A Better Mousetrap, A Better Homestead
Sean, from Connecticut, was Doctor Prepper’s guest today. Sean is a young father of two children, who’ve picked up, sold their home in NJ, and is planning to become a modern homesteader on the almost 30 acres of wooded land near Hartford CT. During the interview, this is what we discussed:
“I started my blog, BetterHomestead.com in November 2013 as a way to document the construction of our new home, which is going to be a sort of modern homestead. We’re going to implement traditional homesteading ideas, such as gardening, livestock, well water, and a septic system, with sustainable technologies such as geothermal heating and cooling, photovoltaics, and passive house construction. We want to be as self-reliant as reasonably possible.
“I went to college for environmental science, so I have some understanding of green concepts and technologies. As a person who has always been into preparedness and the outdoors, I have been collecting survival information for a long time, and constantly reading about prepping and green living topics.
“I am kind of obsessed with researching and organizing information, poring over reviews, descriptions, and specification sheets, and choosing the best and most affordable products for the build. That makes it possible when I compile a list or recommend a product on my blog, it isn’t just a list I copied from some other source, it’s a really well thought-out and thoroughly researched decision that I will implement in my own life, with my own family. That level of personal attachment is what gives value to the information at BetterHomestead.com.
“So BetterHomestead.com has evolved into a home to organize and share the information I’ve collected, the products I’ve personally used and/or own (or want to own), and the newest products and editorial articles I come across on a daily basis. I hope the information on my blog will encourage others to live a greener, more self-reliant lifestyle.
“As I’ve considered the big-picture design and construction of our home, I have come to realize that concepts of homesteading, prepping, and green living fit together like gears in a watch. They aren’t mutually exclusive; on the contrary, they are ideologically and materially inclusive.
“For example, solar panels aren’t just for environmentalists who want to decrease their carbon footprint; preppers who want to get off-the-grid can incorporate solar technology, too.
“Nor is keeping chickens just for farmers––in a societal collapse situation, preppers want to be able to eat, too! Environmentalists are embracing the “slow food” movement, and what’s “slower” than chicken and eggs from your own back yard?
“These concepts are all part of the same paradigm shift that so many people I know––regular people––are experiencing. The TV show Doomsday Preppers has done a great job of sensationalizing and marginalizing the idea of prepping. But regular people, your friends and neighbors, take preparedness steps in their everyday lives. We are inundated with threats: climate change, natural disasters, diminishing natural resources, local and global financial instability, increased civil polarization and unrest. These very real threats are pulling us into a more self-reliant lifestyle, even if it’s just storing extra water, food, and batteries in the pantry, or keeping a 72-hour bag ready to go, or planning a couple of bug-out locations with your family.
“I chose the name “better homestead” as a play on the idea of building a better mousetrap––it’s a metaphor about the power of innovation. Homesteading has a back-to-basics feel to it. To juxtapose that connotation next to modern technologies doesn’t have to be contradictory or ironic––indeed, it can be complementary. I hope to strike just the right harmony in the building of my home (and my blog).
“While we waited (for a year) for our Hudson County NJ home to sell, we compiled a dream list of things we wanted in our new home. We began to envision big-picture things like energy efficiency, self-reliance, high security, and how to achieve a low environmental impact. We thought about details like concrete construction, high-security doors, high-efficiency triple-pane windows with shatter-proof glazing, weathering steel on the exterior, edible landscaping and natural fences. We want to incorporate geothermal heating and cooling, photovoltaics, well water, and wood-burning fireplaces. We discussed potential food-producing animals: chickens, goats, fish, rabbits, and bees. Since my wife is an interior designer, it has to fit her aesthetic ideas as well. I made lists and she collected photos.
“Once our home sold, we were ready to move on this dream. We quickly searched through dozens of local architects and narrowed it down to three. After introductory phone calls, we made personal visits with each of them.
After this due diligence, our decision was easy: Richard Sherman of Appropriate Designs in Chaplin CT. Richard is an expert in passive solar and energy efficient envelope design, and won the Connecticut Zero Energy Challenge in 2011. After meeting with him a couple of times, my wife and I found ourselves agreeing with everything he said; every meeting has had a real ‘Kismet’ vibe.
