*Local Learning Series written by Anders Gustavsson, co-founder of Heartland Collective in Yuba County, CA.
Starting a Community & Going Off Grid
So you want to start a community and go off-grid? It’s a valid dream. The future won’t be “normal” so land, food, and community offer great security are huge motivating factors to make the big leap.
Here is a snippet of the Heartland Collective Story.
In 2014 my mother and I chose to make the big leap. I had a tech background with the “jack -of-all-trades” go-getter attitude, and my mother was not enjoying the city lifestyle and was convinced building off-grid community was a better use of her life force. We found a 26 acre lake front property by Lake Camp Far West in Yuba County.
Today, as we are ALL-IN, if I knew what I did today I am not sure I’d do it…but now having done what I have I am incredibly grateful and feel super excited for the future. I hope my tips here will support your exploration.
We had some money saved so we purchased the land in 2014, but certainly did not have the money to do everything we wanted to do. We trusted all the other puzzle pieces would come into place to build everything out. We had land, no access to electricity other than 800w of solar, and a 800 Amphr battery! The city slicker’s in us thought we were set for life!
Over the years we have learned a lot. Now, 7 years later among so many other failures and successes we’ve finally stopped running our generator for backup power and we have almost 10K of solar and a 2,000 amp/hr forklift battery to fully sustain our power needs!
Tip: Get real with your power needs. Get support to set yourself up for success. The cost of propane and generators will be MUCH more than your initial investment in beefing up your solar system!
When we started there was an initial Utopian vision. One day, that may still happen but until all those stars align the initial vision had to change to create a long term regenerative outcome.
Our initial business plan came to a crashing halt in 2017, so we had to get back to the drawing board.
Tip: Be Flexible! Everything changes, go with the flow and keep communication lines open with all deeply involved partners.
In 2017-2019 we invited a lot of people on-site, and we hosted multiple community focused gatherings and we built out the land in all potential ways that did not trigger permitting requirements.
Tip: Be financially prepared! Everything will cost 3-5x+ what you think it will cost, and everything will likely take 3-5x+ longer than you hope.
Among various other projects we built a lot of decks, we built a community kitchen on wheels, we built a 6 stall cedar shower on wheels, we dug and created a 150 person Kiva firepit, and built out our 2 acre garden zone.
Tip: If you don’t have the money to hire help, create a great environment for others to support the vision.
Volunteers are very helpful, but don’t rely on them for professional support.
Volunteers are also temporary, always remember this. It’s not sustainable for anyone to keep volunteering forever so appreciate them everyday and support their growth by limiting their involvement by designing their exit into your volunteer system. “World Packers” has been amazing for us. Friendly management and clear agreements are vital to keep everything working smoothly.
Events are a great way to build out a space. During 2017-2019 every event became a motivating factor to get the next thing built. We’d often have 10-20 people on site for a few weeks before every event to help build. It was a slow start, but we were incredibly grateful for the support and with PATIENCE a lot of things were getting done.
Tip: When you do build anything for your property, know it takes a lot of effort and money. Go small and be patient and make the investment to do it right the first time. Volunteers are great, but make sure they are led by a professional so the end product will outlast your short term volunteers. In the beginning we had to demolish several poorly built projects, and/or finish projects left 25% done by volunteers who ejected.
In 2019 the pandemic hit, and larger gatherings were no longer possible, so we had to pivot. In 2019 we began the shift from being a ”Community” to building a business together with the people that lived here. The most immediate and initial business model became the Retreat model. This was born during the pandemic because it became so clear that people wanted off-grid places to retreat at.
Events and community gatherings were fun, but we had to get real about where we were located and what it was going to take to sustain our lives and create a regenerative future. We also noticed how much more effective our entire team was when we had people involved that really wanted to be involved, and that could integrate with the vision in place.
Today we are in the county application process with hopes of becoming one of the first 3D printed Retreat Centers in the USA. Yep, you read that right…some epic plans ahead!
We will still be building for the next 2-3 years, and who knows…we just may have to pivot our vision again!
Due to our community roots the overall vibe is really lovely because over 300 people have supported us to create what is here now. Over 12,000 hours of volunteer labor has gone into this land so far, and it can be felt. Currently we host individuals, families, and small groups of people in really cute fully outfitted “Glamping” style tents with beds which you can find on Hip Camp & AirBnb, we’d love to host you to see what we’ve created.
My biggest learning lesson & wish that I had done differently…
We started this with passion, but we did not have a ton of knowledge. Over the years we have indeed learned a lot, but we have also made a lot of mistakes. I wish I had prepared myself more and studied more topics (like Permaculture) to support the best choices for the land and for our future generations. Until we die, it’s never too late to get educated and we are nowhere close to being “done” designing and building at Heartland. Now is the time!
Speaking on education, have heard of Permaculture? There is something created called a PDC, which is a Permaculture Certification Course. It’s usually a 72+ hour certificate teaching how to design one’s property and life utilizing principles.
In April we are hosting an all-outdoor 18 day in person Permaculture Design Course at Heartland which combines the full accredited curriculum for the world-renowned Permaculture Design Certification with a People Care Extension that includes a dozen specialized sessions on Social Permaculture & Herbalism.
There is an integral and reciprocal relationship between the health of the environment and human health. We cultivate our wellness simultaneously with the regeneration of the biological life systems that support our planet earth. Through the lens and practical application of herbalism as a modality for ecosystem and human regeneration we will expand our understanding of the core Permaculture ethic of People Care by laying a foundational review of the ways in which we can integrate holistic wellness into our land and community design.
We invite you to click here to learn more about this upcoming PDC on our website, and as of 2/23 we only have a few spots left. We have also created a special discount page for everyone on this newsletter to save you $100. We would enjoy hosting you, and I’d love to show you Heartland and answer any questions you may have. (https://heartlandcollective.org/pdc-partner/)
Good luck in all your off-grid adventures!
Co-Founder of Heartland Collective
Anders has been a serial entrepreneur for over 22 years. As a young adult he developed his life purpose and through this process he devoted his future to personal and spiritual growth. In his 20’s he focused on his own technology development startups and agency based marketing & branding for top tier music artists.
In his 30’s he transitioned into a land-based venture designed to create a legacy platform for a sustainable future. Over the years he has explored various paths that have enabled his professional skills to range widely from branding & design, land development, construction, agricultural farming, to regenerative social design.
He is currently a co-founder of Heartland Collective & Heartland Retreat. Heartland is a 25 acre lakefront Northern California property in phase 1 of its retreat development.