Jennifer: Welcome to The Self Reliant Living Show. Okay. As you know, I always like to read the bios of my guests, because I don’t want to leave anything out. I’m going to do that. She is most interesting. You’re going to want to stay for the entire show to listen to our conversation. Our guest is Esther Emery. She is from Fouch-o-matic Off Grid. That’s her and her husband’s YouTube channel. She has a little bit more going on as well on the side, but let me read her bio. Esther Emery is an off grid homestead wife. She lives with her husband and three children in a 314 square foot yurt, she’s going to explain what that is, on three acres in southwest Idaho.
The whole family is featured on their popular YouTube channel Fouch-O-Matic Off Grid as Esther, and Esther has a personal channel on YouTube as well. Esther is also a christian writer and speaker, and she is the youngest daughter of the well known homesteader, Carla Emery. She wrote, Carla Emery wrote the Encyclopedia of Country Living, which you might have heard of it. It’s a very famous country living sort of prepping guide. Welcome, Esther.
Esther: Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.
Jennifer: For those people who have never heard of you before, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself? Tell us about Fouch-O-Matic Off Grid. How did it get to be called Fouch-O-Matic Off Grid? Tell us a little bit about your mission.
Esther: Well, that started when my husband made a bike powered washing machine to solve our problem of laundry off grid. He made a laundry machine that I pedal the bike to make it run. I just thought, “This is such a crazy thing, such a goofy, interesting thing that my husband has made. I want to share it with people.” I took his nickname and I put it up on YouTube under his nickname, which is Fouch-O-Matic. His last name is Fouch, and because he’s kind of a gadget lover he’s been called Fouch-O-Matic as a nickname. I put it up on YouTube, and I had no idea that people would find us and be interested in us and it would then become a whole relational community thing, which it has become. We do have kind of a funny name. We’re an off grid family sharing our story and our learning experiences with the internet.
Jennifer: I love it though. I love that name. What a great story. How did you get to be off grid? How did that happen, because it’s not a normal family thing usually? You’re totally off grid, correct? How did that happen?
Esther: I usually say that we’ve made each decision moment by moment as well as we could. We did not plan to be where we are right now. If you had told me five years ago that I was going to live off grid or that I would have lived this long in a tiny home, I would have told you you were wrong. We made the decisions a little bit at a time. We were really in crisis in our urban life. We were both career oriented people. We just drove ourselves too hard trying to juggle family, and career, and our marriage. We just dropped everything. We really know what the stakes are in terms of having a healthy life and making choices that allow the family to thrive.
We tried to change everything. Building that from the ground up, we’ve had the opportunity to go back on the grid, to reconnect to electricity, and it just isn’t the right thing for us right now. We continue to build our homestead on three acres, which we own. There isn’t a debt issue there. We’re trying to build as much as possible a place for our family to thrive.
Jennifer: Yeah. Gosh, that’s great. You have a little bit more experience than just off grid, because you did this experiment where you went totally off the internet for awhile, and you even gave a TED Talk about this. Can you talk about that a little bit and a little bit about what you learned from that?
Esther: Sure. My no internet experiment was intended to be an exercise in social commentary. I was ready to be kind of snarky and snide and talk about how addicted we are to our technology. I was not prepared to discover how much I was personally transformed by releasing that dependency. Although my husband was not a part of that necessarily, it’s almost like it was contagious, that once I realized how I could be transformed by releasing dependency on a certain technology he caught that bug as well. Now that’s kind of what we do. We try to release dependency on technology. We try to thrive in ways that are not dependent, that are instead what your show is titled, self reliant.
I think that the key of my no internet experiment was really a spiritual awakening. I discovered how numb and dead I had been living, allowing myself to be fed entertainment constantly and not really listening to my internal truth as much as I could. Once I discovered how much God wanted to speak to me through the natural world, and just how much I wanted to be in connection with where my food came from, and how to keep myself alive, and how to keep myself healthy, I got addicted to that. Now that’s the path I’m still on.
