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Oldtimer got wild rocky land, started NorCal off-grid Watertopia

Dwight Streamfellow was a college junior when he bought a piece of cheap river-front land to start a homestead. He was a city boy (partly in Washington DC where his father was a Republican senator) so he planned to learn-by-doing on how raw land in the rugged mountains of Northern California’s Six Rivers National Forest.

The property cost him only $11,000 back in 1976, but soon he had built his own home (much of it with hand tools) and was growing his own food, pumping water from the river to irrigate his garden & orchard, and powering his homestead with photovoltaic and firewood (for heat and his hot tub/bathtub).

In a state that is drying up, Streamfellow considers his large chunk of riverfront his true wealth: he’s on the South Fork of the Trinity River, the longest un-dammed river left in California. Forty-five years ago he tried harvesting the water by carrying 5 gallon buckets up the 150 feet from the river to his home. He then tried a pedal-powered pump, but the calories burned weren’t replaced by the calories created in the garden. He finally perfected a system – an electric pump that is powered by a photovoltaic array – which provides all the water he, and his tenants, need for large gardens, orchards and the five homes on this property.

Starting before the Internet, Streamfellow felt he was without an instruction manual for most of his nearly 5 decades working the land, doing everything from building roads (chipping away at granite), creating garden terraces along his steep property and building up hugelkultur beds to garden on bedrock.

Now 68 years old, Streamfellow isn’t wealthy, but he has no debt (he believes in the pay-as-you-go model) and he considers himself wealthy from what his land provides; he has four tenants (who often work the property in lieu of rent), a garden that supplies sufficient annual fruit, vegetables and potatoes, and chickens, pigs and deer for meat. “It was always my goal to be as self-sufficient as possible,” explains Streamfellow. Forty-five years after settling here he says he always has a year’s worth of food and three year’s worth of firewood: “to me that’s what represents wealth– that food and the capability to heat my home”.