346 – Ant Village Challenge Update – Part 1

Paul is with Fred and Jocelyn to record a podcast for us! Thanks, Jocelyn, this is a great idea! (She’s pencilled regular get togethers for podcast recordings into Paul’s schedule.)

The DVDs are finally out – huzzah. You should have some by now if you ordered them. The first of the four – building a cob style rocket mass heater – is set up to be a good stand-alone introduction to rocket mass heaters. Paul has an awesome deal for the digital version of this. If you can direct people to the digital market for this, the affiliate percentage is 80%. (What?!?) So, you will pocket 80% of the price. Paul thinks it’s worth giving you all that money because it introduces people to his stuff.

Julianne of dirtpatcheaven listened to Paul talking about residual income streams, followed his advice, and now is traveling the country with her family, funded by her income streams. She came by the lab and made multiple awesome videos.

Paul still thinks that somebody who is smart at marketing could make a lot of money selling the digital downloads of the “Building a Cob Style Rocket Mass Heater” DVD, but really, not many have been sold this way. Consider it an opportunity.

Ernie and Erica’s book is out, the guide to rocket mass heaters. The primary build in the book is the same RMH that is in the first DVD, so the book and DVD together are a terrific combination for anybody wanting to build a cob style rocket mass heater. Go to richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp

Paul reviewed the book while he was still on his back with cervical radiculopathy. He was on his back for three months. He’s feeling better, the biggest residual issue is pain if he has to stand still for more than a minute. He is still working on regaining his strength. Jocelyn says work is ongoing on improving health, they’ve been pretty good, except for all the Halloween candy.

Paul has a story he wants to share on a podcast. First, when Paul lived on Mount Spokane there was a property nearby with 80 acres, a house, a barn, a little creek, not too far from Spokane. It was available with owner financing, where you put one third down and then your mortgage payments go to the owner. The couple who took this had to start with $100K down, and then keep working their day jobs, now a 45 minute commute away. Long story short, the guy who sold the property, sold it five times. A couple would buy it, live there for a while, then have to give up.

So many people try to do the homesteading thing while still working full time. It’s too much. It can’t be done! Living in extended family can help, but not a lot of modern Americans are interested in living with their parents, or in-laws, or adult children.

Paul has met dozens of people in this same bind. He remembers visiting a really pretty little farm near his place on Mount Spokane for a yard sale. He asked what the story was. The couple bought the farm, stocked it up with all the animals, kept working 45 minutes away in Spokane. Then they cut way back on the animals. Then they cut back more (hence the yard sale) but at that point the woman of the couple was feeling like the whole thing was a mistake.

This reminds Paul about how living in community often breaks up couples, where one person loves it and the other person hates it. When Paul moved to Mount Spokane, he realized that he couldn’t possibly do all the things he wanted to do on his own. He decided that he wanted to be in community with multiple other folks who are crazy about permaculture, like he was. That was back in 2005, 11 years ago So, he decided he had to figure out how community works.

His dream was to have a group of people all with different skills, all handling a different aspect of an awesome permaculture farm, like Sepp Holzer’s farm. 11 years later, he’s still working on it. Paul and Jocelyn arrived at Wheaton Laboratories three years ago, and they’ve tried a few different things in working towards that goal.

Jocelyn recalls that almost 30 years ago she heard about co-housing, it seemed like a way to minimize your environmental impact. You can share things with your cohorts, like magazine subscriptions, tools, and meals. It just made so much sense, especially to Jocelyn as a young super busy mother. However, her husband (at the time) was not at all interested, so it remained more theoretical.

How do we opt out of the fossil fuel system, that is leading to the conflict at Standing Rock? Co-housing can help, Jocelyn thinks. Paul says there are so many bad things. Like, how can he take a stand until he himself is no longer using petroleum? Can he build a community where people only feel the need to drive twice a year? Can he build a community where people don’t use plastic?

Janet (an ant) met someone who was driving out to Standing Rock. Paul says, shouldn’t there be 4 of you in a Prius, to drive to that? Not one person in a Jeep??