Jennifer: Wow. That is amazing. Can you talk a little bit about, I don’t know, the things that you’ve learned about yourself, but also about how we are so connected with the internet and dependent on it, and how you would advise people maybe to step away from it, and how you would go about doing that?
Esther: I think the key is to discover silence and to discover who you are in silence. I’m very connected these days. I mean, you’re talking to me right now through the internet. For our first two years off the grid we didn’t have internet, but now we do. I feel like it is possible to thrive, to have a good life and be connected, but for me personally I need to know who I am when it’s quiet. I need to make sure that I can survive those quiet moments.
I think we’ve all had that feeling that’s boredom or you want to just scratch your itch, you need something to entertain you. I feel like our culture and our constant access to internet and entertainment of various forms encourages that and allows us to live revved up and constantly entertained. It gives us less opportunity to tap into our strength, and our capacity for stillness, and especially how the voice of God moves through us when were silent, when we’re quiet, and how we discover our true callings and capacities in the quiet.
I would say for anybody it’s completely possible just to reserve a half an hour of the day to say, “I’m just going to shut the things off. I’m going to shut off the things that are clamoring for my attention and allow myself to find out who I am when it’s quiet.”
Jennifer: Yeah. Great advice. Let me ask you this though, because I know that some people are curious. When exactly did you do this, what year? The thing is that the internet has been at different stages. We’re still in some of the beginning stages. Somebody that was born before I guess 1980 or so, they remember very well what it was like to be without the internet. The thing is though, if somebody wanted to do this, and I’m not saying that everybody should go out and do it, and I don’t think you’re advocating that either, but I’m just curious how you did it in terms of every other person is connected on the internet, and it wasn’t that way before the internet came into being. Obviously we had other ways of doing things, but then everybody else was connected on the internet. Then that sort of left you out, I assume. Can you talk a little bit how you survived it really?
Esther: Well, there’s two questions in there, and I want to make sure to hit the first one, because you brought up something really important, which is that internet technology is changing so rapidly that it’s literally dividing us by generations. Our experiences are very different. I was born in 1979, so people call me right on the edge of the generations. People sometimes say the millennial generation starts in 1980 with the birth date of 1980. I found that my birth date really was about the breaking point between two very distinct sets of experiences.
There are a lot of people who would hear about my experiment and just say, “Oh. How interesting. That’s fascinating. Wow.” There are also people who would hear about my experiment and say, “How did you do that?” Generally the people who are asking, “Why?”, are those people who are older than me who say, “Why, sure you can live without the internet. We always did.” People who are younger than I am, I have a legit feeling that it’s essential for life. The difference between those two experiences was actually one of the major things that was useful for me to understand, and discover, and to feel that this rapidly changing technology, it really does divide us by generations in a way that is also not entirely healthy.
To make a long story short, I ended up hanging out with old people, and it was the best thing ever. It was the best thing ever, because …
Jennifer: I love that.
Esther: I was living in a culture where we’re divided. The people who like this type of entertainment, the people who like this type of entertainment, we hang out in different places. I ended up spending a lot of time at church, and I ended up spending a lot of time with people who don’t care about the internet, who are comfortable. I started writing letters with my husband’s grandmother, and she loved it, because for her writing three pages of longhand is normal. I tried to get my peers to write to me and they looked at me like, “What? I’m not going to do that,” but it built relationships across that generational divide, which I believe shouldn’t really be a divide at all. It’s a really healthy thing.
Jennifer: Yeah. Wow. Yeah. If you just think about it, I mean, you just articulated I think some feelings that are going on in the world today in terms of that generational gap or divide. Yeah. That’s wonderful. That would be a great thing if people did set aside time and then to spend it with an older generation, because there’s people, they’re not online at all, and they don’t care, older people. That’s just a gem there that people I feel like need to discover. I love that you discovered it, and I love that you’re writing about it. That’s awesome.
That’s not everything about you, right? You have some other avenues that you share your life. Can you tell us a little about those different avenues, because you’re an author, obviously you’re a vlogger? Can you tell us a little bit about those and then your favorite one?
Esther: Sure. I used to feel like I had a split personality. I used to feel like I had two completely different identities on the internet, because the people who follow our Fouch-O-Matic channel are self reliant folks, folks who are interested in my husband’s, his finished carpentry skills, and gadgetry, and also just our lifestyle, really digging into simple living and family values. That’s one group of people, but I also am a writer. As a writer I’m interested in beautiful things and a little bit of poetry, and I’m a lyrical writer and very spiritual. I had a different group over there.
I used to feel like I had one life for one set of people and one life for the other set of people, but I’m very grateful that those groups are merging and I’m feeling like the Fouch-O-Matic people are getting sort of used to the idea that I am a writer. My lyrical poetry loving people are getting used to the idea that I also live off the grid, so things are merging together. My first memoir, my first full book that I’ve ever written, comes out next month. That’s called What Falls From The Sky? I have it right here for you.
That’s a spiritual story about my year without the internet. I also blog at EstherEmery.com. I also have two YouTube channels, the Fouch-O-Matic channel and then my personal channel where I talk about some conceptual things that are sometimes spiritual and sometimes just about how to be a healthy, whole person in the world. Those are all the balls I’ve got in the air. It’s kind of a few, isn’t it?
Jennifer: That is great. We have some people commenting. Let’s see. Nicole says that that’s a great point. The internet does create a huge generational gap. I think it does. Meredith is saying, “Essential for life,” she loves that. She’s in her 30’s, and her 15 year old niece cannot believe there was a time when we did not have computers. Yeah. It is. The way to recognize it I guess is to talk about it a little bit. Then once you recognize it, then you can act on that.
That’s one of the reasons I wanted to have Esther on. I love the subject, and I think it’s really important, because I’m just a little bit older than Esther I think, and I can remember a time without the internet, but my family was an early adapter, so we’ve been on it for a really, really long time. I can see the gap and that it’s troubling to some people.
Let me talk about this for just another second. That is that you have the convenience, you have the technology, and once you start down that path you get addicted to it, whether you can remember a time without it or not. Do you think that you can live with the technology without being addicted to it? Do you think there is a balance that can be achieved, and what does that look like? We touched on that just a minute ago, but can you go into a little bit more detail?
Esther: Sure. My family’s really testing that right now. It’s my feeling that if you can’t imagine yourself without a technology, then you need to consider yourself dependent on it. I feel like you need to re-enter that feeling of being without something on a pretty regular basis, or you’re dependent on it. The reason I say that our family is working with that right now is that we’ve lived quite primitively for a couple of years, and we’re making some transitions into a little more comfort. Nobody can blame us, right?
We’re working with this question of are we losing the lessons that we’ve learned from living fairly primitively if we develop these more comfortable structures around ourselves? I think that’s a question that you really need to be thoughtful about and continue to revisit. At any point that you’re not thinking about it, those are probably the points where you have dependency that you may not be aware of.
Jennifer: Yeah. I agree. Tell us a little bit about your upbringing, because it was not the normal way you think about bringing up kids. Tell us a little bit about your mom. Then, are you raising your kids in the same way? Do you think that because you’re off grid, do you think that they will at some point be off grid?
Esther: Well, I was raised by not just a homesteader, but a famous homesteader. I was raised by someone who literally wrote the book on country living, an 800 page, five pound book that a lot of people have heard of. It has a lot of information in it that people find valuable. As a child, as her child, I found a lot of difficulty between what other people thought about my mom and what I thought about my mom, because she was just my mom and a very imperfect person who struggles. Then here were all these people, and this still happens to me, who says, “Oh. Your mother’s so amazing. She changed my life.” As a young person I had to figure out what was up with that.
My first impulse was to really reject what my mother stood for. She had taken me to the county fair. I sat there and watched her teach people how to kill chickens. As a teenager I thought that was just horrifying, right? I went the other way. I chose a career life. I really didn’t want to be a country person or a homesteader at all. Then my life came around 180 degrees. Now, not only do I practice most of what my mother preached, if not all of it, I even sound like her. I am literally walking in her footsteps.
It gives me a perspective on raising children I guess that they may well go their own way. They may go their own way. They may think I’m crazy. They may think that I’m the crazy, old bat who wants to cook things on the wood stove. That may just seem really insane to them, but I’m demonstrating values. When they are in need they’ll remember. They’ll remember how we thrived, because that’s the way that I remember my mother, even though at age 15 I thought, “This whole off grid thing …”
We didn’t actually live off grid, but she was really into self sufficiency of course, this willingness to struggle, this willingness to be in close proximity to animals, and butchering, and having your hands in the cycle of life. This stuff is not something that I want to have to deal with. Then I reach a certain level of maturity and I say, “Oh. I don’t really have a choice about that. This is life. I need to get into this.” Fortunately my mother gave me a real head start at being able to have those skills.
Jennifer: Yeah. That’s the great hope. You raise them in a certain way, and then you send them off, and you know they’re going to explore and do other things, and you just hope they come back to how they were raised. It sounds like that’s what happened with you. That’s a success story. You’re off grid, and you’re trying to make everything or most things yourself. How do you guys make a living?
Esther: We’re both freelancers. We’re in the sweet spot where our cost of living is really low. That’s the only reason that it works for us to live the way we do. I make freelance money as a writer. I write some articles. I’ve written a book. I have some money coming in from that. Then my husband freelances as a finish carpenter. He’ll do cabinets, or he’ll go and work. Sometimes he still works in the entertainment industry, which is what we used to do. He’ll work for a few weeks at a time or a month at a time, especially in the winter time. We’re just constantly trying to make it all add up. You can’t fall asleep on the job. You got to pay attention to money all the time, pay attention to what your needs are, but we are finding that it’s completely possible.
Jennifer: Carla is saying how she hears her mother coming out of her mouth too. That’s so we’re not the only one. Tell us a little bit about your day to day life. You live in a yurt. Can you explain that? Then what about the every day things that we people that aren’t off grid take advantage of or take for granted, and this is things like do you have a freezer? What do you do for AC? How do you heat your home? Those kinds of things, can you tell us a little bit about those?
Esther: Sure. I live in a yurt, which is a fancy walled tent. It’s got a lattice work structure, but not hard walls, and then several layers of insulation and canvas vinyl on the outside, which is also a round space. We actually love it. We’ve lived in this yurt for three and a half years, and there’s something about living in a round space that’s just special, but it’s too small for us. I know there are some tiny house people out there or small space living people out there who know it’s worth it, there are some advantages to living in small spaces, but we’ve got five of us in one room. We’re really looking forward to moving into a cabin, which my husband has been building. That’s chronicled on our Fouch-o-matic Off Grid YouTube channel. We’ve been telling about all of that.
As far as conveniences or the technology that supports our life, I do not have any kind of refrigeration. I’ve become so accustomed to that that it doesn’t even seem strange to me anymore. I understand that that is a surprise to many people. We can, and we ferment. We eat leftovers immediately. In the wintertime we eat things that can be kept cold. IN the summertime we eat things right out of the garden, so there’s a real difference in our diet from summer to winter. That has to do with not having refrigeration.
I have to be honest that we talked about getting a propane fridge in the house, and it’s kind of expensive. I’m dragging my feet on it a little bit, because I’m not sure I want one. I’ve come to think that having a large quantity of food kept fresh or kept artificially fresh in that way is actually not the healthiest way to keep it. That’s just my perspective on that. I feel okay with our complete lack of refrigeration as long as I still have my canners.
