The Skilledwright home page for
Sustainable Self-Reliance, Mobile Cabins, and Homesteading
This page focuses on the key basics for self-reliance:
Concepts, food production, and independent energy production
Why are these the key basics?
The core of homesteading is self-sufficiency - to learn to increase your skills, and decrease your requirements, so that more and more you are relying on yourself to provide for your daily needs.
For example, fresh food, straight from the producer and simply prepared, is frequently much less expensive and much more delicious and nutritious than processed food from the shelf or freezer in a store. The healthier and happier you are, the less likely you are to need expensive doctors, and the less time you will have to take off work. This in turn helps you meet life's challenges more successfully. The positive chain of reactions can go on infinitely. You can help start it with simple healthy living where ever you are.
Fresh organic vegetables can be grown in containers on even the smallest patio. The quality of the nutrition and flavor, and satisfaction of growing food, will make a significant difference in your life.
Even when living in an apartment, you can buy bulk food, and spend your recreational time walking in parks on grass under trees rather than getting a quick burger and going to the movies. Better yet, spend your social time being open hearted with a friend and share the cooking and walking with them. It is surprising how much the tone of your life improves after making small changes like these.
There are many ways to move away reliance on international business and toward reliance on yourself and a network of friends.
Many of these steps can be taken while living in an apartment. Nobody single person can produce, from raw materials, all of the clothing, paper, tools, construction materials, tools, and art they need in their lives. It takes hundreds of people working together to come close to this.
Maybe farming will always sing in your heart, but it takes a wealth of skills to keep a farm going, and many of them can be learned and practiced in an apartment.
An apartment dweller can trade cabinet work for fresh vegetables, trade bookkeeping for the loan of a vehicle, create beautiful and useful clothing to sell to get money for tools, or trade tutoring for artwork. No matter where your life leads you, these will be useful skills, and once you have these skills, you can use them to directly support yourself. This is the path towards increasing self-reliance.
Most people do some significant traveling for at least part of their lives. Most of us weren’t born in our perfect location and end up traveling looking for the people and places we should be spending our time with. Even if we are already at the perfect place, meeting new people and experiencing different places helps us grow and understand life and ourselves better.
The big question is how do you create a sustainable life on the road?
The answer to this is “the same way you do in an apartment, but in a smaller place”.
The next question is where do you stay when you arrive at your destinations?
Vans, small RVs, and small trailers are much more feasible than many people realize. I think of them as Mobile Cabins.
I invented the phrase "Mobile Cabin" because all by itself it conveys the intent it in a way that people can relate to without further explanation. Lots of people have thought of living in a nice little cabin in a special place for a while, and if it is mobile, you can stay for a while in lots of special places. This switches the focus from traveling in an RV to temporarily staying in a place in a cabin. Since the focus is different, they are used and setup differently.
This helps solve some of the key problems with traveling for prolonged periods:
Mobile Cabins can help you avoid the cost of motels and insure you have a place to cook every meal and stay every night. It is very difficult to stay in tents or on borrowed couches for extended periods without gradually running your life down – not so for Mobile Cabins.
How small a cabin can you live in for extended periods?
Probably much smaller than you realize. It is a great opportunity to experiment with getting by with less.
Here is more detailed information on self-reliant Mobile Cabin concepts and issues.
Here are details on how to better adapt an RV to a Mobile Cabin focus: Resources for Creating and Using Your Mobile Cabin
It is great to leap to a better location, however leaping to a totally unfamiliar lifestyle frequently fails. The experience of small scale self-reliance in an apartment or a Mobile Cabin is a good base to build on as you evolve your lifestyle and expand your self-reliance.
Solid research, planning, and a careful step by step approach leads to successful transitions to being very self-reliant in the country. It takes lots of learning to build the skills and knowledge to be deeply self-reliant, and this takes time.
This is why starting with a simple life that works is so essential. As you learn and become proficient, you can add more to your life, and gradually transition to more self-reliant ways of living the good life.
This will take years, which is why a simple sustainable life is an essential starting point. Having a simple life that works will relieve the pressure to complete projects in an unfeasible time frame, and reduce the temptation to make fatal mistakes in cutting corners. Since your simple life is working for you on an ongoing basis, you can afford to take the time to make each change successfully, and continue to nurture yourself and your family at the same time.
If this simple sustainable life is based in a Mobile Cabin you are already living in, this will eliminate most of the transition impact, and much of the risk that you will wear out before your new life becomes sustainable. This is far easier than trying to move your life to a tent or storage building while getting the rural homestead started.
Having the skills in self-reliant living built while living in the Mobile Cabin, and continuing to live in the Mobile Cabin while you transition to your country homestead will increase your chances of success in this transition. The most important advantage of this approach is it will free time and energy to allow you to better enjoy your new life right from the start.
