Homestead Living News

This family takes off-the-grid to the extreme — Homestead — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

This family takes off-the-grid to the extreme — Homestead — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

Gabor Degre | BDN

Gabor Degre | BDN

Sarah Wilcox-Hughes, 42, hugs the family canine Cosmos in the entrance yard of their small home in Belfast.

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Employees •
October 26, 2018 6:26 am

Up to date: October 26, 2018 6:30 am

When Ethan Hughes and Sarah Wilcox-Hughes and their daughters Etta, 11, and Isla, 6, moved from rural Missouri to an off-grid home on Edgecomb Street in Belfast this summer time, that they had a piece crew take away the photo voltaic panels that powered up the house’s electrical system.

The employees, understandably confused, thought the family was going to hook again up to the electrical energy grid and urged them to rethink, Ethan Hughes recalled with a smile. However nothing might have been farther from the fact.

The family embraces the type of easy life which may have been extra acquainted to individuals 200 years in the past than at present. As an alternative of electrical energy, they mild their nights with candles. They prepare dinner and warmth their residence with a wooden range, maintain meals cool in a root cellar, use an outhouse as an alternative of indoor plumbing, and journey from place to place by way of bicycle and public transportation as an alternative of automotive.

However this easy house, the place the quiet of an autumn day isn’t damaged by the hum of a motor or the pings and whirrs of a pc, is wealthy in different issues, they stated.

“Limitation creates abundance,” Ethan Hughes stated. “That’s what we’re not taught in a consumer society.”

They name their house and challenge the Risk Alliance.

Risk Alliance

After spending a yr dwelling in France in a small, religious commune referred to as the Group of the Ark, the place residents and guests strived to create a nonviolent social order, Hughes and Wilcox-Hughes have been impressed to convey the idea to the United States. They began the Risk Alliance in 2007 on land they present in La Plata, Missouri.

They deliberate to welcome all types of tourists to their residence to present them a special way of life, however they didn’t assume that many would need to come — maybe 200 annually. However then individuals began coming and didn’t cease.

“We didn’t think that many people would be into post-petroleum living, with no [electronic] screens,” Ethan Hughes stated. “But people were coming from all over the country and the world, to see what it would be like to live that way. We had so many visitors. Some came for two days and stayed for two years.”

Guests have been friends and didn’t want to pay to come to the homestead, although some did select to make monetary presents to the undertaking, the couple stated.

They averaged about 1,500 guests annually, with everlasting residents numbering as many as 14 adults and youngsters. Individuals visited due to a curiosity about the way of life, they stated, but in addition as a result of they have been keen on civil disobedience coaching, which additionally was provided at the Alliance. The venture had a service arm, referred to as the Superheroes, who would head out in costumes on their bicycles to do service tasks, together with serving to to rebuild elements of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

At first, a few of the neighbors questioned if the group was some type of “weird cult,” or unusual spiritual group. However over time, the suspicion abated. Ethan Hughes and Sarah Wilcox-Hughes, who determine fairly a bit with peace-seeking Quakers, stated that the cults they’re conscious of declare to have all the solutions. They don’t.

Simply as in the French religious commune, the Risk Alliance has a number of essential parts. The primary is self-transformation, he stated, the place individuals work on the fears and greed inside them. The second half is to create the world round them that displays what they need to see.

“To build something better than what we have now,” Ethan Hughes defined. “The third part is, with love, hopefully, to stand up and change what you can, and take a risk for what you believe in.”

In Missouri, Risk Alliance by no means fairly built-in into La Plata the means that they had imagined. Missourians have been type, however nonetheless referred to as them the “bike people,” Sarah Wilcox-Hughes stated. That they had loads of guests, however not sufficient members to create the important mass they needed. And their progressive beliefs have been one thing of a curiosity in a county the place lots of their neighbors have been evangelical Christians, and the place seven out of eight individuals voted for President Donald Trump. They felt remoted, and have been prepared for a change.

“We were just needing to be in a place where we didn’t have to do everything — where we could plug into the culture,” Sarah Wilcox-Hughes stated.

In order that they determined to transfer, and bought a few of their 100 acre farm in Missouri to others in the group at a worth that was lower than the market worth. A number of of the households have joined forces to type the Bear Creek Group Land Belief on the land, and are nonetheless engaged on how they are going to be organized, Sarah Wilcox-Hughes stated.

As the family looked for a brand new place to quiet down, above all they needed to be shut to the ocean. So the family got here to the coast of Maine two years in the past on a scouting journey, and checked out communities from Damariscotta to Bar Harbor. However Belfast is the place that stood out.

Life outdoors the field

As soon as in Maine, they settled into the small home set again amid 10 acres of fields and forest, situated only a brief bike journey from each the middle of city and the Harmony Trailways bus cease — essential for selecting up the guests they hope shall be coming in from out-of-town. They bought the home and land thanks to a personal, no-interest $100,000 mortgage, given by a good friend, that they’ll pay again at their very own tempo, Ethan Hughes stated.

