opting out

By Oliver Douglas
1/07/2010
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I have received a number of thoughtful emails on the subject of self sufficiency and avoidance of a declining standard of living. I have also had quite a few comments regarding emigration. I’d like to address those questions and comments today. This is something I’ve written about extensively to EarthBlog subscribers over the course of the past few years.

We (our family) had considered emigration three years ago when it became obvious to me what was going on and what the future path was likely to be. We looked at New Zealand, with the idea that this was a stable economy, a natural resource producer and a beautiful place with nice, friendly people. To make a long story short, there became two major issues regarding emigration.

1.) The logistics of moving a family and extended family half way around the world to an unfamiliar place are overwhelming and pose a lot of personal issues

2.) Given an expected increasing level of uncertainty and Chaos, how can you be sure you are picking the right place in advance?

Furthermore, given that the US has had one of the highest standards of living of any country, was it possible that when all is said and done, the standard of living in the US will still exceed the standard of living in many places you opt to emigrate to?

So we thoroughly considered the emigration equation, and decided instead for an opt out strategy. It isn’t a perfect solution and I don’t think there is a perfect solution to the decay I see continuing.

All that said, I am not saying emigration would not be a good strategy. I’m just saying that for me, for us, it posed logistical problems. For example, If  I spoke Italian and had family in a small town in Italy we might be there now. If my honkey skin could take the tropical sun we might be in Costa Rica. This is what I mean by saying there is no perfect solution and any proposed solution is different for everyone.

What exactly is an opt out strategy?

We currently live in a dense metro area and are completely reliant on other people, other institutions and other agencies for our standard of living. Given an expectation of increased disorganization, bankruptcy and even chaos, the idea is that if you can increase your own personal self reliance, then you can more effectively maintain a standard of living.

So what does this mean?

It probably means something different for everyone. My background is in engineering and I know enough to be dangerous in the realm of alternative power, construction and I can fix a car…that sort of thing. I understand how things work and I can fix things. I can wield a hammer or a soldering iron. So given my background, and our desire, we set out to find a parcel of land that we could develop as we wished with the idea that we would effectively have a self sufficient functional plot with few if any dependencies on external infrastructure, the government, or any other entity.

So two years ago we spent a lot of time touring the US to find a suitable candidate. We had a rough idea of what we were looking for….

1.) A beautiful place

2.) good climate and suitable conditions for farming and keeping animals

3.) we wanted out own water source

4.) we wanted low taxes

5.) we wanted a high degree of property rights, no deed restrictions and full mineral and energy rights below the surface

In short, we were looking for a desirable piece of land, in a nice place, fairly isolated from any large city and to be able to do whatever we wanted with the land.

We took a hard look at Northern California. We spent a week there. Northern California is a beautiful place, but we had issues.

1.) High taxes and a high cost of living
2.) A state we expected might go bankrupt (it subsequently did)
3.) A high degree of government imposed property ownership restrictions

So although nice, Northern California did not meet several of our key requirements.

We also toured Vermont. There were a lot of things we liked a lot about Vermont, but one thing we didn’t like. It’s very cold in Vermont and we were looking for an easier climate with a longer growing season.

To shorten this up, fast forward to the Appalachian foothills. We took a hard look in the southern mountain states, areas of low population density and areas with good fertile land. Two years ago we made a decision to narrow our search to North Carolina. We toured the area, and we located a Realtor with a set of requirements we were looking for and the basic geographical area we liked. Six months later we got a call regarding a 10 acre parcel that was not listed for sale but the owner needed to sell for financial reasons. This property offered what we were looking for.

