Off Grid Living: What You Need to Know - Melissa K. Norris

Off Grid Living: What You Need to Know

By Melissa Norris | Podcast

Jun 14

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Off grid living, many are intrigued by it and some dream about it. How about you, ever dreamt of living off-grid? If so then today’s topic is for you my friend. We’re talking about just what it takes to go from city life to off-grid living, and here to talk about all of this are my guests today, the hosts of the popular YouTube channel Off Grid with Doug & Stacy.

I’m just thrilled to have, not one, but both Doug and Stacy here on the Pioneering Today Podcast. Welcome you guys!

Off grid living pantry shelves lined with Mason jars filled with home canned food

Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #183 Off Grid Living: What You Need to Know, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.

Off Grid Living: What You Need to Know

I think that your story is super fascinating, so for those listeners and readers who maybe aren’t as familiar with your story, tell us a little bit about how Off Grid with Doug and Stacy came to be. What’s the story?

Doug: Basically, we were a couple of city slickers who decided that we got sick and tired of city life and wanted to have more control over our food and our time and our energy and, you know, just kind of slow down. So we went all in on the pioneer life.

Stacy: Our health was also a big part of it. So all of those things went hand-in-hand to just change our whole way of living.

Melissa: So you guys lived in the city, so did either of you have much country living or homesteading skills to speak of, or were you just like, dude, we are sick of this: we’re just jumping in both feet and making a pivot.

Doug: No, the term city slickers pretty much sums it up. We had no experience.

From City Slickers to Off Grid Pioneers

Stacy: We were born and raised in the city and during our process of moving out here to the country, we had moved into a one-bedroom apartment and we had a garden box in a community garden. I just remember this little garden box that was just a couple feet by a couple feet, and it was hard for me to keep up with the weeds! So it maybe lasted a month or so before we gave up on it. And I look at what we’re doing now… It’s just crazy how things go from one extreme to the other.

Melissa: I’m fascinated by this because, I’m a fifth generation homesteader, you know, so I was raised doing a lot of this and I honestly thought that everybody lived the way we did.

I thought everybody had a garden and did a little bit of canning and raising some of their own food and cooked from scratch. It wasn’t until later in life when I got out a bit that I realized what a precious gift I’d been given. So I find your story super fascinating, because you went from the city and you guys just jumped right in and went off grid.

So how long have you been in your place that you’re in now? Walk us through that.

Doug: When we were in the city, Stacy still had a full-time job that she still wanted to do. So we made a circle around the area where she worked to determine how far we were willing to travel for her to go to work every single day. And then the hunt was on for about 10.5 acres worth of land.

We live debt free, and we didn’t want to have any more bills. That was one of the reasons why we left as well. We’d downsized everything and we wanted to have no bills and we didn’t want to answer to nobody so we could just, you know, walk to the beat of our own drum.

So we found this little parcel of land and all it had on it was external fencing and one barn. And that was it. No home. No well. No electricity. Just a raw slate.

Melissa: So how long have you guys been living this lifestyle now?

Stacy: It’ll be eight years in July.

How to Go Off Grid – Transitioning to An Off Grid Lifestyle

Stacy: When we found the property and we were in the one-bedroom apartment, Doug came down here in a tent and lived in it. It was July, but we knew we needed to have a home by winter because it was going to get cold. So he came with his tent and he worked. I mean he worked his butt off and he worked and he got our 600 square-foot, 1800s-style log home built in three months. I would come up on the weekends and visit. And then after those three months, I moved in and we’ve been living off-grid ever since.

Melissa: So you kept a one-bedroom apartment just while you were building the actual house that you guys live in?

Doug: Well we came from a 3,000 square foot home, so we had to downsize because we were actually looking at maybe even moving into a fifth wheel trailer or something like that. But we knew we were going to downsize, so the transition was good for us to live in a one-bedroom apartment for a year to get us used to live in a tiny space. Plus it was refreshing to get rid of all the clutter and the stuff in our lives.

After we did that, we got the property and then I was basically getting the wood out of the forest, having it milled and then getting it ready to build the log cabin. It took about a year of living in that apartment to accomplish all that and then 90 days to build the cabin.

Melissa: I think that’s super smart. So not only are you going from the city and having careers to transitioning to a completely different location and way of life, but I really like that you took some baby transition steps in there, like going from that 3,000 square foot home to that smaller apartment before transitioning off grid.

You allowed yourselves some time and space to get used to that and make a transition. I think that can be really key for anyone going from one extreme to another.

