Life Off The Grid | Harrowsmith Magazine

Life off the Grid

Quebec homesteaders Marie Eisenmann and her family live off the grid in an earthship built 40 years ago. Here’s their story.

It’s 7:30 a.m., and the school bus is about to come and pick up our daughter, Emma, 7, on the gravel road that meets the gravel path to our home. I love this short morning walk with her, as we both enjoy the nature and calm all around—the wildflowers in the fields, the birds in our many fruit trees, the raspberries growing along the path, the puddles she still loves to jump in. I equally love having the time to enjoy this every day, with no pressure or road traffic ahead.

On my way back home, I go through the garden, harvest a few veggies with gratitude, and then go for my morning meeting…with the chickens. The rest of my day will consist of a mix of activities between my homesteading responsibilities and running our company, Hempbassadors, from our home. From filling the cookstove with wood and baking bread to reading and writing for work and planning the visit of our next guests in the cabin we rent out nearby, we are now living the life we’d long dreamt about.

When Francis and I met in Montreal 12 years ago, we didn’t dream of the classic North American setup: the big house, the clean-cut lawn, a swimming pool and a more-than-full-time job. Then approaching 30, we shared the same consciousness about the environmental tragedy and disasters of the food industry, which have gotten worse since then. We wanted to live a simple and eco-friendly life in the countryside, close to nature, growing our own food and being as self-sufficient as we could be. Freedom being an important value for us, we wanted to live outside of a system that, according to us, keeps most people in a gilded cage.

Just as we started to look for a house to settle in, we happened to find the perfect one for us, in the classifieds! An earthship nestled on a half hectare of land, a few kilometres outside of a small village of Quebec City. Even if it was not located in the area we were looking for originally, we couldn’t let this chance go. Especially at $15,000! We bought it immediately and became happy owners of our dream house, without a mortgage.

At the time, the earthship was more like an old cabin that needed love, as it had been abandoned for seven years. There was no water or electricity, the greenhouse was starting to fall apart, the roof was leaking and the wood floor on top of the cement base was rotting. The frame was in great condition, however. Built by a visionary in the late 1970s, the earthship was made of stones gathered from the land and assembled with cement (rather than old tires filled with soil, as with regular earthships).

With no knowledge in construction and only the energy and innocence of our young age, we started the renovations. (Fortunately, we inherited a collection of helpful books and magazines from the builder, including some old Harrowsmith issues from the 1970s and ’80s.) At the very same time, we launched a social economy enterprise dedicated to urban agriculture in Quebec City, one and a half hours from our new house. As our job consisted of installing and taking care of rooftop edible gardens and giving workshops, we had to live in the city and only had weekends to work on the earthship. We hired a few people, some friends came to give a hand, and it was the beginning of what became a never-ending process.

We also quickly started to work on the land, since we knew that fruit trees and shrubs would take years before producing good amounts of fruits. I remember being very excited to plant all these raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries. I was living a dream I had had for so many years. Having such a large space on our own land to set up our edible garden was very exciting. Even though we had little time available to take care of it in the first years, we planted many things, let nature take care of them and harvested with joy what was good to go.

It took eight long years before we moved in. Some years involved big work (extending the house, rebuilding the greenhouse, setting up the kitchen) and other years saw just a few improvements (when I was a young mum and overbusy with a successful enterprise). It was a long and demanding effort—so long that, in the end, we were not so sure we would be happy to live there. You change over eight years. Now that we had a kid, a business and employees in town, how could we manage to live off the grid, an hour and a half away?

At the same time, we couldn’t bear city life anymore: too many people and cars, too much noise and concrete. And we were exhausted by the launch and development of our organization, combined with the renovations and the responsibilities as new parents. We felt trapped, far from the freedom we loved so much. It was time for a big switch! So within six months, we left our apartment in Quebec City, moved into the earthship and quit our organization to let a new team continue the mission, in order to fully live our longtime dream of being homesteaders.

Then, magic happened. We immediately fell in love with our new house and our fears vanished. We felt totally free and extremely happy to live in nature, according to our core values: running our house on rainwater, solar panels and wood, and eating mostly what we grew and cooked ourselves. The very low costs of our new way of life also allowed us to travel three to four months each winter, which is another aspect that we love. It has now been three years since we’ve been living this life full time. We would never go back to our old way of life.

Of course, there are challenges and not everything is perfect. There are always new improvements to be made, such as installing a fridge and freezer for the summer months, when the cold room is not so cold, and digging a well so we have easy access to drinking water. We don’t have a washing machine and we work a lot to accomplish all the daily chores that come with an off-grid lifestyle. We are close to nature, close to our garden and close to outdoor activities, but far from our friends and family, healthy food stores and public swimming pools.

Overall, though, we prefer this way of life compared to life with all the conveniences the city has to offer. When our daughter comes back from school, we are no longer stressed out and we have plenty of time to share with her. And when we go to bed, we know we can afford nine hours of good sleep and are happy with our choices in life. We are proud to live by our core environmental values, empowered to eat our own food and satisfied to work at a job we are passionate about.


Meet Your Hempbassadors


In spring 2018, Francis and I launched Hempbassadors, a project dedicated to promoting industrial hemp.

With thousands of uses, from being a superfood to being a green solution for building materials, paper, plastics and even fuel, this wonderful plant is a comprehensive ecological answer to many of today’s environmental problems. An eco-friendly and quick-growing crop, it requires no insecticides, herbicides or fungicides and is even beneficial to soils.

Very adaptable, it grows in a wide range of climates, making it a unique opportunity for our local economies. Learn more and follow us at hempbassadors.ca.

Marie Eisenmann
Marie Eisenmann

Marie lives off-grid with her family in a earthship built in Québec’s province 40 years ago. Raised in France, she came to Canada for three months…18 years ago ! After being a journalist and editor-in-chief in an outdoor magazine, she became a leader in urban agriculture, co-founding and managing a pioneer organization promoting this activity. Now she shares her time between homesteading in the earthship she renovated with her husband and promoting industrial hemp through their new organization, Hempbassadors. Email: info@hempbassadors.ca Website: https://www.hempbassadors.ca/en/

Posted on Wednesday, April 21st, 2021


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