The basic requirement, the sine qua non, for Haven is land, for we humans evolved as land creatures. Lee and I and our friends who wish to share the land with us (another couple so far, maybe two couples) have some basic requirements for the land, and some strong desires.
First, it must have water sufficient to meet our needs. That is a given, or should be, wherever humans settle. Western Oregon has a reputation for its rain, but like many parts of the West, we can be dry in the summer. Beyond that, water is being overused everywhere, with water tables lowering as aquifers are drawn upon beyond their ability to replenish themselves. We will need a well, drilling it ourselves if necessary. But I believe we should also plan on collecting rainwater, and possibly consider strategies for channeling surface water drainage to maximize use and promote replenishment of groundwater. Global climate change requires us to be flexible in how we meet our water needs.
A Southern Exposure
One absolute is that there needs to be a southern exposure suitable for siting the cob buildings -- at least the ones we plan to live in -- because we intend to decrease heating energy costs by designing our home for passive solar. A southern exposure is also extremely desirable for growing things, and we plan vegetable and herb gardens, berries, fruit and nut trees (as part of an edible forest garden that includes a variety of tree, bush, shrub and herb species to meet many needs beyond food), and a small vineyard, for both eating grapes and wine grapes, but especially wine grapes. Lee and Scott and I are avid home-brewers. The honeybees in the bee-yard will appreciate the sun, too, as well as some shade.
A Stream: Thoughts on Electricity
Another very strong desire, nearly a requirement, is a stream suitable for microhydro generation of electricity. Even if we find land where connecting with the main grid is feasible, we do not want to depend upon commercially provided electricity. Lee is a journeyman electrician, and has put a great deal of study into generating our own power off the grid. He is a great asset to our plans, and highly motivated -- he wants access to electricity!
Neither he nor I feel we can count on the "Big Grid" to remain reliable. It has become too big, too complex, and is too exquisitely vulnerable. Not to terrorists, so much... Why would terrorists bother to shut down a system when a tree branch, snow storm, or any other of a number of factors can do it? Even if an especially foolish terrorist were to sabotage some portion of the Grid, how would it differ from any of the major blackouts we've had in the past, and will have increasingly in the future? No, we've become so dependent as a culture on electricity, that blackouts can cause some real danger, even deaths. But we'd be hard-pressed, initially at least, to tell a terrorist-caused blackout from all the other blackouts. A move is afoot toward more local grids generating their own power locally, as part of solving the problems inherent in such an overgrown infrastructure.
So, Lee and I are thinking a very local and far simpler grid -- our own. It will probably be a combination of photovoltaic, wind, and microhydro, but we hope fervently to have microhydro in the mix. (Sun and wind are very seasonal, and more expensive to set up.) So, we need a suitable stream.
At the same time, we must not build on a flood plain. Cob buildings are extremely durable, properly built -- but they are not designed for flooding!
We will also need enough land for a flock, and other animals. Shannon, who is a spinster and knitter extraordinaire, is planning a small flock of fiber animals -- sheep and alpaca. I plan to raise rabbits, primarily for meat, although I am choosing breeds for their pelt as well. The rabbits won't require much room, of course. But I am also considering goats, at least occasional wethers for brush-clearing and meat. I'm very interested in training up a couple of strong meat goats as harness goats to help with hauling things around the property. And then there are the deerhounds...
Deerhounds are a giant coursing hound capable of going anywhere a deer can go, for they were bred to hunt deer by chasing them and bringing them down as a pack. They are an ancient breed, and have not been used to actually course deer for a few hundred years -- not since guns were invented and fences and "No trespassing" signs proliferated. Deerhounds just can't read those signs. But their instincts and ability to course remain.
So, we don't want them running amongst the flock -- goats, especially, are very like deer. Considerably smaller than the European Red Deer (read: Elk) that Deerhounds were bred to hunt, but browsers nonetheless. But the deerhounds would probably be very handy at keeping deer out of the orchards, vineyards, and edible forest garden. We hope so anyway. We love our hounds. We have only one, Galadriel, right now, having lost her buddy Laird. But there will be two again in the future, probably after Galadriel is bred. Deerhounds are best in pairs or triplets. And they need room to run.
We also, as mentioned in previous entries, want to provide workshops on skills of self-reliance, and so will need space for that. Even more central to sustainability and self-reliance is development of a community -- a strong network of neighbors. No couple, or even four or six people, can be self-sufficient in and of themselves. There's simply too many needs for resources and skills and too much that must be done. Part of our dreams for Haven is the Haven Brew Pub and Common House, where not only the residents of Haven can gather to share a cuppa and talk, but so can friends and neighbors.
The land will need to have suitably fertile soil for gardening -- although it need not be perfect soil. We plan to compost, and very purposefully improve the soil. It will also need to have a goodly amount of clay soil, for use in making cob for our buildings. Clay soil is rarely difficult to find in Oregon -- usually there is a good layer of clay subsoil available.
Close enough to work
When Lee and I first were planning where to move, quite a while ago now, we were thinking in terms of "someplace within an hour of Portland". Lee is a union electrician, and we really like the local Union Hall he is affiliated with, and wish to stay within their jurisdiction. Other than that, there was no real single workplace. Lee is dispatched wherever there is work, and that has been as far away as Texas in the past. He would work for a company on a project, most often a construction project, and when it was finished, he would be laid off, go back to the Union Hall, and take the next Call. He had no stable ongoing work location. I worked out of the home. So, since we couldn't find a place within "X" distance of his work, we had a lot of flexibility as to where we could look.
Since then, things have narrowed down. Lee has been working for over a year now in a position and location that looks likely to be long-term. And Shannon works in the same town, outside of Portland, that Lee does. So we are now looking for land within a reasonable (the shorter the better, while still meeting our land needs) distance of their workplaces. That is a challenge -- but the broader issue of transportation and travel is for another post.
I discovered early that most real estate agents, used to selling already-built homes to people living mainstream lives, have a great deal of difficulty grokking what we need and are looking for in land. I was able to find only a handful of real estate agents specializing in land, and only one licensed in both Oregon and Washington. Even he has needed training up in what we are looking for and need.
We also want to accomplish this in such a way as to help us toward our goal of eliminating debt. So we need to sell our home before we can buy, and even then, our budget is limited. It can be frustrating, waiting...
Finding and acquiring the land for Haven will be a challenge. But I believe that we will succeed, given time, determination and good fortune.
Ianto Evans, from whom we learned to cob, strongly urges his students to find land owned by someone else, and negotiate to build upon it, rather than to buy land. He has some good points to make in promoting this strategy, and it is probably a good strategy for many people.
But I have lived in the Pacific Northwest nearly all my life, and I have seen beautiful land raped and destroyed, "developed" unwisely, again and again and again. I have developed a strong need to protect a piece of land from that fate, as best I can, and I feel I am better able to do that if I legally own the land than if I do not. Also, since we already own our home in Portland, seeking to own land from the proceeds of that sale is feasible.
There are other things we are looking for in the land for Haven, but the above are probably our main criteria. We need land that has enough water for our needs, a southern exposure for dwelling places and growing things, a stream suitable for microhydro (or other sustainable affordable means of powering our own home grid) without being on a flood plain, with sufficient acreage for our needs, sufficiently fertile topsoils for growing things, clay subsoils for making cob, close enough to Lee's and Shannon's work, and affordable enough that we can reasonably expect to accomplish our goal of becoming debt-free within a relatively short time interval. Should be a piece of cake! (Eeeesh!)