“That pretty much brings us to where we are a few months after moving into temporary quarters in CT. We’re busily conducting surveys, sampling the soil and meeting with the building department. We have ongoing meetings with the architect. We have dreams for our future and our children’s future. My blog is about homesteading, prepping, and green living. But ultimately, it’s my way of documenting the construction of our homestead, in photos and stories.
“I was a prepper before the term existed. Most of us preppers were. Set aside the media sensationalism created by Doomsday Preppers for a moment (for the record, I love the show). Survivalists, campers and hikers, homesteaders, environmentalists, hunters––we all have something in common: a connection to the outdoors.
“My wife playfully tells a story that when we met, my winter coat pockets contained a Swiss army knife, a flashlight, a first aid kit, energy bars and tissues. She thought I was some kind of adult Boy Scout. The trunk of my car had a tent, sleeping bags, blankets, water, pemmican, fishing equipment, an axe and machete, and a fully-stocked toolbox. A lot of people might think that’s weird––I just like to be prepared. And my wife somehow found that appealing.
“I love the outdoors; I grew up fishing, hiking, camping, off-roading, and shooting my uncle’s .22 in the woods behind my Grandma’s house. On a summer morning we might pack a light bag with some essentials, hike ten miles, find a lake, set up a lean-to, catch dinner in the lake, make a fire to cook our dinner, sleep under the stars, and then hike back home early the next morning. I didn’t know back then that these were the building blocks of essential survival skills; it was always just fun.
“Fast-forward to today. I have a wife and two young sons. We just moved out of the New York metropolitan area and are settled into my in-laws’ New England home while we plan and build a house on 28 acres of family land. We chose a gorgeous plot of land at the top of a ridge with stellar views. We have a blank canvas and a million ideas about what we want.
Attached are a few photos of our property as we started to clear the trees (taken in October 2013):
- The family (Elizabeth, Ulysses, Atlas, Sean)
- The approach from the bottom of the ridge
- The view from the top (south)
- Southeast view
“Better Homestead is a philosophy of simpler living through innovation. It is a green, comprehensive approach to prepping that includes use of renewable technologies, self-sustainable practices, survival techniques, and fortification ideas. We discuss a broad range of topics as I go through the process of building my own homestead.
“BetterHomestead.com launched in November 2013 as a way to document the construction of my new home, which is going to be a sort of modern homestead. We are going to implement traditional homesteading ideas like gardening, livestock, well water, and a septic system, with sustainable technologies like geothermal heating and cooling, photovoltaics, and passive house construction, to be as self-reliant as reasonably possible.
“Environmental science was my focus in college, so I have some understanding of green concepts and technologies. As a person who has always been into preparedness and the outdoors, I have been collecting survival information for a long time, and I am constantly reading about prepping and green living topics.
I am kind of obsessed with researching and organizing information, poring over reviews, descriptions, and spec sheets, and choosing the best and most affordable products for myself. When I compile a list or recommend a product on my blog, it isn’t just a list I copied from some other source. It’s a really well thought out and thoroughly researched decision that I will implement in my own life, with my own family. That level of personal attachment is what gives value to the information at BetterHomestead.com.
“The objective of my blog is to share my homestead-building experiences in real time, as I go through the steps, and to share current, quality information on related topics with like-minded individuals.
You can follow my homesteading experiences here:
James Talmage Stevens, Host
James Talmage Stevens (aka Doctor Prepper™) began his career in the preparedness industry from the days of his youth. His family lived with his Grandparents immediately following the end of WWII. He learned the basics on the Pace farm in rural Guilford County (NC). Farm chores and gardening were standard fare––plowing the back 40 behind a stubborn mule was substandard! In 1974, upon finishing graduate school with 4 young children and no prospects for a job due to economic conditions during a national economic slump, James reverted to his past experiences on the farm and chronicled in his notebook, along with some hand-me-down recipes from his mother and grandmother. Noting there were no viable books that dealt with all the basics, i.e.: a broad range of food products, he began to utilize his analytical skills, organizing handwritten notes, recipes, and food lore into one volume of information. He spent his spare time while job-hunting, and Making the Best of Basics was created. Before going to press, the subtitle Family Preparedness Handbook was added to distinguish Basics… from the emergency preparedness genre of the existing Civil Defense and governmental agency information.