30 years self-reliant: family $10K/year homestead & dugout

1978 Cheri and Evan Howard signed “The Shakertown Pledge”, a commitment to living at or below the federal poverty level. In the pricey San Francisco Bay Area, their family of four lived on $10,000 to $12,000 per year by avoiding expenditures like restaurants and concerts, and by growing vegetables and raising chickens.

When they bought 35 acres the high desert of Colorado, they moved the four of them into a double-wide trailer on the property and began raising goats for milk, as well as continuing with the chickens and large garden.

After 17 years the mobile home, they began to build a larger home themselves, cutting local trees for beams and collecting stones for the walls. It took them seven years to construct the home which is one big “great room” connected to the old trailer by a small door. For cooking and heating, they use a wood-fired stove, as well as the Rumford fireplace they built from plans found at the library.

Many of their appliances are human-powered which they see as “appropriate technology”. “One thing you’ll notice around here”, explains Evan, “Is that if you’re going to do things by hand, you’re got cranking: almost everything cranks”. They hand crank: their grain mill for flour, their ice cream churner, their apple cider press, and even their washing machine which Cheri has dubbed her “Pleasure Washer”. Evan has used his extensive collection of primitive hand tools to make everything from cabinet drawers to chair legs.

The couple doesn’t feel they are making a sacrifice (except perhaps when dumping the toilet mid-winter) but instead view the extra labor as “play” and something that keeps them mind and body.

They compare their lives to those of monks and believe the geography of space is important. When Evan found a spot on the property with perfectly-aligned rocks for a dugout, he knew this would be his monastic “sanctuary” or “cell”. He spent six years using a pickaxe to dig the underground hut.


On *faircompanies: https://faircompanies.com/videos/30-years-self-reliant-how-a-city-family-went-homesteading/


  1. Talk about your ”cranky” old folks —
    When work is your play, then you’ve effectively beat the system.
    With the nascent (but growing) ”Great Resignation”, maybe a more contemplative work/play instinct will emerge — And what satisfaction in seeing the beautiful results of all that hard playing!

    • Taking it as a compliment. Would settle with our friends’ well-furnished library, that’s for sure. Eventually, we all need a permanent home (or at least a dwelling to come back to once in a while), if only to sit around the hearth reading books from the library.

  2. This is what I can imagine is a life well lived, actively doing what they felt was the right way for them, instead of spending their lives waiting for retirement to then do what they always wanted to do in their lives. They are amazing people.

  3. The Dirksen family has got to be the happiest most blessed of all YouTube families. Their children are adorable and you can tell they are so happy. We need more families like this in the world.
    Thank you for all your hard work and sharing your travels and adventures with the world.
    I’ve learned so much from your channel. Mainly that you really don’t need much to be happy in this life.
    **The less you have the more you have**

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