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For more books, take a look at the catalogs for the companies in the other resources sections. One measure of a good company is the quality of the books they sell that support customers using their products, and who are interested in their fields of expertise. I have found many of my most valued books this way. Many of my other valued books came from authors’ recommendations from these books.
by Skip Thomsen, Cat Freshwater, Sharon Carson (Illustrator)
Paperback - 217 pages 2 edition (December 1, 1994)
Oregon Wordworks; ISBN: 0962596078
Many of the ideas above, on the underlying attitudes of homesteading, got their start when reading this book. I have read many homesteading books, which provided lots of background, but they were mostly set in a kind of idealistic land somewhere. Even if they talked about hardships, and the cultural transition from city to country, they skimmed over it and underrated how difficult it is. This is a great read for any person interested in self-reliance in any setting.
by Bill Mollison
Hardcover - 576 pages Reprint edition (October 1, 1997)
Tagari Publications; ISBN: 0908228015
This is one of the greatest books I have ever read. It really helped me understand how humans affect the environment, and how the environment affects humans. If you understand the effects of these interactions, you can integrate improved practices into the culture so sustainable communities can be very easy to manage in the more productive locations, and how communities can sustain indefinitely in even very harsh locations.
In the long run there is no separation between the answers to these questions:
What is a good environmental impact?
What can be done to heal the environmental damage caused by humans?
How can humans create a sustainable life for themselves?
The answer to all of these questions is to increase the diversity of life.
This book is loaded with practical information on how to create sustainable food production through increasing diversity and building self-sustaining plant communities.
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"Backwoods Solar Electric Systems specializes in solar generated home electricity, dedicated to serving homes located beyond the reach of utility lines."
These are extremely dedicated and responsible people who are delivering a real service to their customers. I have talked to some people they have helped, and Backwoods Solar has a good recommendation from them. I also bought most of the equipment from them I needed to convert my travel trailer to solar.
If you are going to be living off the national power grid, it is obvious that you will have a serious dependence on your power system, and this requires an equally serious effort to design and maintain it.
What many people are waking up to is that almost everybody is seriously dependant on some power system, and the national power grid isn't reliable anymore. So the more self-reliant you are on producing your own electricity, the smoother your life will run no matter where you live.
Backwoods Solar is dedicated to providing a level of quality that people can afford to depend on, and on a scale appropriate for simple lifestyles.
I recommend their catalog as a primer on practical solar basics.
"The Hands-On Journal Of Home-Made Power"
This magazine is one of the highest quality sources of technical information for small-scale use that I have ever seen. If you want to or need to produce your own electricity, you really need to subscribe to this magazine and buy a few years of back issues.
They work hard to make the magazine useful to people having a range of technical knowledge. There are articles for the non-technical people needing to understand the general issues so they will know how to successfully deal with the experts. There are also articles with schematics for the experts. All articles have several good pictures of the project at varying stages of construction.
They also have CDs with back issues on them to make searching for information that much easier and quicker. I would use it as a reference source and double check any plans before implementing them. There are lots of technical tips in their articles that I doubt are available anywhere else except in the heads of system builders that have been learning the hard way.
The fact that so many people write articles about their hard learned lessons is why this is such a valuable source.
"Products for an Ecologically Sustainable Future"
They have a good selection of books for people who want to start practicing simpler living and self-reliance, and I own many of the books they sell.
Real Goods Catalog: There is a wide range of goods on this site, and I have found a few handy things there like rechargeable batteries, but there is a consumer orientation to their selection that lessens the long range investment potential of their goods.
Renewable Energy Catalog: This is mostly the Jade Mountain catalog (see merger note below) and has some pretty heavy duty parts and equipment.
NOTE: January 2001, Real Goods merged with Gaiam, Inc. in Colorado. Gaiam encompassed several catalog titles including Harmony (eco-home goods), SelfCare and InnerBalance (health and wellness), Living Arts (Yoga, mind/body/fitness), and Jade Mountain, a smaller renewable energy company with a similar product offering to Real Goods Renewables.
I had been buying from some of these catalogs, and friend told me that the Real Goods product line had improved recently, but I haven't looked through the web site much since this transition.
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This section has both general resources to help you produce your own food, and ones that will help you protect the genetic base of our food seeds. You can do both by saving your own seed from food you grow.
If you aren't already seriously concerned about the diminishing genetic diversity in our food crops, think about this question:
What happens when our food crops don't have a broad enough genetic base to adapt to changes in climate and diseases?
Diseases are very good at quickly mutating and exploiting weaknesses, and the only protection is a broad and varied genetic base insuring there will be some survivors of any disease mutation.
To learn more about the issues of diversity of food genetics, and how you can save your own seed, check out this link:
To learn more about how your rights to save and trade seed are being endangered, check out these links:
USA issues J.L. Hudson, Seedsman
Worldwide issues GRAIN
Most of the organic seed being sold is open pollinated, and if the company is selling organic seed, any non-organic seed is likely to also be open pollinated.
