Cashing Out is The Huffington Post Alberta's look into lives of Albertans who are trying to make their dollars stretch a bit further. We'll examine people who are spending less, cutting back and bucking the rampant consumer culture in a province where the jobs are abundant and the wages high.

For Alberta winery owner Hugo Bonjean, choosing to transition to an off-the-grid lifestyle was easy.

"I couldn't sleep anymore. What I was doing was just not right - making poor people poorer and making rich people richer. I couldn't deal with it."

In the 1990s Bonjean relocated his family from Europe to South America to pursue a job with a Fortune 500 company. And while the work was rewarding, after two years he says he could no longer ignore the rampant poverty witnessed daily. He needed to make a change.

Researching places in the world with low population density, he decided the foothills near Millarville, Alberta would be where his family would start over, cultivating a lifestyle carved off the land, relying little on the outside world.

Almost everything Bonjean needs to survive is produced on his farm. Hundreds of beehives produce honey that, combined with fermented local berries, make award-winning wines which are sold to retailers and restaurants.

Bonjean and his wife furiously harvest each year's crop of vegetables from their garden, which will last them the year. He shoots a few animals with a bow and arrow, to ensure meat for the winter. Milk, cheese and eggs come from farm animals. He only ventures to the store for oil, butter and spices.

Bonjean's lifestyle is just one example of Albertans who are removing themselves from the grid, pursuing sustainability and renewable methods as means of becoming less dependent on a consumer culture.

Bonjean's motivation to make the switch was rooted in a connection between social justice and the environment – by rebuilding local food systems he believes we can eradicate a system that, he says, keeps people in developing countries enslaved and producing food for the developed world.

For Calgarian Norm McGregor, however, it was finding a solution to a problem that got him started with off-grid living.

Working for a small video production company in the late 1990s, he needed a portable power supply that could help run equipment while working remotely. He developed a small solar-powered generator and eventually began using it at home.

"All of a sudden I noticed my power bill was dropping. I was saving about $20 per month."

Over the years, McGregor has gotten serious about renewable energy. He now works for Totally Green Energy Solutions, a Calgary-based company that helps people, and even companies, transition to more sustainable methods.

He harnesses the power of the sun at his northwest Calgary home, with solar panels on the roof of his trailer. He replaced light bulbs and insulation to be more energy efficient. He uses a wind turbine and cooks using a solar thermal oven. His food comes from his garden and local butcher. He makes his own bread.

By relying on renewable energy, McGregor can live completely off-grid from March to October, he says. The rest of the year is spent using 40 to 60 per cent power from the grid.

"If you walked into my house, you would never know it was solar powered. I have everything that everyone else has, the only thing I don't have is big utility bills," he said, adding so far this year he's saved an average of $84 dollars per month by not having an electrical bill.

Making a switch to a self-sufficient lifestyle like Bonjean's and McGregor's may take time and creativity to cultivate, but both say their quality of life is better, if not different.

"Nobody tells me when I have to get up. I have much more freedom," says Bonjean of leaving the corporate rat race for farm life, adding he now spends far less time in his car running errands.

"Instead of spending time, I now get to spend my life."

Story continues below the slideshow

Loading Slideshow...
  • Start A Kitchen Herb Garden

  • Herbs will thrive in containers if cared for properly. To start your own kitchen herb garden, poke holes in the bottom of any container (if they’re not already there) and fill the container three-quarters full of potting soil. Bury seeds about an inch in the soil, leaving a couple of inches between each seed. Add water until it begins to seep out the bottom. Set in a sunny place, such as a windowsill, and water every few days.

  • Vermicompost

    Vermicomposting uses worms to compost. This takes up very little space and can be done year-round in a basement, garage, or even a closet. It is an excellent way to dispose of kitchen wastes and will yield rich soil for planting. 1. Obtain a plastic storage bin that is about 1 foot by 2 feet by 3 1/2 feet. 2. Drill eight to ten holes about 1/4 inch in diameter in the bottom of the bin for drainage. 3. Line the bottom of the bin with a fine nylon mesh to keep the worms from escaping. 4. Put a tray underneath to catch the drainage. Rip shredded newspaper into pieces to use as bedding and pour water over the strips until they are thoroughly moist. Place these shredded bits on one side of your bin. Do not let them dry out. 5. Add worms to your bin. It’s best to have about two pounds of worms (roughly 2,000 worms) per one pound of food waste. Redworms are recommended, but other species can be used. You can collect them from under a pile of mulch or order them from a garden catalog.