If you switch to a rocket mass heater you can make a big difference in your fossil fuel consumption. Paul would rather more people do this than protest the bad. Jocelyn reports how she’s testing the solar oven, even in the Montana winter. That’s a way to avoid fossil fuel consumption.

Paul hands Fred the microphone, since he’s been quiet. He remembers moving into a pretty crowded house for great cost savings. People rode bikes, they shared a truck. He got to the point where he could work three weeks and that would cover a year’s worth of rent. That gave him lots of time to garden, and learn things. They’d go dumpster diving, come home late, other folks in the community could take that stuff and process it. They could do things like make their own mayonnaise (vegan mayonnaise, of course).

Paul points out that Jesse Grimes has been putting out regular videos of his efforts to build his house and his permaculture bike park. In his videos, he’s asking for people to come out and join him. Watching Jesse’s videos, it feels like he’s where Paul was several years ago, looking for people to join him. That urge to have like minded people to be there, people with the same value system and ideas about raw milk, about honey, about gardening.

Now, the ant village is a very nice developing community. Paul can see somebody having a milk cow there in some time. Folks are talking about seed harvesting, maybe selling seeds as a small business. Paul can see somebody coming out to the ant village for a few years, either deciding to put down deep roots, or putting in some work and deciding that it’s not really for them. Lots of people think homesteading sounds great, not everybody ends up loving it. The risk of trying it out is a whole lot less than trying to buy a big chunk of land, if you come to the ant village.

Jocelyn recalls a neighbor who had a “surgically clean” house and no garden at all. This lady, she loved to clean. She would come home from work and clean, get the kids to clean on the weekends. She’d say to Jocelyn “I don’t have time to garden.” When she hears about people trying to have all the animals while still commuting to a job, it reminds her of when her kids were little and she was trying to garden and take care of them, and take care of the house, and work, and, and and.

Over in the ant village, Jocelyn notes, people are running into the difficulties of trying to do it all, all at the same time. Evan was the first ant, and the only ant to have livestock, and he ended up spending a fair amount of time running the excavator for other people, and this probably delayed the completion of his own house. There’s only so many hours in the day. Paul and Jocelyn have to put a lot of hours into internet stuff, to keep the monies flowing, but there are so many things to do on the land!

Paul says it pains him when he meets people who share their dream of buying land and homesteading there. One couple told him about how the neighbor sprays chemicals from airplanes, he thinks he is doing them a favor. It’s such a huge investment to buy land, it’s hard to make a go of homesteading when you still have to work. (Ed: I think he’s hinting that you, yes you – the dreamer – should save up your money and then come out to Wheaton Laboratories, you can pay freaky low rent and have money left over to support you while you’re building your systems. Think about it.)

Moving on. The Ant Village Challenge. When Paul set up the rules about two years ago, he thought it was simple. On September 10th 2017 each of the plots would be examined to pick a winner. There needs to be 6 existing competitors at that time. Folks need to have spent the “previous winter” in the house that they built themselves.

OK, so that previous winter is coming up. Someone asked Paul “when is winter?” He responded that “winter” is from October 15 to March 15. Yes, that’s longer than the technical winter, which would be from December 21 to March 21. Still, in Montana, camping in October is winter camping.

For the ant village challenge to work, there needed to be 6 houses for the winter. (Jocelyn interjects that the original final deadline was for 2016, not 2017. The whole thing got extended a year because there weren’t enough ants.) Paul went out to look at the 6 plots going. Jim’s plot is ready for winter. He’s got a house that’s mouse tight if not bug tight. He’s got a little wood stove in there.

The other five, not so much. Of the remaining five houses, all were short on something, none of the rest could keep a mouse out. One house really only had one wall. The ants were ready to stay in those uncompleted structures, but to Paul that’s just winter camping, not living in a house you built yourself ready for winter. Only one other person had a heat source, that was a wood stove, but it wasn’t hooked up yet.

