Updated: Dec 29, 2021
Off-grid communities seem fun, right? A group of friends, or even like-minded acquaintances chip in and buy a large piece of land, for a community homestead. Here's why that may not be as fun as it sounds.
This post is purely opinion. It should not be taken as any type of legal, financial or investment advice.
I've seen the idea thrown around of an off-grid, or homestead, community. The basic idea is that usually one person buys the land, or everybody pools their money together, and then each person has a role/chore/responsibility to the community.
Pretty much, once the land is purchased, the group move in RV's, mobile homes, shed houses or cabins and begin the off-grid journey. There's typically the idea of a chore list, community garden and a farmer's market style, and the workload is distributed amongst the group, possibly by skill level. So, the experienced carpenters would do more of the building, experienced gardeners do more of the gardening, etc.
Don't get me wrong, I think the idea is good in theory. I also have an idea of how to make this work, although it's a little different than the traditional off-grid community take.
Off-Grid Community = Cult?
Let me say this, first. I believe that 99% of these communities are started with the best of intentions. They're started with the intention of work and crop sharing for a sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle. With that being said, I also believe that a lot of cults began with great intentions(as in, they never intended to become anything close to a cult.)
I believe that if someone wanted to take on the task of starting a community like this, would need to take extra steps to ensure that there's some sort of check/balance system to prevent:
One person, or a counsel(I talk about this more, below) from taking over as a "leader."
Excluding people from the group based on beliefs, race, sex, etc.
Requiring people convert to some sort of belief system, like a religion.
Steps to prevent power-grabs and greed within the community.
Dictating how people live, especially when the community is considered "off-grid." (For example, the rules of the community shouldn't be dictating lifestyle, like preventing electricity from being hooked up, requiring labor hours, etc., at risk of being evicted from the community.)
Etc., etc., etc. Much more than I can cover here. +++
I do believe to help prevent a group like this from turning sour, there would need to be:
A legally established group/community, with realistic, fair guidelines/rules set that can't be changed at random, by anyone(I talk about this more, below.)
100% financial transparency, especially with money-pooling systems(which I don't agree with for a group like this, but I'll touch on that more, below.)
A counsel that doesn't hold all the power of the community, and can be realistically changed if/when needed. (For disagreements within the community and managing things like community gardens, annual events, group events etc. I'll touch in this more, below.)
A voting system from members of the community.
A, neutral, outside party that can step in if need be.
The realization that people are people, not everyone believes exactly the same and not everybody will function as a community member.
Much more research, legal advice and planning than I could ever give in a single blog post.
Then, of course, there's always issues with groups going south when they began with excellent guidelines and systems. There would need to be some sort of back-check to keep members of counsel and the landlord from overstepping. I do believe lawyers would need to get involved to create and develop a group like this and help prevent it from going south. Like I said, this is just my opinion and should not be taken as legal advice. In other words, please don't start a cult because of this blog post.
One idea I've seen mentioned is a lease scenario, where one person buy, say 20 acres, and leases out five acre tracts to four different people. Then, citizens of the community combine their gardens(crop sharing) and trade for skills, supplies and resources. So, for example, one may trade eggs to a neighbor for homemade soap.
It seems great in theory, but legally, I'm not sure how this would hold up. Most states have laws on what a landlord must provide, meaning the owner of the property must provide things like grid-tied electricity and city water. While I don't think there's anything wrong with this, it kind of defeats the purpose of an off-grid community if all five tracts are tied to the grid. It would basically become a rental spot for RV's, mobile homes, etc.
Another issue with the lease scenario is that leases are temporary. Living off-grid, or homestead living requires a lot of permanent structures, like fencing, barns, chicken coops and even permanent living quarters, like cabins. Why risk getting the boot from a community you've invested so much time and energy into growing?
With that being said, I foresee the opposite becoming a problem. Even though this community would have rules, not everybody follows rules and not everybody wants to put in work. Some people are just like that. In this type of community, I could see this becoming a huge issue. How could trading work if everybody doesn't have something to trade? I'm also not sure how eviction would work on the grounds of "they didn't put in the work." Doesn't seem like something a judge would rule for.
I don't think it would be a great idea to put in "requirements" into a lease, in my opinion, as it borderlines on the first topic mentioned in this post. Lease requirements that say "don't trash the place" and lease requirements that say, "we don't allow you to hook up electricity and we require this many hours of work or risk eviction" are completely different scenarios.
A Homestead Community
I'm not intending on starting one of these, but I do have some ideas for how I would, if I did. I'd start with an odd amount of land, like 110 acres, then divide the land up into five-acre tracts. That leaves ten acres. For the sake of this post I'm keeping it simple.
On these tracts, I would build small cabins, complete with solar systems and hooked up to a (probably) community well. Each lot would be fenced in and the cabins in the middle of the lots, with some raised garden beds and possibly a chicken coop. These tracts would be available for sale, through owner financing or straight out.
I would develop the remaining two acres into a community garden, fishing pond, fruit trees and a community center for an annual farmer's market festival(outsiders would be invited.)
By offering lots for sale, this helps to prevent the community from falling into some of the before mentioned issues, above. Instead of deed or lease restrictions, I'd go with a HOA.
Now, I'm not really for an HOA, but to develop an established community, these come in handy. Again, I'd establish this with some checks/balances to prevent it from becoming overbearing(but, of course, people can move in/out/sell property anytime they'd like.)
A group like this would be for people wanting to jump into the homesteading/off-grid life with neighbors. This isn't for everyone, but it's an appealing option for those who don't like the idea of going at it, alone.
Some things the HOA would handle:
Setting up and advertising the farmer's market.
Maintaining the pond.
Purchasing seeds/maintaining garden and equipment
General community property maintenance(like maintaining the driveway, mowing grass, tree care, etc.)
Some HOA restrictions that come to mind:
Keeping the property in decent shape(pretty much, not allowing people to trash the place.)
Keeping up animals(not allowing animals to free roam, keeping livestock in good shape, not hoarding animals.)
In this group, I would have a lawyer draw up specifics so it's not prejudice, or case by case. My goal with this would be to prevent situations like:
Animal hoarding or abuse situations. Obviously, livestock would be encouraged, but since it's a community, I'd want to prevent situations like 50 cows on 5 acres(thus resulting in hungry cows on too small of a property)
Roaming animals. Animals get out, and that's fine, but some guidelines to help prevent stray dogs from killing chickens, and to prevent chickens from getting in the community garden, etc.
Disposing of trash into the yard or tossing it out on community property.
The goal of HOA would pretty much be to keep the community safe and functioning, not establish rules for living.
I talked about financial transparency before. I'd collect a small fee every year(commonly known as homeowner's association fees) and use that money for purchasing garden seeds, the property tax, wifi(lots of people work from home these days,) stocking the pond, repaving the main driveway, etc.) It would be completely transparent, with funds and purchases available for view at any time. HOA meetings would be held to discuss spending the money.
Instead of requiring hours, the community garden would serve as a what you put in/you get out type of system. For example, something like 1lb of produce per hour logged. With this system, no one is required to work, but those who do can reap the benefits. I'd have the garden maintained by HOA,
This is all theoretical, using a made-up idea. It would be extremely difficult, not to mention pricey(with no return for years) to do this. It would be extremely challenging, to create a functioning group, not to mention keep that group functioning as it should. Ask any landlord dealing with apartments, and they will tell you that, well, some people are just... People. Let's leave it at that.
Thank you so much for reading! I put up new posts every Monday and Wednesday and am so happy to have you on our journey with us. Have you ever considered joining a homesteading group? What about starting one? Share your thoughts, below.