“Already, through people’s generosity, we’ve been able to pay back $10,000,” he stated.

After simply 4 months, the homestead doesn’t but have all the gardens they want or all the outbuildings they want, nevertheless it’s coming alongside. The goats have settled in and the chickens contentedly scratch round the land. Inside, the afternoon mild slants throughout bookshelves, an previous upright piano and the animated faces of Ethan Hughes and Sarah Wilcox-Hughes as they speak about their lives and their journey to Maine. They’re wanting ahead to the winter, with its lengthy, darkish nights and chilly days, as an opportunity to relaxation and mirror on what’s subsequent.

“We are actually so excited about it,” Ethan Hughes stated. “We’re actually in that rhythm that all the other mammals in Maine are in and we love it. You’re supposed to recharge and reflect and go deep.”

The family is aware of they’ll want to be artistic as they work out their life in Maine. They deliberately reside far under the poverty line in order that they don’t want to pay revenue tax, or “war tax” as Ethan Hughes calls it. They get cash by means of monetary donations to their venture and, from time to time, by charging small sums of cash for the permaculture and different homesteading courses they’ve provided. They usually deliberately place themselves far out of the mainstream of American capitalist society: for instance, if the women clamor to go to see a film, their mother and father will supply to take them to twice as many group theater choices as an alternative.

As properly, the Hughes family tries to function inside the present financial system, the place issues usually are not purchased, bought or bartered, however moderately given with no expectation of a direct reward.

“Somehow life is provided for,” Sarah Wilcox-Hughes stated. “Ethan has a really amazing magic with finances. Our friend says that people give Ethan money because he gives it away.”

Individuals need to help the non-profit, and by extension the family, as a result of they see the good work that’s getting carried out, the couple stated.

“Instead of just writing a check to some nebulous nonprofit, most of our supporters are friends who have visited us,” Ethan Hughes stated. “They call and say, ‘What’s going on?’ … It’s relational first and economics second. It’s a flip on capitalism.”

It additionally helps with budgeting that their fastened bills are fairly low, they stated. They haven’t any electrical payments, scholar mortgage money owed, web or cable payments, automotive funds, insurance coverage payments, Netflix payments or cellular phone payments. They do have a month-to-month invoice for his or her land line phone, seemingly considered one of their solely concessions to trendy life. For well being care, they’re working towards becoming a member of a medical value sharing group that will probably be an alternate to conventional insurance coverage. They did retroactively search Medicaid after Etta’s delivery, when Sarah Wilcox-Hughes had a life-threatening blood clot, and the ensuing care value $17,000.

“We committed to pay back what we took in that time to help people in need,” Ethan Hughes stated, including that they’re not insured via Medicaid.

“We don’t have insurance, but we have dozens of people who would help us if we needed it,” Ethan Hughes stated. “Even when we don’t have money.”

Bringing activism to Maine

In Maine, as the family begins over with the Risk Alliance, which at this level has simply the 4 of them, they’re determining how they’ll greatest make a distinction regionally. A precedence for them was to give a few of the cash from the sale of their Missouri farm to indigenous-led efforts right here in Maine.

“We’re hoping to lead by example, imagining a world where every nonprofit and organization is starting to return resources, whether it’s time or money, and how that could have a bigger effect on healing,” Ethan Hughes stated.

The venture doesn’t have its personal nonprofit tax standing nevertheless it operates as one underneath the umbrella of the Penn Valley Quaker assembly group in Kansas Metropolis, Missouri. Of future donations acquired by the Risk Alliance, 15 % can be given to Maine-Wabanaki REACH, which advances Wabanaki self-determination. A further 5 % might be shared with individuals of shade and different Native American teams, Ethan Hughes stated, describing the 20 % as a “tithe.”

“The tithe is not a gift. It’s returning what was stolen,” he stated. “It’s an imperfect and small beginning, but we’re going to begin, nonetheless.”

The family is having fun with getting to know their new group in different methods, too. Ethan Hughes shortly joined the battle over the proposed land-based salmon farm in Belfast, siding, loudly, with challenge opponents. Their daughters are attending the personal Mill Faculty in Freedom, which provides courses three days every week, to complement homeschooling. They will afford the tuition there as a result of Ethan Hughes and Sarah Wilcox-Hughes work on the campus in change for a tuition low cost. The varsity administration can also be working with their monetary actuality, they stated.

Being activists and dwelling outdoors of the mainstream just isn’t all the time straightforward or snug. The family just isn’t militant about all of their beliefs, for instance accepting the supply of rides for his or her youngsters or for themselves in the event that they want to go lengthy distances. However they apply what they preach as a lot as they will. Once they formally open the doorways of the Risk Alliance in Belfast in the spring, for courses, visitors and extra, they hope they may have many guests. They usually consider these individuals will depart with a brand new perspective.

To succeed in the Risk Alliance, name 338-5719

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