1.) A private creek, which originated from a mountain spring 1/2 mile away.
2.) An area rich in natural resources which was formerly a part of the Carolina gold rush. The land was known to produce precious metals and gems had been found in the creek.
3.) Very low taxes
4.) No deed restrictions, unzoned land where essentially you can do whatever you want
5.) Wildlife, good growing conditions, and beautiful natural surroundings
6.) Relative isolation but good road access and nearby small towns full of friendly people

So we took some capital out of Wall Street and the banking system and purchased this land with the idea of developing a nice place to live, independent on what is going on in Washington or the rest of the country for that matter. There are two small towns within 15 miles, good access roads, and yet the property is isolated enough so that a lot of bad things could happen and unless you turned on a TV set, you wouldn’t even know about it. Late in 2008 when it looked like the financial system was coming undone, that property looked exactly the same regardless of what was happening on Wall Street or inside the government. We have bobcats and bears and coyotes and whitetail deer and any number of other animal residents, but the human population density is only around 50 people per square mile and the majority of the county is National Forest.

At this time, we have already done a lot; we have established a basic infrastructure with a good road, power, a well, a pond fed by the creek with fish in it, and we have built a large building and a cabin. We have a lot more construction to do, and our target is to have a place with a low level of dependency on any entity by 2012.

We had the good fortune to meet someone through our realtor, a local man born and raised in the county who was proficient with anything from an excavator and earth mover to a hammer. For anyone thinking about a project like this, there is no substitute for finding a competent and trustworthy local helper who can not only work for you, but probably grew up with everyone in the county who you have to deal with. It turns out that in areas like we are in, there are two prices for a lot of things…there is the price a local pays, and the price a tourist or outsider pays. You want to pay the local price. The people are predominantly poor in areas like this. They don’t have a lot to spend and their cost of living is low. During the course of our development so far, this has saved us six figures.

Currently we are planning to move there permanently in 2011, and to be off the grid (or at least tied to the grid but with zero net energy use) and independent by the following year. So far it has been a lot of work and taken a lot of time, but it has been very rewarding to watch our vision come together. This fall we stocked our pond with fish and we have been planting fruit trees for two years now.

I continue to believe that the best way to endure chaos is to remove yourself from the chaotic system as much as possible. We’re on track to do that, and if it all comes together as I hope it will, Wall Street or Washington could implode and it wouldn’t really matter so much to us.

If you are interested in following this adventure, I am in the process of creating a new blog site to discuss the details.

Opting Out
Maintaining a Standard
of Living.

appalachianfoothills.blogspot.com

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  1. Anonymous
    January 7, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Mr Harris.I just wanted you to know I have started following your blog and I love it ! Thanks.I would like to hear more about this project.

  2. Anonymous
    January 7, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Killer blog.I'd like to hear more about this project too. We have been thinking about doing something ourselves but so far we haven't taken a big leap like this. Where in North Carolina?

  3. Anonymous
    January 7, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Are you planning to keep a place in the city or just relocate to the countryside?

  4. Davos
    January 7, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Same vote, just north of you in VA on the same chain of mtns.A billionaire in your state explained to me that I hadn't discovered the problem when I told him I'd found peak oil, peak resource population.The problem I was told is peak population.So far I'm 2 steps ahead of the leadership in this country.What will the empire do to correct the problem when it realizes what the problem is?Does one really want to live downwind the fallout or under where they drop the mother of all bombs?

  5. Craig Harris
    January 7, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Interesting comment. One thing we did was to check to make sure our property wasn't near1.) Nuclear missile silos or other targets2.) Nuclear power plants3.) Flood zones4.) Landfills

  6. Anonymous
    January 7, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Can you recommend an opt out strategy for those of us who are not so good with our hands ?

  7. Anonymous
    January 8, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    I came across your blog due to your "Introspective" article. It echoed my own sentiments as it obviously did for many others. Congratulations. The "opt out" strategy is one I have considered as well, although I have come to different conclusions. After dealing with elderly parents, I do not see living far from services to be a viable long-term solution for anybody wanting to live a long lifespan. In addition, the idea of only looking out for me and mine was difficult for me. I like to think my life can benefit more than just my own bloodline. So I began a search for land with ready access to a small to medium population center. But property rights are at the bottom of everything and property rights have been eroding for many decades. We've gone from "rights" to government "permissions". And that means if you've got something they want, they are the ones with the right to take it. And in times of chaos, it seems they've already pre-emptively legislated the right to confiscate even the food you've stored to insure your own survival. So I guess my hope is that people will see where things are going and work together to bring us back from the brink. If everyone tries to hide in the hills, their chickens may be the last ones plucked…maybe. But I'd hate to live that kind of stress, with a rifle across my lap. Any chance you can lose the white on black background? It's more difficult to read and I always associate it with UFO sites. I don't mean to offend…