  • Vermicomposting uses worms to compost. This takes up very little space and can be done year-round in a basement, garage, or even a closet. It is an excellent way to dispose of kitchen wastes and will yield rich soil for planting. 1. Obtain a plastic storage bin that is about 1 foot by 2 feet by 3 1/2 feet. 2. Drill eight to ten holes about 1/4 inch in diameter in the bottom of the bin for drainage. 3. Line the bottom of the bin with a fine nylon mesh to keep the worms from escaping. 4. Put a tray underneath to catch the drainage. Rip shredded newspaper into pieces to use as bedding and pour water over the strips until they are thoroughly moist. Place these shredded bits on one side of your bin. Do not let them dry out. 5. Add worms to your bin. It’s best to have about two pounds of worms (roughly 2,000 worms) per one pound of food waste. Redworms are recommended, but other species can be used. You can collect them from under a pile of mulch or order them from a garden catalog.

  • Mill Your Own Grains

    You can grind grains into flour at home using a mortar and pestle, a coffee or spice mill, manual or electric food grinders, a blender, or a food processor. Grains with a shell (quinoa, wheat berries, etc.) should be rinsed and dried before milling to remove the layer of resin from the outer shell that can impart a bitter taste to your flour. Rinse the grains thoroughly in a colander or mesh strainer, then spread them on a paper or cloth towel to absorb the extra moisture. Transfer to a baking sheet and allow to air dry completely (to speed this process you can put them in a very low oven for a few minutes). When the grains are dry, they’re ready to be ground.

  • You can grind grains into flour at home using a mortar and pestle, a coffee or spice mill, manual or electric food grinders, a blender, or a food processor. Grains with a shell (quinoa, wheat berries, etc.) should be rinsed and dried before milling to remove the layer of resin from the outer shell that can impart a bitter taste to your flour. Rinse the grains thoroughly in a colander or mesh strainer, then spread them on a paper or cloth towel to absorb the extra moisture. Transfer to a baking sheet and allow to air dry completely (to speed this process you can put them in a very low oven for a few minutes). When the grains are dry, they’re ready to be ground.

  • Make Cheese Out Of Yogurt

    This soft cheese has a flavor similar to sour cream and a texture like cream cheese. A pint of yogurt will yield approximately 1/4 pound of cheese. The yogurt cheese has a shelf life of seven to fourteen days when wrapped and kept in the refrigerator. Add a little salt and pepper, lemon, or chopped fresh herbs for variety. 1. Line a large strainer or colander with cheesecloth. 2. Place the lined strainer over a bowl and pour in plain, whole-milk yogurt. Do not use yogurt made with the addition of gelatin, as gelatin will inhibit whey separation. 3. Let yogurt drain overnight, covered with plastic wrap. Empty the whey from the bowl. 4. Fill a strong plastic storage bag with some water, seal, and place over the cheese to weigh it down. Let the cheese stand another eight hours.

  • This soft cheese has a flavor similar to sour cream and a texture like cream cheese. A pint of yogurt will yield approximately 1/4 pound of cheese. The yogurt cheese has a shelf life of seven to fourteen days when wrapped and kept in the refrigerator. Add a little salt and pepper, lemon, or chopped fresh herbs for variety. 1. Line a large strainer or colander with cheesecloth. 2. Place the lined strainer over a bowl and pour in plain, whole-milk yogurt. Do not use yogurt made with the addition of gelatin, as gelatin will inhibit whey separation. 3. Let yogurt drain overnight, covered with plastic wrap. Empty the whey from the bowl. 4. Fill a strong plastic storage bag with some water, seal, and place over the cheese to weigh it down. Let the cheese stand another eight hours.

  • Try Your Hand At Making Jams—The Easy Way

    This simple grape spread will last about four weeks in the refrigerator. This recipe makes three half-pints. Ingredients • 2 tbsps unflavored gelatin powder • 1 bottle (24 oz) unsweetened grape juice • 2 tbsps bottled lemon juice • 2 tbsps honey or agave syrup, or 1–2 tsps liquid stevia Directions 1. In a saucepan, heat the gelatin in the grape and lemon juices until mixture is soft. Bring to a full rolling boil to dissolve gelatin. Boil 1 minute and remove from heat. Stir in sweetener. 2. Fill jars quickly, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust lids. Refrigerate (do not process or freeze).

  • This simple grape spread will last about four weeks in the refrigerator. This recipe makes three half-pints. Ingredients • 2 tbsps unflavored gelatin powder • 1 bottle (24 oz) unsweetened grape juice • 2 tbsps bottled lemon juice • 2 tbsps honey or agave syrup, or 1–2 tsps liquid stevia Directions 1. In a saucepan, heat the gelatin in the grape and lemon juices until mixture is soft. Bring to a full rolling boil to dissolve gelatin. Boil 1 minute and remove from heat. Stir in sweetener. 2. Fill jars quickly, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust lids. Refrigerate (do not process or freeze).

  • Make Floating Candles

  • Pour hot wax into a muffin tin until each muffin cup is about one-third full. Allow the wax to cool until a film forms over the tops of the candles. Insert a piece of wick into the center of each candle (use a toothpick to help poke the hole if necessary). Allow candles to finish hardening and then pop them out of the tin. Trim wicks to about 1/4 inch.

  • Raise Chickens

  • Chickens can be happy and healthy in a relatively small space. You’ll need a simple coop with a perch, a small plot of grass, some chicken feed, and, of course, chicks. Wyandottes and Plymouth Rock breeds are good layers and can also be used for meat.

  • Grow Your Own Bean Sprouts

    Seeds can be sprouted and eaten on sandwiches, salads, or stir-fries any time of the year. They are delicious and full of vitamins and proteins. Mung beans, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat, corn, barley, mustard, clover, chickpeas, radishes, and lentils all make good sprouts. Find seeds for sprouting from your local health food store or use dried peas, beans, or lentils from the grocery store. Never use seeds intended for planting unless you’ve harvested the seeds yourself—commercially available planting seeds are often treated with a poisonous chemical fungicide. To grow sprouts, thoroughly rinse and strain the seeds, then place in a glass jar, add about four times as much water as you have seeds, cover with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band, and allow the seeds to soak overnight. In the morning, drain the seeds by turning the jar upside down and allowing the water to escape through the cheesecloth. Keep the seeds at 60 to 80ºF and rinse twice a day, draining them thoroughly after every rinse. Once sprouts are 1 to 1 ½ inches long (generally after three to five days), they are ready to eat.

  • Seeds can be sprouted and eaten on sandwiches, salads, or stir-fries any time of the year. They are delicious and full of vitamins and proteins. Mung beans, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat, corn, barley, mustard, clover, chickpeas, radishes, and lentils all make good sprouts. Find seeds for sprouting from your local health food store or use dried peas, beans, or lentils from the grocery store. Never use seeds intended for planting unless you’ve harvested the seeds yourself—commercially available planting seeds are often treated with a poisonous chemical fungicide. To grow sprouts, thoroughly rinse and strain the seeds, then place in a glass jar, add about four times as much water as you have seeds, cover with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band, and allow the seeds to soak overnight. In the morning, drain the seeds by turning the jar upside down and allowing the water to escape through the cheesecloth. Keep the seeds at 60 to 80ºF and rinse twice a day, draining them thoroughly after every rinse. Once sprouts are 1 to 1 ½ inches long (generally after three to five days), they are ready to eat.

  • Install A Trickle Irrigation System

    Trickle irrigation and drip irrigation systems help reduce water use and successfully meet the needs of most plants. With these systems, very small amounts of water are supplied to the bases of the plants. Since the water is applied directly to the soil—rather than onto the plant—evaporation from the leaf surfaces is reduced, thus allowing more water to effectively reach the roots. In these types of systems, the water is not wasted by being spread all over the garden; rather, it is applied directly to the appropriate source.

  • Trickle irrigation and drip irrigation systems help reduce water use and successfully meet the needs of most plants. With these systems, very small amounts of water are supplied to the bases of the plants. Since the water is applied directly to the soil—rather than onto the plant—evaporation from the leaf surfaces is reduced, thus allowing more water to effectively reach the roots. In these types of systems, the water is not wasted by being spread all over the garden; rather, it is applied directly to the appropriate source.

  • Indulge In Homemade Lavender Bath Salt

  • Pour several tablespoons of this into your bath as it fills for an extra-soothing, relaxing, and cleansing experience. You can also add powdered milk or finely ground old-fashioned oatmeal to make your skin especially soft. Toss in a few lavender buds if you have them. Ingredients 2 cups coarse sea salt 1/2 cup Epsom salts 1/2 cup baking soda 4 to 6 drops lavender essential oil Red and blue food coloring, if desired (use more red than blue to achieve a lavender color) Mix all ingredients thoroughly and store in a glass jar or other airtight container.

It's that freedom that motivates Chris Judd, a self-described "nomad" living in Calgary, to seek out a simpler life.

"Everybody works their whole year to take three weeks off and live like I do," says Judd of his back-to-basics worldview.

Judd moved to Calgary a year ago with just his dog and a the bag on his back. He lives on the site of Grow Calgary, Canada's largest volunteer-run urban farm. As unofficial security guard for the grounds, he lives rent-free.

He's up before the sun and to bed shortly after it sets, sometimes working construction jobs to earn cash. At night he likes to sit around his fire or on his sundeck he built from old pallets. He'll often write or visit with friends.

Sometimes he thinks of the things he could buy that would make his life easier, but is pragmatic about his arrangement. Stuff takes up space and space is a precious commodity in his trailer.

"When you live nomadically you need to really consider what you have and what you think you need. You have to pick and choose what you get. Once it's full, you're done," he said, adding he likely saves anywhere from $800-$1,500 per month by forgoing a house or apartment.

Judd finds value in what other people throw away, often salvaging useful items from Calgary's alleys. Recently he crafted a functioning stage lighting system from old paint cans and cords from discarded electronics

"There's so much stuff thrown out it's unbelievable," he said.

Judd, Bonjean and McGregor each produce very little garbage, coming up with ways to reduce, reuse or recycle what they have.

Bonjean, for instance, uses waste vegetable oil to fuel his modified car, while Judd plans to use salvaged materials to winterize his camper.

"If you put your mindset in the right place, you can find reuses for just about everything," says McGregor, who feeds all paper products to the worms in his vermicompost - in turn getting a nutrient-rich fertilizer for his garden.

Although each man pursues off-the-grid living on his own terms and conditions, all three agree Alberta is an excellent place to grow a sustainable lifestyle, even if it residents are slow to take up the idea.

"Alberta has a shoot from-the-hip mentality. They dream something up and they just do it. Out here, people don't talk too long about things, they get something in their mind and they just do it. It's a province of entrepreneurs," says Bonjean.

The problem, however, is that "using clean energy in Alberta doesn't seem to resonate the same way as it does in other places in the world," says McGregor, who adds he gets far more calls for green energy upgrades in Saskatchewan, B.C. and the U.S. than in Alberta.

McGregor says that mentality could stem from several things, like the large salaries common to Alberta or a lack of education on the benefits of renewable energy in a province that relies heavily on natural resources for revenue.

"Maybe saving $100 per month doesn't mean much to people in Alberta," he said.

"As well, there's too much revenue coming from its natural resources and people here don't really think of it. Our use and demand of natural resources is very high and there's better ways to control that," he continued, adding that a demand for more renewable energy solutions could greatly curb Alberta's dependence on non-renewables.

Regardless, McGregor, Judd and Bonjean remain content to continue living off the grid and willing to share their knowledge of self-sustained living.

"If you don't have the resources or the knowledge at first, don't worry," Bonjean said, adding it doesn't take long to accumulate the knowledge needed to live off the land.

Like this article? Follow our Facebook page

Or follow us on Twitter



Also on HuffPost: