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For Michigan family living off the grid, it's "not about the sacrifice, it's about paying attention"

Jul 29, 2015

Living off the grid can be a lot of work, but Joe and Shelly Trumpey and their two daughters have managed it for years. Their home is near Grass Lake in Jackson County. Finished in 2009, the home relies on straw bale insulation, solar power year-round, wood burning in the winter and efficient construction to keep it running.

The home is surrounded by acres of garden and pastures for the family’s sheep, goats, turkeys, rabbits, chickens and ducks.

“We’ve not purchased meat or eggs in well over 20 years,” Trumpey says and their goal is to grow or raise at least half of the food they consume.

He is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and Shelly is a schoolteacher. With full-time jobs they still fit in upkeep of the farm.

For some, this added work would be seen as a burden, but Joe Trumpey says, "We do what we love."

“It's really not about the sacrifice, it's about paying attention."

Their careful design has allowed the highest efficiency for energy and added maintenance. The home has many south-facing windows that work as a greenhouse in the winter to keep the house warm. And unlike traditional siding, the house’s adobe never needs to be painted or stained.

Trumpey says the winter months are toughest. The home is equipped with 60 golf cart batteries that can store around four days of power for when there is no sunlight. But they also have to stay mindful of their energy use, and he says that can mean waiting to do laundry until it’s a sunny day or not using the microwave in the winter.

While they are more aware than the average person of their energy usage, Trumpey says the lifestyle is easy to adjust to, with farm work simply becoming a part of their routine.

Living off the grid may not be for everyone, but Trumpey says he hopes others will see their success and start to pay more attention to how much energy they consume.

As for what their middle-school-aged daughters think, he says they are proud of their home, often showing off their animals and the bedrooms they helped design to their friends.

“A lot of it isn’t noticeable, it’s not like they’re wearing different kinds of clothes to school. So a lot of it is patterns of behavior,” and Trumpey says their daughters often notice the amount of energy used when they visit other places.

The family’s sustainability has continued to grow, with more garden space and livestock being added every year.

Their work toward creating an environmentally mindful home recently was recognized in Mother Earth Magazine where they were honored with the title of Homesteaders of the Year.

As for the future, Trumpey says, “Farmers know, the farm is never done. There’s always something to do, which is one of the things we love about it.”