So when you did finally transition to living fully off grid, what was that like? Stacy in particular, did you find it hard when you first went to the cabin? Because, as a female, I know that when my husband and I go totally off grid camping and stuff, there are certain luxuries that I like to have and that I probably care a little bit more about than he does.

Did you find the transition harder? How did that works for you guys?

Stacy: Well, let me just start off and say that when we first moved here to the cabin, I was still working five days a week. Doug was here full-time, but I wasn’t. So for me that was a little harder because we didn’t have a bathtub or a shower or anything like that. So we had to come up with creative ways for me to take a bath during this time until we could get our systems in place.

The Hidden Health Benefits of Living Off Grid

Stacy: Over time, I started noticing that, because I wasn’t taking a bath or a shower every single day, I started noticing that my skin was getting better.I used to have dry, itchy skin. My hair was also healthier. I mean, all these things started happening to me because I wasn’t washing my microbiome off of my body every single day with soap and water.

You know, you wash the parts that you need to like your underarms and your private areas and you wash your face or whatever.

But you know, just by not being too sanitized, we were starting to get healthier and healthier. I mean, we’ve kept ourselves clean. I don’t want you to think that we’re like, a bunch of dirty bums or anything like that. But, you know, we were living a way that is much more natural and eating pure food that we’re growing and drinking good clean water and our bodies were starting to detoxify. And that has made us healthier and healthier.

Melissa: Yeah, you know, I’ll just put it right out there: I only shower like twice a week. You know, it’s kind of drilled into us that you need to take a shower every single day. But I’m like you, and I noticed that when I stopped doing that all the time, I used to have extremely dry skin, like flaky, almost painfully dry skin and scalp and all of that. And by cutting that back I noticed a lot of the same things as you.

When we look back at the pioneers, my grandmother who was born in the early 1900s and was raised up in the hills in Appalachia, like, true off grid. You know, they took sponge baths but they didn’t shower and completely immerse themselves in baths and stuff like like we all do.

Stacy: Yeah, in this day and age, people are just so over-sanitized and too clean and I think it really affects the immune system. Doug and I feel healthier than we ever have. You know, we’re in our fifties now and we both feel healthier than we ever have, even in our twenties. From my hair to my fingernails, everything is just great. Yeah.

Off Grid Success Is All About Getting the Right Systems Set Up

Doug: We’ve been here for eight years. We’ve had running water for, this is our third year. For roughly five years, we hauled water to our property in one-gallon jugs and five-gallon buckets. So when we took showers, we were taking showers out of one gallon jugs, no lighting, in the bathtub with a stainless steel bowl we poured over each other outside, you know, off the stairs or something.

Stacy: We’d love it when we’d have a thunderstorm. It’s like “hurry up, get the soap!” and you’d go out there and stand and take a bath.

Doug: So when we got here, you know, we were still trying to figure out how our systems were going to work; If we were going to use solar, if we weren’t, how expensive was it, what was the benefit? And that’s when we broke all that down. And then it turned out we lived kind of close to the Amish community and fell in love with their lifestyle. 

That was a great transition for us. We already had the log cabin, we were already committed to living the lifestyle and then we just started learning from them and implementing a lot of the things that they’re using out here at our own place. And that’s where we’re at now.

Eight years later, we’ve got our systems in place. We have a 3,000 gallon gravity fed rain-catchment system so we have running water in the cabin. And as for the garden, we went from using a team of Belgians and a plow and all the old school stuff to raised beds and the wood chip “Back to Eden” method.

It’s been a lot of transitioning and learning for us as well. Living the pioneer lifestyle is really what we’ve been doing all the way from developing the property to putting our systems in place and now sustaining ourselves year after year.

Melissa: So when you were hauling the water, did you have an outside well on your property or where did you get your water from?

Doug: This property didn’t have a well or public water or anything on it. We figured we’d buy the property and then we could get a well. But then we found out it’s like $20,000 to $30,000. So we said okay, let’s rethink that.

It took a while to try to figure out how we were going to move water and what was safe and all that. But ever since we put our rain catchment system into place, it’s been flawless. So it takes a little time to think about it and develop it. But before we had this system in place, we were literally grabbing water at neighbors’ houses or maybe in town when we were in town and living off of that.

Stacy: You get really good at knowing how much water it takes to do the dishes. I know how many gallons I need per week to do my dishes about how much it will take for us both to take a bath.

We also have a composting toilet, which is basically a five gallon bucket and we use sawdust to cover it.

Melissa: We kind of do the same thing. We had to put in our own septic system because we live on about 15 acres and there is no public water source available where we live. And for us here in our state and our county specifically, there’s a big issue with water rights.

