Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Plan

It was just brought to my attention that I started talking about getting ready without actually describing the plan first. Ooops, got a little ahead of myself there!

We intend to build a low-impact cabin (similar to this one in principle) on our remote, forested property using as many locally-sourced and reused materials to acheive the lowest embodied energy possible. Once the cabin is habitable, we'll focus on a large garden using a combination of organic, raised-bed, biointensive, permaculture practices. Then we'll build a nice barn to match the cabin and get some small livestock (chickens, rabbits, goats, etc), which we intend to raise as "free range, pasture fed", using rotational grazing methods, as possible given the climate and predator population in AK.

Our over-arching goal is to produce/obtain the majority of our needs right on our property using the minimum amount of fossil fuels and (hopefully zero) synthetic chemicals. We are attempting to be as self-sustaining and self-reliant as humanly possible given the limits of our property. We hope to be able to grow and raise enough food for ourselves and to sell/trade for those things we can't produce on our own. We are also working towards being "tax neutral" -- only earning enough income to meet our needs while still staying at or below the taxable level.

We are designing our homestead and farm to be a full-circle biological cycle generating little, if any, waste. To this end, we will be using composting toilets, a graywater reclamation system, and employing biodiversity in our gardens and livestock. Our hope is to create a true cradle-to-cradle system that does not require many, if any, outside inputs to remain sustainable. Of course, there will always be need to import a few items that are not available onsite, such as salt for food preservation, certain minerals and nutrients that are lacking in our soil, and some glass and metal items. But we are trying to minimize outside inputs to only those that we cannot produce, procure, reuse, or find alternate available replacements.

Some combination of renewable energy systems will be employed to provide us with the small amount of electricity we require (for pumps, electronics and telecommunications), while reverting to non-electric mechanical methods for things where electrical versions are really only a convenience. Until that system is installed, we will need to rely on a fuel-driven combustion generator for the power tools necessary to get our cabin built during the short summer. This is a concession that was difficult for us to make, but since time was of the essence (or we'd freeze in the winter) we realized that we did need the gas chainsaw and other electric power tools in the beginning. Going forward, we hope to only use the generator as a backup and to convert it and the chainsaw to a renewable fuel (most likely ethanol) that we can produce onsite.

In essence, our homestead is an experimental proof-of-concept, taking the principles of several established (although "alternative") methods to combine and modify them to work in an extreme cold climate. The "extreme cold climate" part is the most important because most of the reference materials out there focus on temperate climates, desert climates, or "normal" cold climates... not -40F (or lower!) winters with almost constant darkness and only a 100-day growing season with almost constant daylight. I'm sure we'll run into a few things that will have to be done a different or more conventional way, but we are hoping to illustrate that alternative methods can be viable if tweaked a little. We don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution, so we hope exposing the processes behind our experimentation can help others devise systems and methods that fit their individual needs.


Unknown said...

I'm curious what part of Alaska you are building in, as the climate can vary so much by location...

Plickety Cat said...

We'll be in the Interior, about 4 hours west of Fairbanks, just south of the Arctic Circle.