Originally Published June 10, 2021
This might be a long chapter, I have never written a blog before and the idea intimidates me. Attempting to encapsulate years of idle interest and months of active planning in a short story might not do it justice, particularly since the purpose of this documentation is to possibly guide and encourage others to take a chance on living a different kind of life.
I should be clear that I am no expert. That's part of the fun of this adventure. We don't know what we are doing and every day presents a new experience for us to try. After a year of quarantine measures and endless hours of sitting on the couch and watching and re-watching tv and movies, this experience is a welcome change.
But I am getting ahead of myself. There are two audiences I write for, the first being our friends and family who already know our story and the second are those who, like me, are searching online for tips and tricks and life stories from those who have ventured off-grid and lived to tell the tale. For this latter audience, allow me to introduce ourselves:
Tyler is from Kemptville, Ontario and went to school for heritage millwork and joinery at Algonquin College. He has been working in construction since then for the past ten years. I've seen him work first hand and he knows timber framing, carpentry, concrete and is an excellent driver of pretty well any truck, trailer, forklift or excavator.
I am originally from Niagara, Ontario but I did a stint out west in Alberta for 3 years when my parents decided to move west and start a ranch on 900 acres just off the TransCanada Highway. After high school, I moved back to Ontario and completed my bachelors degree in Political Science at Brock University and then moved up to Gananoque, Ontario. I had my own little business for a while before being hired at Gan Brewing Company as the General Manager. I worked there for two years and completed a bookkeeping certificate from St Lawrence College.
Tyler and I met very organically in 2018 and began dating in December of 2019. With the pandemic bringing in new restrictions in the spring of 2020, I asked Tyler to quarantine with me at my place instead of back in Kemptville and we have been stuck like glue ever since.
Tyler and I definitely bond over our shared interest in living off-grid, living simply and debt free. As Tyler would say it, he always thought he would be packing up a backpack and just heading off to the woods at some point in his life, but he never thought he would find a girl who was just as eager to do it as him. For me, I have been interested in permaculture farming since I was 18 and I have been dreaming of grey water systems, earth cellars, canning preserves and composting toilets since I learned they existed. I can't really say why I am so attracted to living this type of life, but there must be some tie to our family since we all share an active interest in homesteading culture - you should read our Whatsapp group chat feed!
Our decision to move east was precipitated primarily by what I call the affordability crisis. As everyone seems to be aware, housing has increased two-or-three fold since 2019 and there are no signs of stopping. Aside from this, regular land prices were roughly between $20,000-$250,000 per acre. Tyler's great goal in life is to experience building his own house by himself and I was eager to join him in this experience. Unfortunately, to purchase just a plot of land you must have at least 40-60% of the purchase value to mortgage the land and it is very difficult to gain approval for a mortgage even if you have the cash to invest. Anything that we looked at in our price range was either too small or too near residential areas for our farming goal. It was very depressing to continually watch our goal get further and further way.
Tyler and I are regular people with working-class jobs. Our total household income was about $97,000 and we had no debt and a decent amount of savings and no children. Speaking anecdotally, I believe that we were in a much better financial position than many other people, yet we continually found ourselves looking to compromise because mortgagers were continually limiting our choices by not approving our loans for land and only approving a $460,000 mortgage on a traditional house. I will never understand why we would be trusted with a half million dollar mortgage but refused a $40,000 mortgage. Clearly this system is not built to work in our favor.
I spent much of the winter of 2020-2021 looking into programs for new farmers, including Farm Credit Canada and the Canada Small Business Financing Program. Both programs are highly recommended and my experience with Farm Credit Canada has been particularly great. That being said, we were interested in growing our off-grid enterprise organically and both organizations require detailed business plans, preferably with 1-2 years experience already in your business. So the predicament presents itself: how does one create an enterprise without the financing to create an enterprise to prove the enterprise works? Seems like a catch-22.
I have come to the conclusion that people must either inherit or be given money privately to start their enterprise (i.e. family loan), subdivide property from their family farm or walk away from a windfall investment from selling their property in the big city and moving to a less expensive area. The vast majority of people I interviewed fell into these categories. I did not meet a single enterprise that bought land and started organically as we hoped to do.
I had often looked on Realtor.ca Canada-wide for any property under $25,000 and it was very easy to see how inexpensive land was in the Maritimes. Not only was land inexpensive, it was also densely forested, often on beautiful lakes and rivers and very private. I received mixed feedback from friends and family in response to the idea of moving east, but my brother Jacob said it nicely: "Go where the land is cheap if that's really what you want to do. You can always make new friends". So I started to send Tyler links to dreamy properties and one day he actually texted me back saying that perhaps we should investigate moving.
One thing I have to say for the trades is that they are always in demand. Tyler began to apply for jobs in Nova Scotia and he got two interviews THE NEXT DAY. The next day! How exciting! After a particularly difficult Friday at work, I got a call from Tyler on his way home which opened with "WE'RE MOVING TO NOVA SCOTIA BABY!" Evidently, he was offered the job during his interview and was asked to begin June 1. I was a little in shock, but that quickly turned to excitement. We didn't tell anyone that first weekend, instead taking the time to plan out exactly how we were going to tackle this move in two weeks so we could be in Nova Scotia for our quarantine. We were nervous, excited and a little shocked at how quickly the job fell in our laps but now we felt like our off-grid life was achievable rather than a distant dream.
In my next chapter I have reserved all the details around how we managed to uproot our lives in just two weeks. Stay tuned!