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Are Your Ready for the Ultimate Off-Grid Vacation?
By Wendy Becktold, SIERRA Magazine
Have you ever booked a vacation-rental property that promises blissful solitude, only to show up at your mountain hamlet and realize that the online photos left out the traffic-jammed road or the nine other cabins clustered nearby?
What to do if, when you want to get away, you really want to get away?
FreeHouse is here to help. The website, which launched last June, lists off-the-grid vacation properties where travelers can really unplug. Founders Sarah and Jason Stillman got the idea for FreeHouse while (where else?) on vacation—actually, over the course of many vacations.
Jason was inspired by his experiences cross-country skiing in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, where he would stay in 10th Mountain Division Huts, a system of rustic backcountry cabins. "They have woodstoves. They have solar panels. They usually don't have running water," he said. "The whole point is to get out there in the wilderness."
Another source of inspiration for the couple was Sarah's father's off-the-grid property on the east cape of Baja, where the couple eventually got married. Their trips to that isolated location got them thinking about how great it would be to have a resource for finding similar spots.
"Off the grid" doesn't mean that a property lacks electricity, just that "there is no way to extend the external infrastructure feed to those areas," Jason explained. "We are giving people the confidence that if they book through us, they are going to a place that's truly remote."
Most of the properties operate with solar power, though a few use wind or hydro power. Many of them also rely on wells or rainwater. "A guy in Santa Fe took us through his whole setup for rainwater collection," Sarah said. "It's a pretty cool educational experience, especially for people who are thinking about implementing one of those systems at home."
But aren't these properties already available on better-known booking sites?
The problem, Sarah and Jason say, is that other online services don't have the best filters for these types of searches.
"Needle in a haystack," Rosellen Sell, who has booked places through FreeHouse, says about trying to find off-the-grid properties on websites like Airbnb and VRBO. She and her elderly mother stayed at secluded locations outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico and Fort Lupton, Colorado, while on a road trip. "My mom isn't going to go backpacking, so to get her out there and sit on the porch and look at the stars—yet have a house and a warm bed—that was a really nice experience."
FreeHouse doesn't just connect travelers to the right vacation rental—it also connects property owners to the right kind of traveler. After all, a composting toilet may not factor into everyone's idea of a dream vacation, not to mention being asked to conserve water and other resources.
"Sometimes people end up at off-the-grid places who really shouldn't," Jason said. "A lot of our property owners mention that because of the unique nature of their property, they don't want to put it on Airbnb." With FreeHouse, everyone knows what they are in for.
Not that the properties are devoid of luxury. The website includes a range of options from which users can pick and choose. "The majority of our places are pretty nice in terms of having all the comforts of home," Jason said.
For now, FreeHouse only lists about 50 properties, around 35 of which are in Colorado, where the couple lives. A smattering of properties in New Mexico, Florida and Baja make up the rest. But vacation rentals in North Carolina, the Yucatán and Nicaragua are soon to follow. "We are focusing on North America for the time being, but if properties elsewhere reach out to us, we add them," Sarah said. Ultimately, the couple hopes to list off-the-grid properties all over the world.
Sell has no doubts about whether she'll use the service again for her next trip. "It's very comforting to have these destinations where I can be true to the values I adhere to in my everyday life while also vacationing."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A new multiyear study found that people living or working within 2,000 feet, or nearly half a mile, of a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drill site may be at a heightened risk of exposure to benzene and other toxic chemicals, according to research released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)
The crowd appears to attack a protestor in a video shared on Twitter by ITV journalist Mahatir Pasha. VOA News / Youtube screenshot
Some London commuters had a violent reaction Thursday morning when Extinction Rebellion protestors attempted to disrupt train service during rush hour.
By Kristen Fischer
Though the science has shown sugary drinks are not healthy for children, fruit drinks and similar beverages accounted for more than half of all children's drink sales in 2018, according to a new report.
Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
By Karin Kirk
Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.
During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.