After some discussion, they extended it two weeks, but at the end of two weeks Paul said you needed to be able to heat up your space to 70 degrees “on a whim,” for example if you got sick and needed some support. Everybody was working hard on houses, they were helping each other build rapidly. A sort of pit house was built by Josh and Ben: a heavy wood frame with 12” timbers, then a bunch of smaller trees piled on that, making almost a teepee shape. Then billboards, then more trees, then a plan to bury the whole thing.

They called it the Bear Den, it was really pretty with all the green conifer limbs (although of course those are all going to go reddish brown). They’ve put in a Rumford fireplace, they have a plan for a window and a good door. Paul is very interested in this structure, he wants to see how it works out.

Evan has done so many cool things on his property. Maybe the coolest is the walk-through berm (go check out his pictures). This is Evan and Kai’s space. There is a beautiful gate where Paul can claim some credit for the cool hinge design (but not the sheer artistry of the work). Evan’s got ducks, he’s got a wofati he’s building. He’s planning a rocket mass heater. He’s been there the longest, many of the ants were ready to just hand over the contest to him.

But hey, Paul says, the deal was 6 ants with houses for the winter. Two weeks later, they still didn’t have completed walls. Now what??

Moving on to Steve’s place. Steve is Evan’s dad. Paul thinks that Steve must really love to dig with a shovel. He dug a 4’ deep trench by hand all around his house, this made Paul feel very lazy. He’s never dug such a thing. Apparently the plan was to make a french drain. Paul is skeptical of french drains, they rarely accomplish the goal of keeping things dry. The main effect of a french drain is to move water when the water table rises, not to change the behavior of rain. To move water that comes from the sky, you need a sloped swale, also known as a ditch. In other words, Paul doesn’t think Steve’s trench is going to do what he wants it to do, but it’s still an impressive accomplishment.

Janet’s structure didn’t have a roof on October 15, but she only started on the first of October. She’s gotten a lot done, “mostly through cleverness of negotiations.” She arranged a workshop to do a building blitz, getting Jim (whose house is built) to teach it.

Sean is ant #6, he was going for a more green roof style (versus earth sheltered).

Jocelyn points out that to meet the deadline, they were all working together, Amish barn raising style, to finish each other’s houses. Paul says that sounded really super cool. Then, tragedy. One of the ants had a family member become seriously ill and was going to have to go. The challenge called for 6 ants to make it to the finish line.

There was a discussion about making a go of it with 5 ants, but everybody figured Evan was going to win. When Evan realized all these people were going to stick to all the rules (for example, staying on the land for all but two weeks of the winter) so that he could win, he said he didn’t want that to happen. They ended up sort of calling the whole thing off.

Now that it’s called off, people seemed relieved by escape from the rules. It seemed to Jocelyn that people had gotten used to working at their own pace, and felt rushed in finishing their house.

Paul notes that Jim has talked about getting a new acre, building a new structure, and then selling one of those structures to somebody. Sometimes Jim talks about how he’d like someday to buy his own land, where he has the deed and then he can use plywood if he wants to. Paul does have some slightly unusual rules for his property: No glued together boards, no particle board. No paint. Minimal concrete. Green roofs or earth sheltered.

For some people, the lack of toxic materials are a feature, not a restriction. Paul is hoping that he can continue to gather people who are themselves trying to avoid toxic materials.

So, the “Ant Village Challenge” is no more, but the Ant Village continues. There are more than a dozen people up there now (!), and Paul thinks there will be at least a dozen people up there on any given day this winter. (Jocelyn thinks maybe not, since people are no longer required to be there the whole winter. I would guess the population between Christmas and New Year’s might be small, but I’m just a note taking geek.)

Relevant Threads

Page about the new RMH DVDs
Buying the DVD on the Digital Market
The Rocket Mass Heater Builder’s Guide by Ernie and Erica Wisner
Dirtpatcheaven awesome videos
Jesse Grime’s Ant Village Videos
Evan’s Ant Village Log

Credit: Julia Winter


You can discuss this podcast on this thread at Permies.

Get all of the podcasts in convenient, giant zip files