A good way to find reliable sources of organic seed is to search on The Garden Watchdog - Guide to Gardening by Mail
Select “Browse by Category: Organic Products” then click on “Go” Or Select “Browse by Category: Seeds: Heirloom” then click on “Go” Then select “Sort by: Rating” and click on “Search”
When you click on a company name, a description will display which includes a button to visit their web site.
Here is a list of Open Pollinated seed sources.
"Tools & Supplies For Serious Organic Gardeners & Farmers Since 1976"
They are focusing on total support for production farming on a wide range of scales. For instance, liquid fertilizer comes in 1 gallon bottles and 50 gallon drums. They focus on supplies, not seeds. However they have the largest selection of cover crop seed that I have seen, but then this supports the goal of soil preparation to grow great organic food.
They have over 2350 items, and I have experienced great customer service when ordering from them.
A significant amount of background information is provided on using their products, and they provide news on organic agriculture in general. They aren't just selling stuff; they are making a serious effort to support serious growers and the organic farming community.
The are very concerned about GMO (genetically modified organism) contamination of organic fertilizer, and provide detailed information about this for the products they sell.
Besides being able to mail order some stuff from them that I wasn't able to find elsewhere, I deeply believe in their goals and methods.
"The most flavorful varieties from around the world!"
"Fruits, nuts, berries and unusual edible plants for the American backyard fruit grower!"
You have to read their catalog. It contains an extensive collection of books, tools, supplies, and plants. They do a more comprehensive job of covering edible landscaping and permaculture for northwest North America than anybody I have heard of. This includes stocking improved strains of native plants that provide larger and better tasting fruit than the typical wild plant.
However since the northwest has such a range of climates, they have low chill trees and berries, cool summer plants, hardy subtropics, drought tolerant plants, wet tolerant plants, and antique varieties. They also have some varieties developed by the equivalent of the Siberian farm service that are very cold hardy. They sell rooting stock and grafting supplies so you can experiment on your own.
I have a very hard time controlling myself because there are so many interesting food producing plants in their catalog that I want to try out all of them.
"Your success in the garden is our business!"
They offer a wide range of seeds for vegetables, herbs, flowers, and cover crops, and some transplants and supplies.
Their focus is on varieties for a maritime climate, but almost everybody should find some seeds of interest.
This is especially so since they offer many open pollinated varieties and are starting to offer organic seeds. They are concerned about the very long-term view on sustainability of food production, and the need for a wide natural genetic base that can adapt to changing conditions.
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"Tools and supplies for the outdoor professional"
Do you want to grow your hedge from seed? Re-vegetate a stream bank? Trim those old apple trees? Plant 50,000 seedlings in a harsh climate where the deer will eat them down to the roots? Tera Tech can help equip you to succeed with all of these projects.
They cover these categories and more: forestry, reforestation, safety, arboriculture, horticulture, silviculture, nursery, greenhouse, wildland firefighting, Christmas tree, and vineyard management, land management, and trail maintenance.
For over 10 years I've bought almost all of the supplies and equipment I've used in these categories from this company. I'm very pleased with the quality of their goods and customer service. They are very knowledgeable in their line of business and have been full of friendly concern that their customers are successfully solving their problems. They are the kind of people that only want to sell it to you if it is really going to work for you, and this isn't very common anymore.
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They distribute groceries to many rural markets as well metropolitan areas. Mountain Peoples Warehouse is proud of the fact that they "Boldly go where no distributor has gone before."
I buy a large portion of my food directly from this wholesaler now. Too many stores have stale stock, don’t carry what I need, or make special ordering food a time wasting project.
It was easy to setup a food buying club with Mountain Peoples. After that, on one to two days notice, I can pickup food directly from the warehouse (more notice is needed for shipped food). There is a $150 minimum order for will call at the warehouse, and a $500 minimum order for food that is shipped. They carry about 20,000 different products in bulk, brand name, dry goods, refrigerated, and frozen.
The quality of nuts in stores deteriorated to the point that for almost 2 years all the nuts I bought were rancid. The only case of rancid nuts I got from Mountain Peoples I was able to exchange, so I am really pleased with their quality and service.
They have warehouses in these locations:
It is so great to have a significant stock of fresh ingredients stored at home. Almost everything keeps better when stored in a refrigerator or freezer. The producers and wholesalers do this, but usually the retailers skip this, which explains the rancid nuts. I bought a chest freezer so I would have more space to store food. The temperature in a chest freezer is also more stable than in upright freezers, and this increases the storage life of food. I bought some bulk dried basil almost 3 years ago and it still has more flavor than the jars in the store because I have kept it in the freezer, and only take out a little at a time.
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Last Updated: June 6, 2004