Title: Off-the-Grid, On the Map
For the month of August, 2009, I spent a month with two of my classmates living self-sustainably in a platform tent on my property in Bridgehampton. Karen Sanchez, Patricia Milligan and I tended a vegetable garden, raised chickens, milked goats, and cooked over a fire in an effort to explore energy independence. Off-the-Grid, On the Map refers to the blog I maintained while living off-the-grid, which was powered by a solar panel system. I wanted to maintain contact with my community throughout the duration of the project, and thereby keep them up to date with its progress. I wanted to teach that we can approach sustainability without completely abandoning modern technology and community relationships. In the fall, I incorporated my literary research and the practical components of my project into a journalistic essay, accenting my writing with photos and excerpts from my blog, and constructed a scale model of the project site for the exhibition space to provide visual context for the paper.
My senior project plan was to spend August
living entirely “off-the-grid,” in a tent set on a platform of reclaimed pine
boards that Id found at a
The experiment was one that Ihad
wanted to for years, since I had founded the
Environmental Club at Ross. My thought was that an exercise in collaboration,
simplicity and self-sufficiency could be meaningful in a part of the world in
which those values were very much in jeopardy. In the end, though, what
launched our planning and work was a very simple desire that had little to do
with rationality, almost a dare: “Let’s do something.” Karen Sanchez from a long line of farmers from
I considered the precarious position of the subsistence farmer, doomed to starve in the aftermath of a single failed crop. Our plight of a record rainy June made me consider the very merit of agriculture; the phenomenon Jared Diamond called “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.”
I started my blog with “questions for a farmer,” wondering how much I would
already know by this time in my life had I been raised by a subsistence farming
family. Our main concerns during the months of preparation were shelter food and power for
our computers. Maintaining blog on a solar-powered computer was the component
of the project that, in my mind, would distinguish my project from being
I didn’t recognize the success of this summer’s project until its concluding days, when I had finally reached a state of comfortable awareness, finally relaxed into the gentle pace of my off-grid lifestyle. It was after the moment of clarity that manifested this blog post that I finally allowed myself to ally with my project, to yield myself to the inseparable of humans and the natural world. The project, though only clearly so during its last week, was a practice of sustainability, of reunification with the natural world, but also a journey of profound discovery that has shaped my values, and consequently my perspective on the way societies are structured.
Drawing from my experiences and the two books assigned to me by my mentor, Deep Economy by Bill McKibben, and Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodges, I composed a journalistic paper to culminate the project. I see my project as a rigorous microcosm of the approach that the developed world may take as environmental issues and natural resource depletion necessitate a collective move towards sustainable evolution. Taken together, my personal experiences over the summer, Helena Norberg-Hodge’s concept of counter-development, and Bill McKibben’s tested hypotheses on the thorough sustainability of strong communities, have coalesced into a workable vision that I hope to realize in years to come.
Diamond, Jared. "The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race.” Discover. May 1987, 64-66.
Finkel, Michael. The Hazda. National Geographic, December 2009.
Geismar, Erin. “Students take on month-long sustainability
The Story of Stuff. Dir. Annie Leonard. Video. Free Range Studios, 2009.
McKibben, Bill. Deep
Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.
McKibben, Bill. “If You Build It, Will They Change?” Toward the Livable City. (Milkweed Editions) 2003.
“Protecting the Last Wild Forests.” http://www.nrdc.org/land/forests/qroadless.asp (Viewed October 2009)
Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael.
Carolyn. How Food Shapes Our
Cities. (Recorded at TEDGlobal, July 2009,
White Jr., Lynn T. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis.” Science. Vol 155. 3767 (March 10, 1967): pp. 1203-1207
Community Member (Details)
Bill McKibben is an environmental author and activist, and the founder of 350.org. In 2006, he led the organization of the largest demonstrations against global warming in American history.