    • February 15, 2010 at 8:04 pm

      I have one comment back to you about elderly parents and services. It is my belief that the cities do not necessarily offer the best healthcare, and if things get ugly it may be the worst. Interestingly, the fairly small hospital about 15 miles away from us, in a rural area…was ranked one of the top hospitals in the US. We are moving out there with my father who is 81 years old. If he needed care it would probably be better than what we would get here in the city.

  8. daniel
    January 16, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    The popular comment layout is common, so it is easily recognized when scanning to post a comment. If the comment section is in a different format, then I am going to spend more time trying to decipher what everything means. part time worker

  9. Anonymous
    January 21, 2010 at 3:43 am

    Davos: "Peak Population"? Hmmm. Do you realize that billionaire just confirmed to you, outright, the so-called "*nutwings'" assertions that the plan IS to reduce population to 500 mil?! "Peak Pop." is TOTAL B.S. But, there you have it. They want to kill us all, and they're not going to let us stop them, not without a very, very bloody fight. Either way, there'll be a LOT more of us nobodies dead than them. So, they win either way, huh?January 8 Anonymous: You hit the nail on the head. You can go buy all the property you want, develop it to be completely off-grid, and become totally self-sufficient. Until . . . until "they" decide: it's against the law to have a garden; it's against the law to own livestock — oh heck, *any* animal; it's against the law to have stores of food; it's against the law for you to live here, there, anywhere; it's against the law to *own anything*; finally, it's against the law for you to *breathe* (read: its too large a carbon footprint!). Go ahead. Defend yourself against the military/police state with your pathetic rifles and guns. Go on up against sound cannons & heat ray guns (used against the pple in Pgh at the G20, BTW), HAARP, tanks, bombs and full-auto military mega assault rifles. Well, I guess "suicide by cop (or soldier) is better than a slow death by starvation in one of their death camps. The upshot: there's no escape, not really. They want your property? They'll just "confiscate" it for whatever reason they make up — or no reason at all. That is, unless your sheriff is willing to stand and fight, as is his legal right and moral duty to do (Mack and Mattis vs U.S.) Try finding one who actually will, though. And even if he/she does — for how long will they succeed? Face it. It's game over. But I think I'd rather die fighting the sob's. I AM an American, after all.*"nutwings": despite the common employment of calling one's opponents names that is currently popular, I must insist that name-calling is NOT a legitimate form of argument. Amazing how many people don't realize that . . .

  10. FiddleGirl
    February 13, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    … and don’t forget the music!!! Best wishes to you and your family, and have fun!

    Me, I’m thinking about relocating with the farmer branch of my family in France. They know how to do anything, and man, a third of the county there is more or less related to me. But … not easy to uproot yourself, I agree. And being an ageing — albeit spunky — female with a bed-ridden disabled husband, I don’t see myself homesteading, although to me this sounds like the most exciting solution.

    For those who can’t, I suggest doing this: find a smaller town where there’s a good sense of community, and enough people that are already educated about the crisis times we are facing, and have opted-out in some way. Make friends. Participate. Suggestions of things to look for: activist groups about peak-oil, permaculture, farmers’ subscriptions, etc., and also community events that demonstrate solidarity when someone encounters hardship (like recently, someone’s home burned up, and in 2-3 days they had a new place to live, fundraising barbecues and garage sales and music events to help them start over, etc.).

    And maybe, just maybe, we will be able to avoid the terrible – but very real – scenario laid out by Anonymous in his post starting with “Davos”.

    • February 13, 2010 at 8:09 pm

      Thanks for the comment fiddlegirl. I have said to my subscribers many times over the past few years that a nice quiet small town in France or Italy sounds pretty good just about now ! Unfortunately for my honkey anglo self, I’d probably get pelted with Eggs because I’m an American….and I would completely understand that sentiment.

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