Many people never see a farm up close. They never see a pasture of cows or a coop of laying hens. They are so removed from where their food comes from that the realization that modern technology plays an always evolving place in farm life might come as a surprise. Modern technology has created not only a place of progression but now a place of self sustainability through renewable energy. Solar technology is booming for farmers and can be used for a wide range of things making farmers much more self sustainable and making off the grid living an easier task inside and outside of the home.
Solar power production can be used for water pumping. A solar-powered well pump can also be used for remote watering of livestock. Some farms even use solar-powered irrigation to grow their crops. Solar water heating is another way solar power is being used and can even be used for a radiant floor system. These lighting systems are great for everything from garden lights to entry ways, gates, and outbuildings.
Many solar options are simply a smarter choice for a lot of farms. Solar air heaters are an option that happen to be fairly cheap and easy to build on your own. Solar power can also be used to power and automate systems of ventilation important for greenhouses and animal enclosures. For farmers whose crops need to be dried before sale, solar dehydrators are extremely cost effective and simple to build. Also, solar powered fencing is reliable and low maintenance, a good choice if there are ever power outages because the solar fences will continue to stay active.
There are so many outlets for solar energy in the farming world that drastically cut monthly energy bills and are protection against rising energy costs in the future as well as giving the farmer independence. It creates the possibility of making a profit from their solar energy and having solar energy panels increases the value of the property. Considering all of these factors and the fact that the United States Department of Agriculture has grants and loans available to help with the initial investment of solar energy, the choice to switch to a green energy source has been an easy one for many farmers and has made it entirely possible to live off the grid.
There seems to be some disconnect, though, in the push for renewable energy from the USDA and the legality of off-the-grid living. Technically speaking, off grid (in essence not being connected to the electrical grid) living is not illegal. What has happened is that the overly restrictive city and county ordinances have made off the grid living close to impossible. In many instances leading to arrests and even occupants having to leave their home and their own land.
The key aspects that have been up for debate between those wanting to live in peace on their own land off the grid and the sometimes suspicious concerns of city and county officials are:
In most places it is illegal to camp, even on your own land, for more than two weeks. If you are in the process of building your own tiny home that can be an issue so you will need to get a permit. That is where things get sticky. There have been reports of certain counties not granting camping permits making it impossible to finish a homestead. Furthermore for those who are excited about creating a tiny home be aware of the zoning restrictions.
There are zoning restrictions for the minimum square footage allowed for your own home. You must get a building permit before building on your own land and if the size does not fit the minimum requirements it will not be approved unless you get a variance which is hard to get approved. This means that tiny homes and tiny cabins would be illegal to build.
There are also minimum lot size requirements. The farther rural you are the larger the requirements are generally. Most minimum lot sizes are 5-10 acres unless you get a variance which is hard to do and changes the land to a “subdivision” and completely defeats the purpose of buying the land for off the grid living because now you have to register lots with the city among other things.
A water system is mandatory. If you have a well, making it so you don’t have to hook up to city water that will generally suffice but collecting rainwater will not be considered a proper water system in most cases.
A septic system is also a huge factor. There is generally a minimum sized septic system required and if you build and install the system yourself instead of hiring a contractor or having the perc test done then you are breaking the law. For those looking to escape the hustle and bustle and live minimally the cost of a septic system and the process to install it is probably out of their reach.
Zoning for livestock and selling goods from a garden without a permit are also ways in which city and county officials have bombarded the off the grid way of life with what seems like a way in which to control how, when, where, and to what extent we can utilize certain freedoms.
The degree of freedom of separation from the larger society is beginning to become a constant struggle. So much so that there are now police units dedicated to seeking out off the grid homes to investigate whether or not they are abiding by the city and county ordinances and city restrictions.
One of these police units is called a Nuisance Abatement Team or NAT out of L.A. County. It is said that their mission is “to abate the more difficult code violations and public nuisance conditions on private property.” Many of the people who have lost their homes and land due to these new abatement teams live in places where their closest neighbor is miles away. There isn’t exactly a public to become a nuisance to, but still the city has made the effort and taken the time (and money) to seek these off the grid homes and families out.
Officials at NAT claim that they are “trying to get the message out about what we do. We have nothing to hide, we feel, but a lot of people don’t like what you did to them and so they’ll make up a story… and people start believing things that never happened.” This could very well be true, one or two people get upset they have to change some things on their own property and spin a tall tale but it is not one or two people and they are asking more than homes to be up to code.
One woman recollects her experience with NAT as rather frightening. She was home alone and startled by a loud knock on the door, when she opened it she was greeted by two men in full swat gear, bulletproof vests, the works, telling her that her home was not permitted and everything must go. Many times these interactions start out much less abrasive with NAT teams asking residents to clean up bushes and excess belongings and ending in them returning time and time again eventually to tell residents they have to vacate their own land but before doing so, they have to tear down their home. In the end many of these cases are ending in people being jailed for not being able to fix everything asked of them or not leaving their own home.
What it seems to come down to is the usual capitalist dilemma. Power companies operate on a grid system. When people choose to live off of that grid the cost of the infrastructure is divided among fewer people who has led to power companies lobbying for surcharges on solar energy. It seems as though capitalism is taking the forefront and in the process leaving people homeless, on probation for not being able to endure the commands of NAT and even incarcerated.
The question remains, do we continue to invest in the future of the world through agriculture and renewable energy or do we pretend nothing is happening for immediate financial gratification? The cost of ignoring the current effects we have on the planet far outweigh the immediate financial gain, but are people willing to act?
Published on Organic Lifestyle Magazine under my pen name Rose Rennar.