Monday, June 07, 2010

The Self-Determination Project

So what brings a family of four 1400 miles, 15 degrees latitude and 3 degrees longitude to suffer culture and climate shock?

The REAL question is why we left.

Friends and family remain in AZ. Only our immediate family and income source made the move, and the income source is portable. So why leave (almost) everything behind?

Independence, self-determination, over-reliance, terrorists, and the horrible death trap that is Metro Phoenix.

Let's start with terrorists and the horrible death trap.

Imagine a bustling metropolis with 5 million people. These people live on mostly infertile, unforgiving ground. Fresh water is almost non-existent locally, and is brought in via a canal from a river on the state border. A river whose water rights are bitterly disputed by no less than 7! states.

Now imagine summers so hot that temps regularly reach and exceed 120 Fahrenheit, and people often die during the summer when their ac goes out. Imagine the electrical load needed for 5 million people to run their ac at the same time, and the inability of those with solar panels to keep up with their usage.

Imagine the lack of farmland, and the need to truck in almost every bit of food from neighboring states.

Now imagine the water grid, electrical grid, or transportation grid failing. 5 million people either trying to make do, or desperately trying to get out of town.

If someone wanted to make a REALLY big statement against the U.S., Phoenix makes a damn good choice. God forbid a natural disaster, or Palo Verde going down, or, or, or...

Like I said, death trap.

This came home to me about a year and a half ago while taking Chris's mom grocery shopping.

She bought only enough food to last a week, all of it processed. That's not particularly surprising for her. Then I started paying attention to everyone else in the store and what they were buying. Boxed meals. Prepackaged meals. Convenience foods. Not in large quantity either.

I never particularly paid attention before. We could easily eat for a month off of our pantry from the basic staples I keep on hand. But these people... what would happen if the grocery store just didn't get stocked? What would happen if no trucks came? How long could they live out of their kitchen cabinets? Do they even know how to cook from scratch if need be?

What if the water stopped flowing? How much did they have on hand? Could they even survive a full day if the faucet didn't work?

What if all 5 million of us got stuck in such a situation? Mass rioting is far too mild a term...

So we decided we needed to leave the death trap.

But where would we move?

It would make no sense just to move to another metropolis. All big cities have the same problem; lots of people dependent on lots of infrastructure in order to function. Over-reliance on systems they don't understand and no concept of what to do when systems fail. Also, city-dwellers deal with huge portions of their lives and livelihoods being controlled by city officials through public utilities, codes, property taxes, and police.

When there's a police officer on every corner, people forget that they need to defend themselves, and settle their own differences. When there's a police officer on every corner, sometimes the officers forget that people CAN be trusted to defend themselves, and settle their own differences.

Speaking of settling differences... that job has been taken over by the compliance police.

Code enforcers. HOAs. Byzantine zoning restrictions. All there to make sure you fit in and *gasp* don't cause home values to drop.

Scottsdale has the weed nazis. Code enforcers who come around after every rain checking for weeds in "desert landscaping". Code enforcers with the authority to fine.

Other cities want complete control over what type of buildings go up, to the point of dictating historical districts and to what level a homeowner can restore their own building. Some cities have ridiculous parking statutes.

Many, many people use these mechanisms in order to "encourage" their neighbors to fit in.

"Independent" becomes a very bad word... an insult in fact.

We didn't want to live in that environment anymore. We didn't need to live in the city anymore, so why were we still there?

But if not the cities, where? There's 50 states to choose from, how do you make a choice?

Now was the time for research, and some basic exclusionary analysis.

We started with the basics: gun rights. If a state didn't have shall-issue, or Vermont-style carry they got dropped off the list.

Then analyzed based on climate. We wanted a climate where the summer wouldn't be too humid. Pretty much everywhere east of the Mississippi, except New Hampshire, got taken off the list. We also wanted a climate that wasn't too Fridgid. Wyoming and Montana went into the iffy list.

We wanted mountains, with varied scenery. No Plains states. Besides, the weather on the plains leaves something to be desired.

Politics. Anywhere run by a hugely liberal capital got taken off the list. This killed otherwise suitable states, like Washington and Oregon, and made once strong like New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Nevada iffy.

Ideally, we wanted a low tax, no income tax state; but we didn't exclude based on it... Just not enough choices without income tax.

Fresh water, preferably with large lakes and lots of rivers; and a good, accessible water table. New Mexico got taken off the list entirely, and most of the rest of the west got iffy (leaving only small pockets of suitable territory in most of the Rocky mountain west states).

That left us with parts of Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Montana, and Idaho.... Eastern Oregon or eastern Washington would have been good, but for the government in either state.

That is, until we decided we wanted to farm and ranch on a small scale.

Fertile land became very important to us, as well as a suitable growing season. Climate became more important, and so we decided we wanted a certain temperature range, and erred on the side of heating in the winter rather than cooling in the summer.

One factor remained; Chris needed to be within 2 hours of a major regional airport.

This became a huge issue. Lakes, affordable land, and proximity to an airport? Good bloody luck...

Then one day while looking at maps, I saw it. Tucked in the northern portion of Idaho, one of the deepest lakes in the U.S., and the biggest lake in the Northwest. Lake Pend Oreille. 75% of the shoreline Federal land, and the land prices made us drool. National forest all over the place and some of the most fertile ground in the Northwest. Plus, the mountain ranges funnel warmer air through the area so the climate is more mild than we expected.

Oh, and an hour and a half from Spokanes airport.

And no one else seemed to notice it was there. And if they did, they dismissed it out of hand.

"Idaho? All those redneck nutjobs? Why the hell would you want to move there?"

"Aren't there all those white supremacists there?"

"Isn't that WAY in the boondocks?"

