Living off the grid

Before we ate, I helped Zach catch a marauding piglet that had escaped from its pen beside the house. Zach had separated the piglet from its mama and litter because it wasn?t doing well. It needed some TLC.

Ginnie and I were having supper at our friends? house, Erin and Zach Griebahn, who live west of Mt. Pleasant on 30 acres of rolling farm land. The Griebahns have three small children, Jonathan, Eleanor and Benjamin. Erin cooked bacon cheeseburgers on a Coleman propane grill in the barn because the wood-burning cook stove would make the house too hot. We ate outside at a picnic table, under a shade tree. Chirping birds, crickets, and the buzz of bees from the Griebahn?s bee hives, serenaded us while we ate. The bacon on the cheeseburgers was home grown, and delicious. Zach, in characteristic fashion, finished his meal before any of us because he likes the last bite to be as cold or hot as the first.

After supper, Zach and I walked up the hill to gather eggs from their three moveable chicken coops. After feeding and watering, Zach, with a handy dolly he made, moved the coops forward one cage length, to give the chickens fresh grass. He does this daily, and says he can really see the difference between the newly fertilized pasture, and the non-fertilized. And the chickens love the fresh grass and insects, clucking away contentedly as if talking.

The Griebahns live off grid?no Access Energy, no Rural Water, no propane delivery. They?re not hippies, they?re not Amish, they?re just a regular family who enjoy not being dependent on utilities that can abruptly stop or skyrocket in price. They do their laundry at a laundromat, buy ice for cold storage in coolers, and purchase drinking water. For now, that is. The newly constructed windmill behind their house is for pumping water from a spring-fed pond to the livestock?pigs and chickens, cattle in the future.

Also in the future may be a water filtration system for drinking water, a solar-powered water heater, and a generator being designed by Zach and an electrical-engineer friend, that will be powered by the windmill. Currently, three solar panels on the south side of the house supply 12 volts of electricity for small LED lights that Zach built in Ball Mason jars. (There?s a 12-volt movement going around amongst back-to-nature people.) The 12 volts also recharge their cell phones, and powers the Wi-Fi and television. Yes, television. But, as of yet, the television is not for pulling in air-wave broadcasting. It?s for watching movies, documentaries and educational DVDs.

Erin and Zach homeschool their children. They enjoy being able to teach their kids about God without fear of ridicule. Zach was homeschooled, and is obviously bright and socially well adjusted. The kids may be the friendliest, most non-adult fearing children I have ever seen, helping their parents with chores, and naming the farm animals?Mike, Mary, Wilbur, etc.

Zach, Erin and the kids built their 550 square foot house and barn. They have a gas-powered generator for the power tools. The house is heated by an authentic-looking pioneer cook stove that will drive them out of the house in the coldest of weather. They go through four to five cords of wood over the winter that they all take part in splitting. See their website at

The Griebahns raise chickens, pigs, and soon-to-be cattle for customers. They have the meat slaughtered, butchered and packaged, then personally deliver the meat to the customer?s home?something called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Customers can actually come and visit their hog at the Olde Farm. The animals are free range and antibiotic free.

All of this pioneer-type lifestyle obviously takes a lot of time and work (and courage). Zach works two-to-three days a week helping his father run the family business in West Branch. The rest of his time is devoted to family and farm. To guard against, what they call ?homesteader burnout,? they do a lot of activities off the farm, like taking the kids to Adventure Land, play dates with the neighbors, and going to the library.

Erin and Zach are 30-years old. Their entire approach to living, from the square footage of their house, to its location on the land, to the distance to the compost pile, has been meticulously calculated to make the most efficient use of their time. They both plan on living off grid up until old age, when carrying a bucket of feed or splitting wood may become too difficult. Their motto is, ?Financial freedom through a drastically downsized standard of living.?

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or find him on Facebook. Curt?s stories are also read at 106.3 FM in Farmington.