You also asked about heat and AC. We do our best to work with appropriate technology. In our home we have a concrete slab, and we’re using a rocket mass heater, which are simple technologies that are designed to really work with the natural environment. The slab keeps us connected to the earth temperature, so a little bit cooler in the summer and a little bit warmer in the winter. That’s a really great, simple thing to do to keep from having to use fuel to cool and heat your home. We also try to have multiple ways of accomplishing things. We have wood heat, and I have both wood cooking and propane cooking. We try to have a couple of different ways in case one fuel runs short. We have more than one thing to fall back on, if that makes any sense.
Jennifer: Yes. It does. It makes perfect sense. I find what you were saying about your food storage very interesting and very intriguing in terms of you not feeling it is the healthiest if it’s kept in a refrigerator for a long amount of time. That’s very interesting, and that you are totally without a refrigerator, because I know that even a lot of off-gridder, you know, they have some sort of refrigerator if it’s solar powered, or propane powered, or something like that. That is a very interesting insight, that you’re dragging your feet on it too. You may not get one at all.
Esther: Well, you know, my husband and I are in different places on that. The thing about not having any refrigeration is that you have to be very aware and constantly on track with what you have to eat and where it is. I find that to be spiritually a really good way to live. I think it’s hard to find a right relationship with food, but for me the biggest, most important thing is to be aware of it, so to know what state your yogurt is in, or a couple of days in advance, or what vegetables you have where, and do you need to ferment them? Do you need to put them in a jar? Are they okay where they’re sitting?
That kind of awareness for me is a healthy way to interact with food, whereas stuffing it in the fridge, partly it just reminds me of a different time in my life when I wasn’t as healthy about food. Whether it’s actually the technology that’s the problem, what I’ve learned without the technology is something I don’t want to let go of.
Jennifer: Very interesting. That’s a great point that a lot of people are emotional eaters too. This has helped you step back and be aware of all that. That’s great. I love that. Can you talk a little bit more about the community that you’re building on YouTube? I know in your TED Talk you talk about this, that it’s sort of a paradox that you were off the internet for so long, but then you’re building this community on the internet. Can you explain that a little bit?
Esther: Sure. You know, I’m so impressed by the people who comment on our channel. That’s not to say that there aren’t problematic commentors, because I think that’s absolutely true and I have talked about that before. The people who are just wanting to support, again, that generational thing. We find a lot of people commenting on our YouTube channel who have way more experience than we do. I’m going to tear up saying this. They just want to see us make it. You know? They’re willing to give us encouragement, and support, and advice.
That’s been just an incredibly touching thing for me to realize that what we stand for in terms of our lifestyle, it’s not just a set of choices. It’s a whole identity, a whole lifestyle identity. We’re standing for a simple life and a valuing of working with our hands and of just appreciating these household skills and homemaking skills. People care about that and just kind of waving their hands at me or at my husband in the comment section and saying, “We care about this. We care about you. We want to see you make it.” It’s incredibly powerful stuff. It can really lift a whole group of people and help us to live the right way.
Jennifer: That’s a great motivator. It’s amazing how just one comment can make your day and move you on to the next step. I can totally relate to that, and I love that about building a community. That is a big thing that I think people don’t think about when they are commenting, that the words really matter. They help not only the person that you’re making the comment towards, but they help everybody. That’s a really powerful thing to let people know I think. Who are your heroes, the people that you look up to, the people that you follow?
Esther: Well, I have to keep my mother on that list, because although she isn’t with us now, I keep her book and her presence really close to me. That’s my number one homesteading hero, right in the family. I want to shout out to Starry Hilder here. She’s somebody who’s also on YouTube and is also off grid. She’s somebody who has really inspired me. She actually has sent me some personal messages too when she realized that I was starting a YouTube channel and when she realized that I was trying to be vulnerable in my story. You know?
She wrote to me and said, “It’s the right thing to just let people see what you’re doing, even if you’re not doing it right. Just let people see it.” That was really an inspiring thing to me. Thirdly, I’ll just say again, the people who maybe don’t have YouTUbe channels, but who support us and who give advice in the comments, those are some really impressive people. When you start to hear what people have experienced in their lives and what they’re willing to offer, I really look up to a lot of those people as well.
Jennifer: Yeah. Skip is saying that, “The way that Esther’s family eats is really the most healthful way to eat. It appears that they eat fresh foods most often and put their own food up free of preservatives. I envy their lifestyle.” Yeah. I totally agree. That is a very healthy way to eat. On your YouTube channel you do a lot of Q&A. Those are my favorites. This is on Fouch-O-Matic Off Grid. Can you tell us what’s the craziest question that you’ve ever been asked?
Esther: Well, there’s so many ways to answer that, but I’ll tell you my favorite, which we actually answered on the channel, so some of you may have seen it. My favorite was when someone was expressing concern for us and wanted to know what we do when it’s the middle of winter and we have a bear. That cracked me up, because although we have winter and we have bears, we don’t ever have both at the same time, because they hibernate, which I think is common knowledge. As she was asking it she just kind of forgot.
We made a big joke about it, about the we’re going to find bears in the wintertime, and we’re going to find bears juggling in the snow, and on fire, and whatever else. I think that people really want to … They want to know about the personal aspects of our lives. They want to know what it’s like to be us. Some of the questions can be a little inappropriate or can kind of be a little too personal. We kind of work out how to deal with that, but we also love to do the Q&As. It’s fun to just be people together.
Jennifer: Yeah. Like I said, that’s one of my favorite parts. If you have not ever visited Esther’s YouTube channel, you must go after this show and watch some of the videos, because they’re great. Okay. We talked a little bit about this with the internet, but what advice would you give to somebody who was trying to transition to an off grid lifestyle?
Esther: Right. First of all you need to figure out what you want or what you’re being called to, because there are a lot of different ways to think of off grid. There are a lot of different reasons to be off grid. I think that although many of them are perfectly right and correct, sometimes the way that they intersect can get confusing, so really just to do some internal searching and say, “Okay. Am I looking for a more healthful relationship to food? Am I looking for a sanctuary for my family? Am I looking for greater independence or lack of dependency? Am I looking for preparedness?”
All of those things do intersect, but I think that when you feel that kind of urge it tends to come from a particular thing. If you can figure out what it is that you’re really craving, what you’re really wanting, then you can be more specific and more strategic in how you’re taking steps. I don’t think it’s very effective in terms of going off grid to necessarily mimic somebody else, because the whole point of becoming independent is to use your own skills, and your own capacities, and your own resources. You have to be really in touch with your reality, both what you want and what you have. To develop some kind of a process where you can be honest with yourself and really do some internal searching before you take any steps at all, I think is absolutely essential.
Jennifer: Go on your own journey.
Esther: Absolutely. Yeah, and having the courage to go on your own journey, to say … Even if they’re just baby steps, so much of what Nick and I have done, especially the really successful things, we just took one little step at a time. We didn’t rush. Then you look back a few years later and say, “Oh. That’s how the puzzle came together. I didn’t necessarily know moment by moment, but there was a plan in place here if I just followed all the cues.”
Jennifer: Yeah. I love that. That’s something I would recommend too is, like you said, examine, take a self inventory, and whatever rises to the top, and then be ready to go on your own journey. That’s fabulous. Where can people find you if they want to connect with you, on social media, Facebook, obviously YouTube? Where else can we find you?
Esther: The hub of all my stuff is my website, which is EstherEmery.com. Then YouTube, and then some on Facebook, and I’m also on Instagram. You can find me @EstherEmery on Instagram. I just sent out a survey on my newsletter saying, “Where do people want to see me?”, because it is a little confusing figuring out which is the most important venue, but I’ll continue to do videos, because somehow that’s working for people, and it works for us. YouTube is really probably the place to look for us, for our whole family, and also for my personal voice in the future.
Jennifer: Wonderful, because that’s one of my favorite YouTube channels. I look forward to more episodes on both of your channels really, because I have seen videos on both, and I love them. Thank you so much for coming on, Esther.
Esther: Thank you so much. It’s been so fun.