Self-Sufficiency in Northern Nevada

Over at the Bison Survival Blog (formerly called the Bison Newsletter), editor Jim Dakin recently posted an interesting piece titled “Economics of Self-Sufficiency.” I recommend his blog, although it is with the caveat that there is a lot of foul language posted there, especially in some of the comments posted by readers.

For several years, Jim Dakin has advocated the low cost retreating approach of buying an inexpensive piece of land (what he calls “junk land”), and living very frugally, with a large used travel trailer for shelter. Jim Dakin presently lives in Carson City, Nevada, in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is an area that is in uncomfortably close proximity to California’s teeming masses. (38 million+, in a recent estimate.) I wrote the following response to his post:

Another reader wrote: “Moving to a homestead property is not for ‘theorizing’ about… takes years and years to work out the bugs, and get a place in shape enough to where one could actually survive on it without outside resources.” I agree! Finding plants that do well in your climate can take years. Growing fruit and nut trees to producing maturity will take years! Unless it is a wet climate, then you will have to live there year round to tend to your saplings. Raising small livestock takes experience. You won’t get that experience living inside city limits.

I can attest from experience that it does indeed take several years to build up a homestead to anything approaching self-sufficiency.

If high commuting costs are an issue, then I recommend that you do some research and see what the farthest reach of the county commuter bus line is. In your case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the bus line goes as far as the town of Stagecoach or perhaps all the way to the Lake Lahontan junction. If that doesn’t work out for you in Carson City, then do some research for Fernley, Winnemucca, Ely, Tonopah, and perhaps Elko. Those locales might be more realistic.

Forget Garnderville. Your chance to buy land there ended a decade ago. Ditto for the Washoe Valley and Lamoille. The only relatively cheap agricultural land that I ever saw in northern Nevada was around Lovelock and Fallon. (That was five years ago. I’m not sure about the prices there now.) I have my doubts about those towns in a grid down situation–since they are highly dependent on electrically pumped irrigation. At least Fallon has a good irrigation ditch.

I also have my doubts about being so close to the I-80 corridor Golden Horde route. (From a defensive/isolation standpoint, Ely or Tonopah make a lot more sense.)

The real sticking point in Nevada is water. Generally, if you are close enough to haul drinkable surface water (ponds, lakes, rivers), odds are that the land will be too expensive to fit your “cheap junk land” model. In most of the Humboldt basin the surface water is so alkaline that it isn’t drinkable. And if you buy land with a well, then you have the pumping issue. Photovoltaics are expensive. Perhaps you could find a place with a traditional water-pumping windmill.

Soil fertility is a huge issue in desert regions. It is realistic to expect to be able to build up the fertility of a small plot for a vegetable garden. (But again, that takes time.) However, bringing up the fertility of a whole field for raising grain is a lot more problematic. Bottom line: Plan to buy a lot of wheat to store.

Your situation is a lot like mine was, five years ago. My eventual solution was to pull the plug completely from the wage earning/salaried world, and move way out to a very lightly populated region, where the cost of living is very low. But that isn’t realistic for everyone. My advice is to start looking for jobs in other cities where there is “junk”-priced land nearby. Ely and Tonopah are probably your best bets. Because of the gold mining boom around Elko (the “Carlin Trend” region), land prices there are insane. I wish you the best in establishing your retreat.