Off the Grid

Magazines about permaculture and self-reliance

If our ancestors could see us now. Housing costs on the rise. Fossil fuels running out. Privatized water supplies. Crops threatened by drought. Utility bills skyrocketing. Life a blur of coping and keeping up. Rampant denial that anything is wrong.

What will we do? Trust government to save us? Rely on private industry, “insurance,” and the good ol’ free market? It need not be so. A grass-roots movement testifies to alternatives, a movement big enough to include back-to-the-landers, survivalists, urban gardeners, home canners, wildcrafters, gleaners, tinkerers, do-it-ourselfers, and thrifty people of all sorts.

Dozens of magazines have sprung up from this movement or cater to its needs. From their pages one may learn how to collect rainwater, install solar electric systems, plant an orchard, or — more important — reject despair, embrace self-reliance, and live in a way that considers a sane future for generations to come.

Permaculture Activist reports from the grass roots on topics related to design and agriculture, with the aim of “returning control of resources for living — food, water, shelter, and the means of livelihood — to ordinary people in their communities.” The spring 2006 issue focuses on declining world oil supplies and includes articles on biofuels, “cultivating algae for liquid fuel production,” and “how Cuba survived peak oil.” $23/yr. (4 issues) from Box 1209, Black Mountain, NC 28711;

Permaculture is a quarterly England-based magazine similarly presenting “solutions for sustainable living.” Recent editions have examined the Indian ecocity Auroville, forest and rooftop gardening, construction using earth bags (soil-filled sacks), walnut culture, natural dyeing, and the environmental impact of flying. Each issue includes product reviews and classified ads. $28.75/yr. (4 issues) from Disticor Direct, Box 2165, Williamsville, NY 14231;

Home Power (“The Hands-On Journal of Home Made Power”) features substantial and sometimes technical articles about sustainable electricity generation, as well as such related topics as home energy efficiency, solar hot water systems, green building materials, and efficient transportation. One recent issue featured articles on bio_fuels, water pumping in the Sahara, and lessons learned about solar power from the ’80s. $22.50/yr. (6 issues) from Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520;

Published since 1979, Living Free, a zine devoted to self-sufficiency and privacy, has covered topics ranging from cabin design and electricity generation to counterterrorism legislation. The January 2006 issue contains material on arboriculture, free state projects, and how to learn about uninhabited islands (if not move to one of them). $12/yr. (6 issues) from Jim Stumm, Box 29-UT, Hiler Branch, Buffalo, NY 14223.

ReNew is a practical magazine by and for “backyard inventors” and others interested in applying solar, wind, micro-hydro, and other renewable energy technologies. Published quarterly in Australia, it features articles about (and ads for) solar pumps, composting toilets, water collectors, wireless weather stations, and other gear “from grid interactive to stand alone.” $39/yr. (4 issues) from Box 2919, Fitzroy, VIC 3065, Australia;

Solar Today, published bimonthly by the American Solar Energy Society, extends beyond its stated focus to cover the likes of energy policy, wood biomass heating, water security, recycled carpet, and “environmentally preferred vehicles.” Apparently geared toward architects, builders, and officials, it should still interest anyone who wants to know what’s new in the realm of renewable energy. $29/yr. (6 issues) from 2400 Central Ave., Suite A, Boulder, CO 80301;

Backwoods Home Magazine publishes “practical ideas for self-reliant living,” ranging from emergency fire-starting and mushroom harvesting to making safes from PVC pipe and composters from rubber trash bins. Only in Backwoods Home is a recipe for piccalilli followed by a column on firearms. Learn how to “grow your own dishrag,” make soap and birch syrup, treat a rattlesnake bite, and even raise hogs. $23.95/yr. (6 issues) from Box 712, Gold Beach, OR 97444;

Mother Earth News, “the original guide to living wisely,” is a longtime source for articles about living closer to the land, such as Dan Price’s self-designed and self-built hobbit house; one couple’s account of living on a sailboat; and guides to choosing a grain mill, felling a tree, and making ginger beer. Its scope is broad, encompassing homesteading, green building, energy gardening, beekeeping, food preservation, and night sky watching. $19.95/yr. (6 issues) from 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609;

BackHome (“Your Hands-On Guide to Sustainable Living”) is a patchwork quilt magazine that includes occasional technical articles (about assembling electrical panel boards, for example), along with the likes of “Help Your Child Study for Tests,” holiday recipes, and instructions for making coin purses out of recycled juice pouches. $21.97/yr. (6 issues) from Box 70, Hendersonville, NC 28793;

Midwifery Today, a magazine about natural and home childbirth, focuses on practical aspects of the historic and international tradition that once was the norm. Intended primarily for midwives and doulas, it features practical articles on topics such as posterior labor and vaginal birth after Cesarean, as well as reports about childbirth around the globe. $50/yr. (4 issues) from Box 2672, Eugene, OR 97402;

Communities (“Journal of Cooperative Living”) is a quarterly forum for discussing intentional communities, better known as communes. Each issue features stories about “how we did it” and “how we do it,” with a frequent focus on interpersonal communication and problem solving. Recent editions have examined cohousing, ecovillages, community arts projects, and student co-ops. $20/yr. (4 issues) from 138 Twin Oaks Rd., Louisa, VA 23093;

Also Noteworthy

Recent titles published or distributed by New Society Publishers include Biodiesel Power, The Renewable Energy Handbook, Smart Power: An Urban Guide to Renewable Energy and Efficiency, and Ecovillages: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Communities. For more information:; 250/247-9737. facilitates communication between participants in the gift economy. Have some useful things you’d like to give away? Need something for which you can’t afford to pay? Start or join a freecycle group in your community. features material related to homesteading, urban scavenging, and mobile living.

This Just In

Chimurenga, a pan-African journal subtitled “Who No Know Go Know,” is published from offices in Cape Town, South Africa. Issue #7 includes a report by self-described guerrilla filmmaker Judy Kibinge (a Kenyan who says she was born “a century ago in Nairobbery”) describing the frenetic scene at the annual Sithengi film market. Issue #8 focuses on Nigeria (“We’re All Nigerian!”) and contains a conversation with influential musician Fela Kuti recorded in November 1996. $70/yr. (3 issues) from Box 15117, Vlaeberg, 8018, South Africa;

A new issue of The Dandelion arrived in our mail lately. The little anarchist journal appears infrequently, like many special things. It is edited and printed by Mike Coughlin in out-of-the-way Cornucopia, Wisconsin. This edition (Vol. 6 #3), the first published in over five years, focuses on the life of Thoreau admirer Valerio Isca, a Sicilian-American anarchist machinist who lived and worked in New York City till his death in 1996. $8/4 issues from Box 205, Cornucopia, WI 54827;

Four-Hundred Words is a new, thematic, small-format magazine of “short-short nonfiction,” ideal for reading on the bus. The first issue, “Autobiographies,” features people’s life stories conveyed in 400 words or less, many written by young adults, but others by a septuagenarian aerospace industry retiree, the 16-year-old daughter of cocaine addicts, and a fat middle-aged woman. The focus of the forthcoming second issue: compulsion. $6/copy;

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