Living Off the Grid: Homesteading in Alaska

Have you ever felt that you just can’t keep up with the hustle and bustle of everyday life? Are you fed up with reaching the lofty expectations of society? If your answer is yes, then maybe it’s about time to go back to the basics.

 

Why don’t you try the refreshing and fulfilling life in a homestead? Homesteads are self-sufficient homes where food is grown organically in your garden or fished and hunted from wildlife; and dependence on the conveniences of modern life, such as fast food and grocery stores, is minimized.

 

Read on if you want to learn more about homesteading, especially in Alaska.

 

What Is Homesteading?

 

Self-sufficiency and sustainability are the core ideals of the lifestyle movement called homesteading. Picture a meal made from scratch and all of the ingredients aren’t bought from the supermarket. Instead, the fruits, vegetables and herbs are freshly picked from your backyard and the eggs are newly hatched from your own chickens.

 

Subsistence agriculture, or some form of it, is practiced in all types of homesteading. The basic principle of subsistence agriculture is that farmers only grow enough food to feed themselves and their families. Aside from planting and harvesting produce, homesteaders can extend their food sources by raising poultry or livestock and practicing home preservation of food.

 

Homesteading may also involve small scale craftwork and the production of textiles and clothes, which are primarily for household use. Modern homesteaders have started utilizing renewable energy as well, installing solar panels and wind turbines in their homes.

 

Starting a Homestead in Alaska

 

A Brief History of Homesteading

 

During the 19th century, homesteads were government land that applicants could acquire ownership of. The Homestead Act of 1862 opened up millions of acres of land, most of which are found west of the Mississippi River. A typical homestead is around 160 acres or 65 hectares.

 

The act was influenced by the democratic political outlook of Thomas Jefferson. It favored independent farmers to cultivate the new lands of the west, as opposed to wealthy plantation owners who used slave labor forcing free farmers onto areas with little agricultural value.

 

U.S. citizens, including women, who were at least 21 years old and had never taken up arms against the U.S. government were eligible for the grant. They would need to reside and improve the land for five years before they can fully own it.

 

Several acts of similar kind followed to help populate and develop areas that  were previously considered as less desirable. After achieving their goals, these government policies were subsequently discontinued. It is still possible to own a homestead today, but the lot is rarely given for free.

 

Homesteading as a self-sufficiency movement was popularized in the 1960s by advocates like Ralph Borsodi. He imagined a self-reliant modern family which grew its own food from the land. By the 1990s and 2000s, urban homesteading would also gain traction. This incorporated small-scale agriculture and homemaking into the urban lifestyle.

 

Is Homesteading Right for You?

 

Most modern homesteaders started out with regular ambitions, like building a career or travelling the world. Some may not have even stepped foot on a farm before. Homesteading is an unexpected passion, an antidote to the toxic and unrewarding rat race which capitalism has lured people in.

 

Anyone can become a homesteader for many reasons. Some draw inspiration from a family member who died from cancer, inspiring them to become more attentive to where their food comes from. Others want to raise their children in a food-secure home that is independent from the uncertainties of economic stature. Most have a strong desire to uproot themselves from the exhausting daily grind of the city.

 

Homesteading is about being self-sufficient. Aside from having a constant and healthy food source, there is also fulfillment in reaping what you sow and finding joy in the simple things.

 

Homesteads come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t need acres of land to start out. In fact, it is a progressive process akin to self-discovery. It can very well start in your small apartment. You can begin by growing herbs from your windowsill and then realize that something which costs several dollars can sustainably grow for a few pennies.

 

It is the joy of growing their own food that inspires individuals to eventually increase the scale of their homesteads. They also experience freedom from consumption, as they become producers themselves.

 

Living off the grid in Alaska

 

What Are the Skills Needed?

 

Self-reliance matters to every homesteader. Isolation is not uncommon. Some live in remote places and need to do everything all on their own. That is why, before even thinking of living off the grid, you need to gain a couple of useful skills.

 

Growing your own food. Gardening lies at the heart of homesteading. Plants and crops provide a constant source of food. Produce that you normally buy from the grocery store become free and accessible. Moreover, pesticides and other harmful chemicals are kept off with organic gardening. You can also save the seeds and replant them for a continuous harvest.

 

Making and using compost. Having rich soil suitable for planting is important for any homestead. Recycling decomposed material with composting is very easy. Just toss food scraps, leaves, used paper and other biodegradable waste into compost bins or pits and let microorganisms break them down to produce a nutrient-rich soil.

 

Raising animals. Hens are usually the introductory animals that are raised in a homestead. The type of animals you raise really depends on the area that you have, as animals occupy a reasonable amount of space. Animals provide meat, eggs, and milk.

 

Hunting and fishing. Homesteads can be located in areas where hunting and fishing for wildlife are allowed. These will provide additional sources of meat.

 

Storing water long term. Water interruptions are unpredictable. Pumps could fail, pipes could get frozen in cold climate, and there are times when the city water supply has problems. Having water ready at a moment’s notice keeps the homestead running. Water can be stored in drums or jugs for later use. Likewise, it is also important to learn how to purify water.

 

Using basic tools. Repairs are inevitable, there are DIY tasks that need to be done, and trees need to be cut down. Tools should be handled properly and safely when doing these tasks. Get to know your tools or ask someone to teach you how to use them.  Remember to keep the machines clean and oiled, and the blades sharp, too.

 

Baking and cooking. How else would you appreciate the rich bounty of your land than with well-cooked and delicious food? Think of cooking as the consummation of all your hard work. Also, if you’re living remotely, you may need to store food supplies in bulk. Bread and other food items can easily spoil, so it is more practical to make them from scratch.

