparagus patch. They only get better with time.

If I had written down on paper that I would be going to live without electricity and haul my own water, I would have said no way. But you just do it. Not sure I’ve learned any lessons about myself, or maybe it’s just that we’re all tougher than we think.

Couple

Rebekah Yonan and Peter Kellman

Peter Kellman, a former civil rights, anti-war and environmental activist, and Rebekah Yonan, a retired school teacher, live on 5 acres of wooded land in North Berwick, Maine.

Peter Kellman: I moved to North Berwick in 1977 and bought 5 acres of land. It’s a wood lot, never been farmed. I started clearing the land by hand and built a one-room house. Over the years I kept expanding, little by little. Rebekah moved here in 1998 and we’ve been growing a lot of food ever since. We went solar because we had enough money at the time to do it. We grow a lot of vegetables. I retired a few years ago, and so I cut down more trees. We’ve been growing corn and wheat, among other things. We don’t use chemicals.

Rebekah Yonan: We only grow for ourselves. We do heat with wood and at least 6 months out of the year cook on a wood cook stove. One of the most labor-intensive things we do is food processing. We grow soy and I make soymilk, curdle it and make tofu. We have a mill and we grind the grains we need for flour. We’ve got corn that gets ground about three different ways for meal, grits and polenta. It’s just the two of us.

PK: We don’t have fields; we’re in the woods. There’s no open land. We never try to do everything ourselves. We buy oil, for example. One of our biggest challenges – and this is Rebekah’s thing and she’s good at it – is how to cook all the food that we’re going to eat.

RY: It’s our whole life. It’s why we get up in the morning. The health aspect is a big one for me. I am becoming increasingly upset with what people eat.

PK: It’s who we are, you know.

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