- Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2015

GRASS LAKE, Mich. (AP) - Straighten out the car after the last turn on the winding gravel drive that leads to the Trumpey family’s 40-acre homestead and you finally get a glimpse of their straw-bale home.

It’s off the grid, operated by a solar array and heated by burning wood.

For many urban and suburban folks, “off the grid” signifies survivalist, and “straw bale” seems like a code for shoddy construction.

That’s not the case with the Trumpeys.

Their 2,200-square-foot, two-story home has a dramatic timber-frame entrance with huge windows, rust-colored stucco walls, a green metal roof and a cupola. It has an herb garden in front and every modern convenience inside.



Joe and Shelly Trumpey and their family, which includes teen daughters, Autumn and Evelyn, and two foster children, were among families named Homesteaders of the Year for 2015 by the magazine Mother Earth News, a bible for sustainable living.

It’s a way of life they dreamed of together when they met as students, studying abroad in Scotland.

Neither grew up on farms, but both had an interest in living a sustainable lifestyle, something a growing number of Americans share, millennials in particular.

They married in 1988 and started out with a farm in North Carolina with chickens, rabbits and a handful of sheep, hoping to raise half of their own food.

They moved to Michigan when Joe was offered a job at the University of Michigan’s Stamps School of Design. Shelly, a teacher, works in the Pinckney school district.

The move took them to a 10-acre farm in Tecumseh, which they outgrew. They’ve built their Grass Lake property from the ground up, starting with fences and using material - including stone, earth and dead ash trees - from the property.

“Joe Trumpey is a great example of what’s possible, because his place is amazing and he’s totally doing it, but still living the middle-class lifestyle,” said Amanda Kik, co-founder with her husband, Brad, of the Bellaire-based Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design.

They raise heirloom animals, such as American mule-footed pigs, all-black, wire-haired and bred to produce lard. They have a single hoof rather than a cloven hoof like other pigs. Their diet includes food scraps Shelly collects from school lunches.

Walk through their pasture and you’ll see compact highland cattle with slender horns and tight mops of curly auburn hair as well as wooly, four-horned Jacob sheep, an heirloom species that is considered threatened because few remain. They also raise chickens and turkeys, and use all of the animals for meat. They also sell wool from the sheep.

They go through about 15 face cords of wood each winter, stoking a gasifying boiler to heat the water that goes through 4,000 feet of tubing in their home’s radiant-heat floors. Solar power is stored in an array of 30 golf-cart batteries. They can run low after a long stretch of gray winter days, so the family may postpone energy-hogging activities such as laundry or working with electrical tools in the shop.

They don’t buy meat, vegetable or eggs, but do purchase things they don’t produce themselves, such as bread, grain and dairy products.

“People get overwhelmed seeing what we do,” he told the Lansing State Journal (https://on.lsj.com/21KB8fo ). “Certainly there are a lot of things you can do without going off the grid.”

Start, for example, with your electricity bill. Find the line that lists the number of kilowatt hours used. That gives you a starting point. Make changes such as using energy-efficient light bulbs, turning off lights when you leave a room and unplugging energy-draining electronics when they’re not in use. Consider replacing old appliances with Energy Star-rated models. But make sure you compare those models, too; some use much less power than others.

If you don’t have space to create an entire produce garden, start small, Trumpey says.

“Plant a couple of tomatoes, and love the tomatoes you harvest,” he said.

Kik has similar recommendations.

“The key is to start where you are,” she said. “So if you’re really interested in growing your own food, you can start with a small garden. If your city allows it, you can get a chicken to lay a few eggs for you,” she said. “If you’re concerned about energy consumption, you can take small steps to get your house in order.”

Dean Baas, senior research associate for the Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service, said he sees the movement toward sustainable living growing across society, from large-scale farmers to small-yard homeowners.

“I think society is going to call for more of it,” he said. “People are looking for more naturally and sustainable locally-made products.”

Trumpey is always looking at new possibilities for sustainability, but admits his family may have reached a peak.

“Other than adding a dairy cow, we’re pretty maxed out at this point,” he said. “We might experiment with a little bit of wheat and corn.”

___

Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide