Starting Small In Alaska - Back To Basics

Categories: Inspiration

Alaska off the grid

The Castellanis in the garden in front of their home.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, sustainable living in the U.S. has seen steady growth, but for ages Alaska has been a magnet for people looking to live off the land. Paul and Jennifer Castellani moved to Alaska 20 years ago. They built a house near Anchor Point on land they bought in 1994 for $500 an acre. "We found the land in the newspaper under Remote Properties and hiked out here in the winter the first time," remembers Paul. It was old-growth forest. When they moved, he says, "we brought our stuff with a dog sleigh when the snowpack was still hard." They cut down small trees to make a platform so their tents wouldn't be on the ground when the snow started to melt. Now they grow organic food, home-school their children and have started a farmers' market in nearby Homer. Paul, 45, and Jennifer, 46, were high school sweethearts in St. Joseph, Mo. They went their separate ways, to different colleges, but never forgot each other. "My sister always told me that I was so crazy about Paul that I would follow him anywhere. I guess she was right," says Jennifer, laughing. Their sons — Leo, 14, and Theodore, 11 — were born in Alaska.

 Over the first 10 months up north, following an instruction manual, the Castellanis built a 12-by-12-foot cabin. Today it constitutes the backside of their house, which they have expanded with a blue-painted two-floor wood building.


The Castellanis' driveway.

For 10 years, their home sat surrounded by dense forest. "In the winter we sledded things out and in the summer backpacked," says Jennifer. "If something was heavier than a bag of dog food, it was a pain to carry," she says, recalling their five-gallon propane cylinders. Then came the babies. In winter it was easier. For the first couple of years, they had eight huskies to do the pulling. In summer, getting groceries meant an eight-mile hike.

After college in Oregon, Jennifer studied acting and worked in a bakery. After Paul asked her to join him in Alaska, she remembers thinking she would never have to wear pantyhose again. She loves wearing oversized brace pants and working on the farm.


Jennifer harvests potatoes.

Jennifer took a fast liking to the do-it-yourself ethos prevalent in Alaska. "Why go to a liberal-arts college and learn about all these things when you could just do them?" she asks. One of the first things she and Paul did was log enough space for a garden. On half an acre, the Castellanis grow rhubarb, carrots and strawberries as well as dill, basil, rosemary, thyme and marjoram.

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