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Secret Sustainability South of the Border! (sh-h-h-h-h)

Thinking of moving off the grid? Starting an organic farm or CSA? Are you part of a group considering pooling resources and homesteading together?

Well, shhhh-h-h-h, come closer, I’ve got a few well guarded secrets I can share with you…

Secreto Numero Uno: get your hippi ass south of the border! Be it Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, or wherever, there are many reasons that you should consider the southern option. The reasons? Listen in:

Reason #1: Two to Three growing seasons. Yes, you can find extended growing in the southern U.S., but 1000 miles south of Texas you really do get an entire second or even third season. What’s not to love about growing outdoors, year round!

Reason #2: The cost of land & living. Land is cheaper (well maybe not Costa Rica anymore), but equally important for the long haul is that property taxes are nearly zero. On our one hundred acres we pay $200 a year. Tell me that doesn’t help the bottom line! And while some things like farm & solar equipment are expensive there, once you have property you are allowed a one time exemption to bring a moving van’s worth of “household goods” into Mexico without import taxes. Also, the cost of ongoing basic staple goods is roughly half what one pays in the U.S.

Reason #3: Save energy and reduce your carbon footprint: So how much of your precious time and energy do you want to spend every year preparing for the coming winter? 30%? 40% 50% or even higher??? Well how does 0% sound as an option for you? If you are situated in Mexico or further south, the cost of winter is a thing of the past. And then there are the ethics and nuisance factors of winter heating to consider. How much of your life’s energy, not to mention the planet’s carbon resources, do you really want to commit to heating your home, or even, in extremes climes, avoiding the possibility of freezing to death?

Reason #4: Less Regulation: Face it amigos, you just can’t fart in the U.S. anymore without a permit! Seriously, come south of the border and you’ll discover a sense of freedom you would never have dreamed of back in the United States or Canada. Whether you plan to sell in a farmer’s market such as one of the three or four thriving ones in Puerto Vallarta alone, or if you’re planning on having a CSA, selling to restaurant’s, or simply just growing for yourself, you can count on minimal regulation once you’ve crossed the border and made your way south.

Reason #5: Security in the face of what lies ahead. Really, you ask? Is he seriously suggesting that life in Mexico can be more secure than life here in the good olde U.S.A.??? Well, yes, actually, I am. As for the narco violence, there are a few simple, common sense rules to be followed such as staying out of the areas of drug production or major transport corridors. The vast majority of the violence I hear about is limited to three or four states, and even with that, it’s the narcos and cops getting perforated, not tourists, travelers, or organic veggie farmers. (I could go on and on about this subject, but will save that for another post…). So what do I mean by security for what lies ahead? Well, the way I see it, if the energy infrastructure gets disrupted for one of any number of reasons (troubles in the middle east, peak oil, climate change) then simply surviving, let alone thriving anywhere north of 30 – 40 degrees north latitude could get really expensive if not downright impossible. Personally, I’d rather build my off grid infrastructure in a place with great public transport, and where access to plentiful, renewable, energy is a bonus, not a necessity!

Reason #6: Quality of Life. Having shuttled back and forth, splitting parts of the year between the two worlds for nearly a decade now, I can with some authority that QOL south of the border is, in general, superior. Yes there are issues with sanitation, schooling, crime and such, but over all life there is really sweet. The Mexican people are, on the whole, far more open, warm and friendly to strangers than has been my experience in the northern countries, and the pace of life, much more focused on friends and family, is more relaxed, and even festive, than north of the line.

So there you have it. Starting your Permaculture journey in a location with high property taxes or heating demands is like setting off to hike the Pacific Coast Trail with two ten pound rocks in your pack. Why would you do that? Mexico and other points south can help eliminate these handicaps.

If you’re still not sure and want to make a test run first, come spend some time with us in beautiful Mayto! Our off grid goat ranch + sustainability center has a campground and guest house where you can beat the winter and hang out for a while. We also have work exchange programs, a very affordable, hands-on education program, and even the possibility of longer-term involvement. Check us out!


Dan Gair, his wife Holly Hunter, along with their daughter Hillary  Abrams own and operate Rancho Sol y Mar. Entertaining stories of their Permie adventure in Mexico, from scorpion stings & Narco uprisings, to rescuing chickens from boa constrictors, and paying bribes with fresh goat cheese, are all presented in Dan’s upcoming memoire “The Mexico Diaries (A Sustainable Adventure, South of the Border)” scheduled to be published later this year.

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This entry was posted in Camping, CSA, CSA’s, Farming, homesteading, Mexico, Mexico, off grid living, off grid living, Organic, peak oil, permaculture, permaculture, recycling, sea turtle, solar, solar, Sustainability, Travel and tagged beach, campground, camping, CSA’s, energy, energy issues, farming, food, food production, goat, goat cheese, Jalisco, latin america, Mayto, Mayto Beach, Mexico, off grid living, organic. CSA, peak oil, ranch, solar, sustainability, Travel on September 29, 2012. Edit


Natural Finishes Workshop at Proyecto San Isidro



 Top Above: One of several new building projects underway at Proyecto San Isidro featuring a wonderfully crafted “mashup” of Cob, Straw Bale, Traditional Adobe, and Pajareque (including bottles) construction techniques. Natural building has it all: minimal environmental impact, lowered construction cost, long lasting durability, beauty, and comfort (earthen buildings are well known by Mexicans as being “fresco” (cooler in hot weather than contemporary cement based construction). So what’s not to love???

Bottom Above: Agave and fields of Rancho El Pardo, home of the inspired San Isidro project.


I’m happy to report that the movement to pursue sustainable living practices is gaining ground in Mexico. This last week (October 2014) I attended a natural finishes workshop at the inspired Proyecto San Isidro at Rancho El Pardo  in Central Mexico, along with more than twenty others from all around the country and representing a terrific variety of Mexican social strata. The workshop itself was extremely well organized and covered topics from natural plasters ( primarily variations on mixes of builder’s lime, earth, sand, straw, and cow poo) to the making of paint, applying frescos (natural pigments painted directly into fresh lime plaster), waterproof tadelakt (a burnished lime surface used for showers, sinks, and other applications where waterproof finish is needed), and earthen floors.

One thing quite amazing to experience and be part of is the growing web of connections in the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican natural building movements. Much of it originated with Llanto Evans, who single handedly saved cob construction techniques which had been a standard of construction in the British Isles for centuries, but which had gone virtually extinct during the 1900’s. Lanto, and his wife Linda breathed new life into this wonderful building art when they transported the knowledge back to their home in Oregon in the 1980’s, and began experimenting with more sculptural use of the materials than had been used previously in the U.K. It was the combination of practicality and the new artistic expression that Lanto & Linda brought to it, that captured imaginations, and propelled the medium to new life. Lanto later introduced Cob to the Las Cañadas sustainable community in Vera Cruz state of Mexico, as well as builder Pat Hennebery of British Columbia and many others in the Pacific Northwest, and a cross pollination of builders migrating between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico has been evolving ever since.

Like much of the other explosion in cross cultural mashups happening in recent years, the new generation of natural builders are combining cob with other techniques such as straw bale, super adobe, compressed earth block, rammed earth, traditional adobe and others. This all seems to fit the new generation of Mexicans well as they push to cast off their machismo heritage and find identity more relevant to new global realities we’re all grappling with. And no where I know of can this cross pollination of cultural and generational building styles be found in more beautiful expression than at Proyecto San Isidro.

Following are photo’s and descriptions of the various techniques and material mixes taught at the workshop:


above: Proyecto San Isidro Director & Natural building Architect Alejandra Caballo demonstrating a sample of hardened cob mixes.




above: Guest instructor and fresco muralist Pedro at pigment making demonstration (pigments later used in a separate paint making class).

above: Various naturally occurring mineral elements used for making paint pigments.




above: Participants examining earthen floor samples.




above: Cob, Straw Bale, & Pajareque composting toilet room under construction.




above Resident Maestro (master builder & teacher) Guero demonstrating the application of fermented cow dung exterior finish coat.  



above: Cob serpent atop Pajareque wall

Unusual  example of a vaulted boveda ceiling constrcuted with traditional adobe blocks rather than fired brick.