 

Canning and freezing food. Oftentimes, your family won’t be able to eat all that you’ve harvested in a season. Canning or food preservation helps extend the shelf life of food, and prevent them from being going to waste. Food becomes available year-round, even during the off-season. Meats, jams, jellies and soup can all be canned at home. Similar to canning, freezing excess meat, fruits and vegetables is also a viable option to stretch your harvest.

 

Mending clothes. Level up your sustainability game by wearing out your clothes. Fast fashion, which is taking the world by storm today, is impractical and harmful to the environment. Instead, learn to mend and stitch-up your clothes. You’re in a farm; not a runway.

 

Maintaining your vehicles. If you have a large scale homestead that is far away from the nearest town, it will be a lot of trouble if your farm equipment break down on you. That’s why basic vehicle knowledge is indispensable. Minor repairs and maintenance are needed to keep your vehicles and machineries running.

 

Bartering. If you want to homestead fulltime, there’s a high chance of giving-up your day job. Keeping a homestead, especially a large one, requires undivided commitment. As such, your income is limited because, essentially, everything that you need to survive is already around you. You may opt to sell some of your excess produce or do craftworks on the side. Regardless, there are times when you need the help of others and you have nothing to pay them with. This is where bartering skills come in handy.

 

Living without technology. You won’t have time to check on your social media, when there’s a lot of work to do at the homestead. Possibly, there’s even poor reception where you’re at. Take a step back and enjoy the things that matter more.

 

Homesteading in Alaska

 

The homestead acts have long since passed and the U.S. government doesn’t give away land as freely. However, there are local governments in certain states that give away parcels of lands for free and some even come with extended tax benefits. They hope that this would encourage people to habituate small communities and bring in jobs and other economic activities.

 

Homesteading opportunities are plenty in Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. These states are known for their rich rural landscapes that have been gradually emptied by the appeal of urban life and the dwindling appreciation for agriculture.

 

Alaska is more suited to homesteads for camping, hunting, or fishing. After all, it is known as the Last Frontier. Parcels of the state’s pristine, wilderness land are open for settlers under the management of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/landsale/) or DNR.

 

These lands are not given away for free, but some are relatively cheap given the good game you can find in them. Alaska DNR sells their land in three ways.

 

Sealed-bid auction. Potential buyers submit their offers in a sealed-bid. The one who bids with the highest price wins the right to buy the land.

 

Over-the-counter sales system. The parcel of land is sectioned off and already has an appraised value. Those who are interested with the land, need to buy it at the imposed price and pay for the corresponding taxes that apply.

 

Site staking system. Would-be owners can actually go to the property and stake a claim. The claimed area is eventually assessed and sold to the buyer at the appraised value.

 

Depending on the location of the property, the authorities can also impose certain restrictions regarding the use of land and the structures to be built on it. For example, specifications on the size and layout of the house should be met prior to building it. Some animals or plants may be prohibited to protect the local biodiversity and wildlife of the area.

 

The best way to find a homesteading land suitable to your needs is by contacting local governments. They will help you find viable land for sale or lease and also explain to you their regulations on land use.

 

 

Homesteading in Alaska

 

 

Locations for Homesteading in Alaska

 

The little town of Anderson, found in Alaska’s interior, is among those opening itself to new settlers. The town has no grocery store, no gasoline station and no traffic lights, but it offers spectacular views of the Northern lights and has plenty of wooded land.

 

The small community is close-knit and enjoys the outdoorsy ambience that nature has to offer, away from the bustling and polluted cities. There you can go snowshoeing and skiing, fishing, and hunting for game. There is virtually zero crime and traffic. More importantly, there are no state income taxes, sales tax and property taxes.

 

The private land market and local government of Alaska offer many opportunities to purchase lands. If you are interested to find out more, you can visit the webpage of Alaska DNR (http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/landsale/sale_faq.cfm ). The site provides the contact details of cities, municipalities and borough lands that can lead you to the property which you’re looking for.

 

Risks of Homesteading

 

Harsh climate. The harsh Alaskan climate is not for everyone. Winters can be brutal and often leave the ground frozen for a long time. In this case, growing food is difficult and very seasonal. It becomes necessary to take advantage of the warmer seasons to plant, harvest, preserve and store food that will be enough to take you through the frost.

 

Water contamination. Groundwater can be contaminated with toxic substances, like pesticides. Water from wells should be tested annually. If possible, this should be filtered and purified, especially if the water is used for drinking.

 

Mold. Mold is a concern in damp areas. It is a particular issue with old, existing structures. Before settling in, be sure that a thorough mold inspection has been conducted. Many molds are harmless to humans, but there are some spores that are proven to be toxic.

 

Food poisoning. Because food preservation is a necessary component of homesteading, improper storage can lead to potential health risks. For example, potatoes contain solanine, a chemical that, when consumed in excess, induces headaches, cramps, diarrhea, and even death. The amount of solanine in potatoes increase the longer they are stored. This is indicated when the root crop turns green.

 

Safety. Living off the grid, without any neighbors close to you, puts a risk on your safety. Wild animals and strangers may intrude your homestead and can potentially harm you. Hospital care when there are accidents or medical emergencies are also inaccessible in most remote areas.

 

Taking homesteading seriously is a major decision because it involves a drastic lifestyle change, like quitting your job or uprooting yourself from the places and things you’re already used to. It also poses many risks on your health and safety. Nevertheless, the sense of reward you get from being self-sufficient is all worth it.

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