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Calamity Jill: Off-Grid Living Inspiration

Story at-a-glance -

  • Jill Redwood is sometimes referred to as Calamity Jill, a reference to the American frontierswoman Calamity Jane who was famous for wearing men’s clothing and working as a professional scout
  • While Calamity Jane was an itinerant alcoholic, Redwood is a writer and environmental activist who has lived off-grid for 30 years on the edge of a national forest in Australia, working to protect the forest and live with minimal impact on her surroundings
  • Redwood made radical choices but you have the opportunity to live a “greener” lifestyle despite your location; consider planting vegetables and herbs in a garden or pots, reducing your water usage and installing solar panels to lower energy use
  • Even in an urban location you may choose to raise chickens (check with your local laws) to obtain nutrient-dense, delicious, pastured eggs; if raising your own chickens isn’t appealing, consider purchasing locally and organically raised pastured eggs

By Dr. Mercola

Jill Redwood is sometimes referred to as Calamity Jill, a reference to Martha Jane Canary, better known as Calamity Jane. An American frontierswoman and professional scout, Calamity Jane was an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok and appeared in the Buffalo Bill Wild West show later in her life.1

But this is where the comparison ends. While Calamity Jane2 was known to be an itinerant alcoholic with no formal education, Redwood is a writer and environmental activist who spent her early adult life working in Melbourne, Australia, as a lab technician. Redwood has since been entered into the Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in 20th Century Australia.3

In this short video, Redwood walks through her home and gardens, showing how she has successfully lived relatively independent of supermarkets, manufacturing and electricity for the past 30 years. Although a radical choice for most, Redwood has enjoyed her years living off the grid, is rarely sick and looks forward to remaining on her small farm for years to come.

Jill Redwood — Off-Grid Motivation for Clean Living

If you have ever dreamt about selling everything you own and living off the grid, being completely self-sufficient and in harmony with nature, you're not alone. Redwood, a pioneer of this lifestyle, has been happily living for over 30 years on the edge of a forest in East Gippsland in Victoria, Australia. In these years she's had no main power supply, main water supply, mobile reception or television.4

As an environmentalist, she works to protect the forests where she lives. Redwood hates supermarkets and only eats the foods she has grown in her backyard, or makes herself on her 15-acre property. She lived on a number of different properties before settling in 1983 on the land she now owns.

Redwood built the home herself, which she said took eight years.5 During that time she lived in a small dirt-floored bark hut on the property. With no building experience, she researched the type of houses early settlers had built and claims,6 “It's just like baking a cake, you just follow the recipe.” In total, Redwood said the house cost less than $3,000 to build. Most of the money was spent on roofing and floor boards. The cracks in the timber walls were filled with a mixture of cowpats and lime.

The house is solar powered with hot water generated on her wooden stove. Her power use is limited to her computer, scanner and internet modem. She uses lights at night, a food processor and a radio on occasion. She says,7 “… when the sun really shines and there's lots of power coming in, I've got a washing machine. That's a luxury.”

Each of her decisions were made with an aim toward reducing her impact on the environment. She is passionate about preserving the environment and her local forest and believes her lifestyle should reflect her goals.8 While Redwood lives a solitary lifestyle she chose at an early age, off-grid living does not necessitate this choice. She felt her life was pointed in the direction of getting away from society and having her own little patch of land with animals. But, she had always preferred a solitary lifestyle.

Redwood’s Home Runs on the Sun

Redwood’s home is completely powered by solar panels. This technology had been very expensive for many years but costs have fallen and are now within reach of many homeowners. The consumption of nonrenewable resources such as oil and gas is finite, while solar energy panels harness energy from a completely renewable source, the sun. Using this you can light your home, produce hot water and run your electrical appliances.

The main benefit is it doesn't produce any pollutants and is one of the cleanest sources of energy.9 In the past, a big disadvantage was the inability to use solar energy to power your home at night. Solar storage batteries, to store excess energy produced during the day, were cumbersome and expensive.

Today, many modern units use a process called net metering, a system hooking your home to the city’s power grid. This then measures the difference between the energy you give back to the grid during the day and the energy you use.

Net metering is a means of controlling energy deficits and is an easier and cheaper method of storing the excess power your home generates than batteries. In some areas of the country where it's sunny for long periods of time, you may build up enough power in your home that the energy company pays you for supplying more energy than you use.

The cost of solar panels has dropped by 80 percent since 2008, and experts expect the cost to keep falling. Solar cells are priced per wattage they generate. In 1977, cells cost nearly $77 per watt. Today the cost ranges from $2.87 to $3.85 per watt.10 An installation on your home may cost nearly $17,000, but in the U.S., with tax credits, it can often be reduced to around $12,000.