Nowadays if you purchase any property around here and it doesn’t have an existing well on it, you aren’t allowed to put one in. And if you don’t put a well in, you can’t get a building permit for occupancy without a water source. So it’s a really big deal. So the point is, if you’re looking at property and stuff, that’s something that you definitely want to check into.

Thankfully our well was put in prior to that rule, so we’re okay. But when the power goes out here, we don’t have solar systems in place to power our pumps, so we don’t have water, and we do lose power quite often. So we’ll go days, sometimes it’s been weeks without power. And when you have to, you can take a full shower with a tea kettle full of water. It is amazing how we can get by on so much less than we think we need.

But yes, the toilet is probably the biggest pain when the power goes out because there’s no flushing, and we don’t have those composting toilets. So yeah, going off grid, there are just so many different things to think about.

Self-Taught Homestead Living Skills

Melissa: So you guys have been off grid for eight years, but I’m really curious because you were total self-proclaimed “city slickers” who bought property and built a log cabin. So where did you guys learn how to do that? Did you have some type of building experience beforehand?

Doug: Yeah, I had about zero building experience. You know, I helped my friends a bit, but I’d never really done any construction before. We finished our basement one time and I helped with that a little bit, but nothing really major. So this was an all new thing.

But we’re pretty quick learners and we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty. So we’re a little bit different in that regard than a lot of people. And you know, it just works out well for us that we just picked up on things pretty quick.

Stacy: Yeah, I always say that Doug is my risk taker. He sees something and he says “I’m going to do it.” And then he just jumps in with both feet. Sometimes his eyes are closed and he doesn’t know what he’s getting into. But he always gets the job done.

He even put the trusses onto our cabin all by himself one day in the middle of the summer. He’s a hard worker and he gets stuff done, I have to say.

Melissa: You know, I think that’s key for homesteaders, just knowing that you’re going to be a lifelong learner and not being afraid to work hard and get your hands dirty.

I feel like in modern society everyone wants everything to be push-button easy. And not that I don’t like to find ways to make things easier on myself, but sometimes you’ve just gotta do the work. And it’s hard, but there’s something really therapeutic about that.

Off Grid Gardening & Food Preservation Advice

So talk to me about your food production, because that was new for you too. Tell me a little bit about the journey from not really growing anything and having that first failed garden box to where you guys are at now with your food production.

Stacy: Well, we definitely wanted to have our own animals. I wanted chickens. We wanted to raise sheep and then have our garden so we would know where our food is coming from and what’s going into it so we could get the most health benefits out of our foods.

So we started with the chickens and with four sheep, and then we wanted to emulate exactly how the Amish were doing it. Well, they all had very large families and they had very large gardens. So Doug and I decided to have a garden the same size as these Amish families!

We had a 10,000 square foot garden. We started with that, and we knew nothing about anything. I mean, it was a lot of work. We knew nothing about gardening, but we just would ask them questions, and we planted this huge garden.

We had about 250 strawberry plants and I had 150 tomato plants our first year. I mean we went full bore, and that first year we had a drought and had no water on the property. So we pumped water out of the pond. It was so, so hot. We had 100 degree days and it hardly even cooled down at night. And Doug and I said, if we can make it through this drought and all this, then we can do anything.

So we were very empowered and we learned a lot from that. And then we decided that we were going to have to figure out some other systems to helps make all of this a bit less labor-intensive.

Doug: Yeah, I definitely understand where stores came from because gardening, you know, it looks pretty romantic in Instagram and Pinterest posts, but gardening is a lot of work. There’s a lot of sweat of your brow out there. And if you don’t put the work in, you’re not going to reap the rewards.

Melissa: Yeah, I agree. I think one of the biggest mistakes even for seasoned gardeners is, in the springtime when everything’s kind of new and you’ve got all the seed packets out and your little baby seedlings that you’re starting, that excitement kind of takes over your common sense sometimes, or it just doesn’t look like it’s that much. And then you get into the thick of summer and you’re like, oh my goodness, I way overdid it.

If you’re just getting into gardening, start small with foods that you know your family likes to eat, because sometimes gardening does have that total romanticized side to it, especially when you’re looking at seed catalogs and they’ve got all these gorgeous pictures and you’re like, oh that looks really fun. I want to try it!

But maybe it’s something you’ve never grown before. I always try to just do one new thing a year just to keep it fun, but also to make sure that I don’t get a whole bunch of stuff that we don’t really like, or that doesn’t really grow that well, and I’m having to do a ton extra work to just get it to production and harvest phase.

So I love that you guys shared that story. And um, I cannot even imagine 150 tomato plants. We do 20 for our family of four!

Doug: We’ve now become experts in putting up tomato cages, and we’ve developed a few that we’ve shared on our social media platform over the years. But I think we’ve conquered it now with our latest one.

Stacy: What’s so funny is, like you were saying, people should really start small go from there. So we started huge and then we gradually downsized

Doug: We tweaked it in where it’s pretty good for what we eat and then we also ferment, so mind you that we were here with no electricity. So you know, everything that we were growing in the garden and all that stuff, we didn’t really have a place to put it.

We didn’t have a root cellar then, which we recently built. So storage was an issue for us. We really don’t do a lot of canning. So preserving that bounty was a big deal. We were learning all of that as we were going “wow, how did the pioneers do it?”

Like, how did the people pre-electricity, pre-industrial revolution, you know, take care of themselves and have their own food?

So we started implementing all of those old ways again and then through social media, teaching them to people that didn’t know and who weren’t blessed with grandparents and mothers and fathers to teach them these things.

Melissa: Get my recipe and tutorial walking you through how to ferment cucumbers and my favorite garlic dill recipe here with Old-Fashioned Fermented Saltwater Brine Pickles

Find A Local Mentor to Show You the Ropes

Stacy: We were also really lucky to meet a lady who lived around the corner. She was an older lady and she was actually one of those original back-to-the-landers in the 1970s. She had the root cellar. She would can and forage.

So she taught me how to can and she taught me how to forage for all the things like plantains and dandelions and redbud trees and lamb’s quarter and all the things that we have out in nature that we could use. So that was really good for me and that helped me tremendously at the start of our journey.

Melissa: Yeah, it’s amazing if you can find a mentor like that in person. I mean, I know y’all have a YouTube channel and Instagram, Facebook, email, a website… all the things that allow us in this day and age to bring back these old time ways to those who don’t have someone local to teach them.

But if you can find somebody in person to take you around, especially to your local area, because everybody’s climate and their little area is just so unique so it’s really invaluable to have somebody local who can show you, in person, things like the edible and medicinal wild plants in your area.

Grow Your Own Food to Drastically Cut Grocery Costs

So you guys have quite a lot of vegetables now. It sounds like a little bit less so than when you first started, but you do also keep sheep and chickens. So what do you still have to purchase from the store that you’re not producing on your own?

Doug: We still purchase a lot of our staple items like flour.

Stacy: I buy some things (like what berries) in bulk from the Amish, but right now, since all my produce from the garden is rocking right now, I just get fun things.

If I want a certain kind of, say, blue corn tortilla chip that I really like, we’ll get that. But we have all of our own meat. I have all my eggs. I do my own butter. We have a pond for fish. We have all of our greens… It’s just those silly little luxuries that we actually buy from the grocery store.

Doug: Yeah, we don’t get much there.

Melissa: Yeah, when the garden is in full swing in the summer months it’s amazing how long you can stretch those trips to the store.

How to Build a Root Cellar for Off Grid Food Storage

I do want to talk about though your root cellar, cause we briefly mentioned that earlier and a root cellar is something that we have not put in here yet.

You guys have an in-ground root cellar. So talk to me, when did you guys put that in and begin construction?

Doug: So there are a lot of different ways that you can actually construct or have a root cellar. If you can’t get into the ground, you could actually put it above ground.

Some people use storage containers or, you know, there are many different ways you could actually construct it. Then you would just cover that with dirt and base. Basically make an above ground mound with a cavity in it where you would keep your stuff as long as you’ve got it ventilated and stuff.

You could even use an ice chest that doesn’t work anymore. You can actually bury that into the ground and then just go into the lid and get into it when you need to. So there are several different ways. We always say do what you can where you are.

For us, we had a couple of different things going on. First off, we live in tornado alley in the northeast of Missouri. We just had several tornadoes come through our state and 500 tornadoes in the tornado alley just in the last 30 days. So, you know, it’s pretty active in that regard.

We wanted to make sure we had a storm shelter. So I built an ICF-insulated concrete form root cellar, a concrete box with a concrete lid in the ground with a dirt floor so we can preserve our food from one season to the next. That’s where we keep our onions, tomatoes, potatoes, beets, turnips… all the root vegetables. And then all of the fermenting because we need to keep that in a cool dark spot.

We didn’t really have a basement, so we were starting from scratch. So we decided to go with the insulated foam and it’s been fantastic. It keeps a very constant temperature in there, probably around 44 or 46 degrees, and so far it’s working out great.

Stacy: The year before I built the root cellar, we also built an outside kitchen because we have a wood burning cookstove in the house. So when we prepare foods during the winter months, we do it inside, but it gets too hot in the summer months. So I needed an outside kitchen where I could prepare all of the things from the garden and cook outside during the majority of the year.

So we were going to prepare the food there and that we needed a place to preserve them or restore them, which would be the root cellar.

Use Barn Animals for Off Grid, Natural Pest Control

Melissa: Have you experienced any problems with pests within the root cellar?

Doug: No, you won’t find any pests in there. And then on top of that root cellar, I’m actually building a solar-powered workshop right now that’s going to also double as a learning center where people can come and get hands-on experience.

We’re gonna be mentors for folks who want to come and learn this lifestyle. So there’s going to be no problems with anything going down there.

When we first got here, you know, being from the city, we had no clue that mice were everywhere. So we thought, oh we gotta get some cats!

Stacy: And then we have guineas that help with the ticks cause there are ticks around here. We’ve got the chickens. I mean, right now everything is, it’s pretty good. We don’t really have a lot of pests. The only thing in the spring you might have a few ants get in the house and those Asian beetles are a pest sometimes, usually in the spring and in the fall. But other than that, I mean, it’s pretty good.

Doug: I can’t even tell you the last time that I saw a mouse around here.

Melissa: Oh my! We have a great mouser, but she’s getting to be about 13 years old. She’s just slowing down. So it’s just been the past year and a half that we’ve ever had any evidence of rodents.

Where to Learn the Ins and Outs of Living Off Grid

On your YouTube channel, you guys have documented building and your root cellar and everything. If people want to go and really check that out in more depth then that’s been documented and we can go and see that?

Doug: Yeah, we’ve got playlists for the water, for the outdoor outdoor kitchen, the root cellar… Just anything I’m building around here, I try to walk you through.

We have a chicken coop that I threw together. It was around 50 bucks. It took me about an hour or less and it’s the most watched chicken coop video on all of youtube right now.

We also share our failures too. I mean, if you watch the playlist on the root cellar, I had some fails in there, so I share those as well. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns. You’re going to have some rougher days, but you just have to pick yourself up and keep on moving forward.

Melissa: Yeah. I think that’s still important to say because a lot of times people don’t like to share the failures. And so if you watch the highlight reel and then you go and try to do it and then you experience a failure in your leg, it’s like “what did I do wrong?”

I think it’s important that we share the failure days and the hard days because that’s the reality. And I think if we don’t share that, we’re doing a really big disservice to people. So I’m glad that you guys share that part too.

You guys, thank you so much for coming on. I’ve got to go and watch the root cellar videos actually. (Well, let’s be honest, I need to show my husband root cellar video).

Do you have anything else that you want to share with the readers? Any little bits of wisdom or tips for someone looking an off grid lifestyle?

Stay Solution-Focused, and Always Check Building Codes  Before Moving Off Grid

Doug: I was going to touch on this while we were talking, but the number one thing you need to for any place you’re looking to relocate to, is to check the building codes and ordinances! 

The number one thing we looked at was that, and when they said “we don’t have any of that nonsense around here,” we knew we had a good spot.

We’re freedom-loving, you know. So we just wanted to be able to come here and freely move about our property. So that’s a very important thing is to understand the rules and regulations, building codes, stuff like that. And if you can live within those parameters then go for it. But just check so you don’t get there and start doing something and then somebody comes down on you with the law about it.

And stay solution focused. Don’t look at the problems, just think about how you’re going to hammer through them and get to the other side. Cause that’ll keep you a lot better spirited. It’ll keep everything flowing a lot better.

Stacy: Just do what you can where you are. When you’re just starting out and you want to live this kind of lifestyle, even if you’re living in an apartment and have some planters, start growing and practicing those things.

Maybe have a five-gallon bucket too that you can use as your toilet or just have some water that you can have just in case you’re not able to get it. Just in case of an emergency. Just be a little bit more prepared with your life. Try to practice these things to help you transition into what you want to do.

Melissa: I’m so glad that you guys came on and I look forward to getting to know you better and checking out more of your stuff.

Doug: Alright, we’ll see you around the Internet: Off Grid with Doug and Stacy.

Additional Resources for Off Grid Living

17 Self-Sufficiency Tips from the 1940’s & Great Depression Live Interview – living completely off-grid during the Great Depression

Monthly Seasonal Planting Guide– Know what steps to take in the garden to raise your own food with our monthly planting guide based on YOUR gardening zone and climate

FREE Pressure Canning Video Series- learn how to pressure can safely without fear of an explosion or botulism


About the Author

Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.