Saturday, April 11, 2009

Living off the Grid

I just finished the book Farewell My Subaru by Doug Fine. It's his story of how a 30-something man from Long Island decided to rid his life of fossil fuels and reduce his so-called carbon footprint. He wanted to live completely on renewable sources of energy and, apparently he had no reason to stay in Long Island, so he transplanted to the New Mexico desert.

To take his experiment a step further than just moving across the country, Mr. Fine sold his Subaru station wagon and bought an American car with a diesel engine and had it converted to operate on vegetable oil. He installed solar panels to provide energy and electricity in the house and to pump water from his well. He created a solar system to heat the water. He bought goats that he gets milk from and makes ice cream. He was going to eat the goats for protein but he got too attached to the little fellers. So he bought some chickens for eggs and protein instead.

Fine has a good sense of humor. You can't take life too seriously when you have a car that smells like french fries. When you buy goats from a posting on Craigslist. And when your little chickens keep getting snatched in their toddler years by a hungry red-tailed hawk. Life might be more pure but it doesn't necessarily seem easy.

You have to hand it to this guy. He lives by his principles so he's not all talk. A man of action. It's one thing to keep the heat low, and avoid use of plastic bags from the supermarket, but a whole different ball of wax to completely give up any use of oil, gas and plastics and adopt farm animals.

Solar panels and/or a windmill are doable in the northeast. There's plenty of sunshine and more than enough wind. And tax credits make the idea financially palatable.

But the idea of buying a diesel car or truck and converting it to vegetable oil also intrigues me. Except that it's not as easy. A vegetable oil-powered car works only sporadically in the Northeast winter since the oil congeals in cold temperatures. The car's valves get plugged up and the engine needs to be warmed to something like 140 degrees to melt the oil so the car can run. And then you need to set aside a section of the garage or yard to filter out the french fries and onions from the oil before loading it into the tank. And disposing of the soggy fries? I haven't figured this out. The compost bin says "no fats." Soggy fries are pretty much all fat. And what with all this engine warming and fry-filtering, forget about being on time to work. So I admit, this is not on our "to do" list at this time.

It seems like a big project being THAT green. A little green is easy, a lot of green takes lifestyle changes. At least we try to be aware of conserving water and paper, avoiding plastic bags, keeping the heat low, solar-tinting the windows, recycling, buying fuel-efficient cars and organic dishwashing soap, and basically trying not to waste in general. And teaching our children about recycling. It's not much but it's something.

If you're interested in Doug Fine or his book, check out

On another subject.. here's a picture of my two girls and their friend Thea at a seder we went to last week. A lot of fun was had by all.

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