However, you don't have to buy your own solar panels as you can rent them. If you rent or lease, most companies provide free maintenance. Some states have an incentive program to encourage people to switch to more sustainable energy production, which may help you cover the cost of installing solar panels on your home.11

It takes the average homeowner between six and 15 years to pay off their solar panels. However, if you live in a sunny climate with a good incentive program from your state, you might accomplish it in as little as two years. Since the average life span of solar panels is 25 years, this may mean you save thousands of dollars on your power bill over the course of time.12 While solar power cells are an advantage in the city, they may be essential in remote areas without access to an energy grid.13 

Water Use in the City

Redwood collects rainwater off the roof or from the local river where she installed a water wheel to get it out.14 She uses this to supply her farm with water for the plants, animals and her own needs. You may have the opportunity to discover a clean spring supply in your area by checking out FindASpring.com.15 You may also want to consider other tactics to reduce your water use and ensure a clean supply at home, including:16

Shower water. Limiting your showers to five minutes may save you up to 1,000 gallons a month. Keep a 5-gallon bucket in the shower to catch the water as you adjust the temperature. You can use this to water your plants or even flush the toilet.

Conservation. Consider installing water saving shower heads, faucets and toilets to reduce water use. Add a water barrel in your garden to capture rainwater to water your plants. Don’t run the water while you’re washing dishes or brushing your teeth — run it only when you’re using it.

Fix any leaking or dripping faucets or toilets as the water you lose can add up. Run your dishwasher and washing machine with a full load as half-loaded machines add up to gallons of wasted water. When you conserve electricity you are also conserving water since power plants need thousands of gallons to cool.

Safety. Remember most water sources are severely polluted, so the issue of filtration to achieve a clean supply has become a necessity. If your home or community has older water pipes, or if you live near a military base or other sites using PFC-laced firefighting foam, the risk your water may be contaminated may be further magnified. As a general rule, I recommend using a high quality water filtration system unless you can verify the purity of your water.

To be certain you're getting the purest water you can, filter at both the point of entry and point of use. This means filtering all the water coming into the house, and then filtering again at the kitchen sink and shower. Unfiltered water can also expose you to dangerous chlorine vapors and chloroform gas. The FDA and other U.S. government agencies report most homes in the U.S. have measurable levels of chloroform gas, courtesy of chlorinated tap water.

Unless you have a whole house water filter, chlorine will vaporize from every toilet bowl in your home and every time you wash your clothes, dishes, or take a shower or bath. Chloroform gas, chlorine vapors and the associated detergent byproducts may increase your risk of asthma, airway inflammation and respiratory allergies.

If you get your water from a municipal water supply and don't have a whole house filter, it’s important to open up windows on opposing sides of your home so you get cross ventilation. Keep the windows open for five to 10 minutes a day to remove these gases.

Pesticide-Free Fruits and Vegetables, Summer and Winter

Redwood lives nearly 90 minutes from the nearest grocery store, so it’s no small feat to gather supplies.17 She doesn’t pop out to the store for food during the summer and winter months, but instead lives off the produce and dairy products produced on her farm. Eggs from her free-range chickens, milk from goats and pesticide-free fruits and vegetables sustain her through the summer months. Her garden produces an abundance, so she pickles and preserves to weather the winter months.18

You don't have to live on a farm to grow some of your own vegetables, as many grow quite well in pots. In fact, with a sunny window, you can keep yourself in fresh herbs throughout the winter months.

Growing your own produce has the added advantage of knowing your plants are produced from non-genetically modified seed and grown without pesticides or insecticides, both of which can significantly change your gut microbiome and thus your health. To read more, see my previous article, “Pesticide Treadmill Jeopardizes Food Safety.”

Raising your own chickens for eggs is another opportunity to ensure you are eating safe food. As recently as the 1920s, chickens were raised primarily for eggs and not their meat. Unfortunately, over the past years, eggs were vilified after misconceptions regarding cholesterol content were highly publicized. In reality, eggs provide valuable vitamins, omega-3 fats and antioxidants, and are one of the best sources of choline.

The only better option to getting your eggs and chicken fresh from a local farmer is to raise your own backyard flock. This practice is growing in popularity and many cities in the U.S. are adjusting zoning ordinances to allow this practice. Requirements may vary depending upon your location, so please check with your city before taking the plunge. However, you might be surprised to find they already allow chickens.

You'll immediately be able to tell the difference between eggs you got from your own hens foraging in your yard and those you purchased at the grocery store. Pastured eggs have a bright orange yolk compared to dull, pale, yellow yolks from caged hens.

If raising your own chickens is not appealing, you have other options. High-quality organic, pastured eggs may be grown locally and are becoming easier to find as nearly every rural area has individuals with chickens. If you live in an urban area, visit your local health food store for the quickest route to finding high-quality local egg sources. Look for farmers markets and food co-ops to meet people who produce your food. With face-to-face contact, you can get your questions answered and know exactly what you're buying.