(some of these are direct quotes from Chris's family).

Well, we knew better than to believe the stereotypes, so we started asking around and researching.

Redneck nutjobs? Some, but a very small minority. Plus redneck isn't necessarily an insult in our minds.

White supremacists? Yeah, there's still a few around, universally hated and scorned.

Boondocks? Well, that is kind of the point.

We wanted independence. We wanted to be able to take care of our own needs. We wanted as much self-determination as we could manage without ending up on a terrorist watch list.

Oddly enough, most of north Idaho feels the same way. The county north of us is where Ruby Ridge happened, and most residents rallied behind Randy Weaver not because they agreed with him, but because they were so pissed the Feds crossed that line...

People here like to be left alone. People here like to do what they wish. People here also like the stereotypes, because it means fewer of those damn Californians moving in and trying to take over...

...They REALLY hate Californians...

Moreover, while everyone we talked to is more than happy to live here; they'd rather keep the area a secret, so it doesn't get ruined. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get flak for posting this, and letting the rest of you know what you're missing.

So we looked at local ordinances, distances, travel times... We weighed all of the data and decided on Bonner, or the southern portion of Boundary counties (just because of distance and travel time. The northern part of Boundary county doesn't have much in the way of improved roads.)

Bonner county has figured out that if they zoned just right, the Californians would stay away. Thus, the vast majority of Bonner County is zoned some variant of rural, with various minimum lot sizes (outside of an incorporated area, certain zones NEAR incorporated areas that allow .5 acre per dwelling, or specially permitted "high density" housing... mostly trailer parks... it's a minimum of five acres per dwelling unit), very few restrictions on land usage, and most importantly, the "right to farm" (oh and Idaho is right to hunt, fish, and trap state too). Their idea of water, mineral, and timber rights? If it's on your property, it's yours. If you can drill it, catch it, cut it... you can drink it, use it, sell it, whatever

As for government interference, here's a snippet from the "Buying Land" page from the OFFICIAL web page of Boundary County, the county to the north of us:
Another consideration is the economy of Boundary County, which is based predominantly on timber and agriculture production. Idaho is a "right to farm" state, meaning anyone who owns property has the right to use or lease that land for agricultural production; there is nothing the county can do to prevent a neighbor from going into the hog business should they so choose, even if the breeze blows your way. Much of the county is timbered, with over 75 percent of the total land base of Boundary County owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the Idaho Department of Lands and the Bureau of Land Management. If you purchase a parcel because the trees on the hillside across the road make for a beautiful view, you shouldn't be disappointed should loggers move in later to harvest that timber.
Life in Boundary County is wonderful; the people here retain a strong pioneer spirit of hard work and of helping their neighbors ... most who call this community home would agree that you'll not find a more neighborly place anywhere else. But the rugged beauty and often harsh conditions mean that many of the amenities you may be used to are not available, and if you're used to relying on strict ordinances and regulations to help you resolve neighborly disputes, you'll be disappointed. It is the belief of the county that people who buy and build here have the right to build the home that best suits them; if the roof collapses under the weight of the snow, they'll know better next time. Conversely, you may build a beautiful home that meets the most stringent building codes while your neighbor may not; the county will not intercede on your behalf to make that neighbor live up to your standards.
I will admit that little snippet played a role in getting us to move here.

So now we live in unincorporated Bonner County on Lake Pend Oreille. We're surrounded by wildlife, farmland, and good neighbors (though, frankly, the neighbors are too close... But it's a rental. We can live with 1.6 acres and neighbors 100 feet away, in exchange for the lake and the dock... at least for now, until we can find a good piece of property)

But our plan wasn't simply to "get away from it all" and change locales. We're making a major life change in almost every way possible. We are going to push the envelope to see just how much of our own needs we can manage ourselves.

What does that mean? Simply, we're taking over our own electric, our own heat, our own water, our own defense, and as much of our own food as we can manage. We're taking over almost everything we need to live from the ground up. No more being at the end of the fragile "production to shipping to store to consumer" chain; we are going to BE the chain.

Our ultimate plan, is to be as independent as a family can be, and as self-reliant as a family can be. This is an exercise in seeing if one modern family can pull themselves out of modern dependence, stop being cogs in a really huge wheel, and make a go at (mostly) sustainable living.

This is not survivalism, or disaster preparation (though it doesn't hurt). We just got really bloody tired of not having enough control over our own lives, or responsibility for our own lives.

Renting in the area is just step one. The next major phase in our plan will be buying land; a large parcel with good soil, reasonable access, and a good water table (wells here average 40 to 80 ft, with a good rate of flow).

We'll be drilling a well, developing a spring (if we have one, we have 3 on our rental property), and setting up a water catchment system. The goal is to use the well as little as possible, as 34 inches annual rainfall (and 72 inches of snowfall) is more than enough for our uses.

We're going to be setting up off grid power (and hopefully getting grid tie with sellback), most likely a combination of solar, microhydro (if possible), wind, and backup generator. If small biodiesel converters become more suitable for farm use, we WILL be making our own diesel.

We'll be planting some crops, tending a garden, growing an orchard, and planting various berries and brambles. We may not be able to supply all of our own food (salt not being a crop) but we'll see how much we can manage.

Livestock will be entering the equation eventually. We have no qualms about raising our own meat (they are not pets) and we're pretty damn sure we can raise some good beef on the incredible pasture around here. We're also thinking of running domestic elk, both as meat for ourselves and meat to sell.

We want to know everything we use and ingest, and where exactly it came from. We want control of our water, food, and utilities.

We want to take care of ourselves... We want INDEPENDENCE.

This is the beginning of the Self-Determination Project.

Cross-posted at We Few