An electronics technician from a Philadelphia suburb, who never expected to swap his 9-to-5 for living off-grid in the wilderness, has spent 43 years homesteading in the United States and Canada with his wife.
“He suggested homesteading,” Mr. Melchiore told The Epoch Times. “I researched it, and it wasn’t too long after that I started looking into a piece of land and decided I was going to be a homesteader.
“I’m an adventurous guy. I wanted to pursue something that made more sense to me: self-reliance, being able to provide my own electricity and food, and being able to enjoy life, as opposed to working it away.”
The BeginningMr. Melchiore bought his first homesteading plot in Maine in 1979 and made it his home for 20 years. Having grown up in the suburbs, he had to acquire skills such as gardening, food preservation, building, plumbing, energy generation, and animal care.
“I made my mistakes but I learned from them,” he said.
He met his wife, Johanna Melchiore, 64, on a trip back to Philadelphia. She shared his dream of off-the-grid living, and the pair married in 1987.
“Off-grid really means that we’re providing our own power, our own water, and septic,” Mr. Melchiore said. “We do not have to rely on any other entity to provide the things that most people count on each day. ... we provide all our vegetables and we provide pretty much all our fruits, but there’s still a reliance on meat.”
The Second Homestead“We found a remote lake in northern Saskatchewan [Canada], where you had to fly in and out on a float plane, and we decided we would call that home,” said Mr. Melchiore, who emigrated with his wife in 1999. Today, the couple are Canadian citizens.
The most immediate difference between their first homestead and the second was the weather.
“We experienced temperatures [of minus] 57 degrees Fahrenheit,” Mr. Melchiore said. “We went out there in April. We put up a tent, and even though it was still going below zero Fahrenheit, we lived in the tent. ... we flew in plane load after plane load of all the building materials, and as soon as it warmed up, we got started [building our home].”
Their Maine home had been “strong and rugged,” but the couple improved the insulation for their new home against severe weather by building 12-inch-thick walls. They augmented their solar panel system, installed a wind turbine, planted a bigger garden, and tapped the lake to secure a store of safe water.
“It was a real privilege to call the wilderness home,” Mr. Melchiore said. “Basically, Johanna and myself built the place. I did have my brother come up ... and help us with some of the harder things, but, for the most part, we had the structure built so that we could move in sometime in August or September.”
While living in Saskatchewan, the Melchiores routinely went six months at a time without seeing another human. Their only link to the outside world was a satellite dish, enabling them to email family and friends. They took bi-annual float plane rides to stock up on essential non-perishable foods and DIY items, collect mail, and visit the doctor and dentist.
“In order to give us the best chance of survival, we both took basic first aid courses,” Mr. Melchiore said. “I also went through an EMT [emergency medical technician] course and a first responder course. We had a serious first aid kit including antibiotics and other meds.
“We were 100 miles out in the wilderness. It was just really a pinprick on the Earth’s surface, so that float plane better know where it was going or it’s going to pass us by.
“We were truly two people alone in the world, that’s how it felt to us.”
While people were nowhere to be seen from the Melchiores’ homestead in Saskatchewan, nature was abundant. The couple had some “serious encounters” with bears and had to run for their lives more than once. Mr. Melchiore even “survived in the middle of the lake” while forest fires consumed the surrounding land.
The couple spent 17 years at their second homestead.
The Third and Final HomesteadIn 2017, they decided to make one more move based on two criteria: they were getting older, and they missed the ocean. They found a seaside plot in Nova Scotia, and moved to build their “third and final homestead.”
Joking that they had “moved from the Arctic to the tropics,” they set to work building their third home from scratch in this more temperate climate, living in a tent onsite during the build as they had always done.
Using a modern building technique known as insulated concrete form (ICF), comprising reinforced concrete sandwiched between Styrofoam layers, they built a sturdy, single-story, hurricane-proof home. Onsite is an apple, plum, and pear orchard; a woodshed with space for two years’ worth of firewood; a “significant garden”; and a south-facing greenhouse for year-round growing.
They have quadrupled their solar energy generation to 3,200 watts from 800, have seven hens that lay eggs daily, and a sea can for storage of non-perishable foods. With their future selves in mind, they’ve even built 2-foot-high “elevated beds” to allow them both to tend the garden into old age—since healthy, homegrown food is vital to their homesteading philosophy.
According to Mr. Melchiore, no two days look the same at home in Nova Scotia.
The GainsMr. Melchiore says part of being self-sufficient and self-reliant is that they are their “own bosses.”
“We can decide what we want to do,” he said. “It’s pretty seasonal in the summertime; our chores range from weed whacking and keeping the grass down and keeping the place looking nice, to cutting our firewood and collecting brush to chip so that we can mulch our garden.
“Johanna is busy tending the garden and preserving what comes out. ... We like to think that unprocessed and wholesome, healthy food, nutritious food, is keeping us well,” said Mr. Melchiore, who is also a Masters sprinter, and says that living remotely has “been an opportunity for me to continue on as an athlete.”
During slower winters, the couple, who never had children, indulge in their hobbies; Mr. Melchiore enjoys woodworking, while his wife enjoys cooking, knitting, and needlecraft. There’s another major payoff to their remote, self-sufficient lifestyle: saving money.
“We are extremely frugal,” Mr. Melchiore said. “There have been a few times in life where we’ve gone into debt, but we have always worked sunup to sundown to get that debt paid off. ... The funds that we had stored from selling the first property in Maine, we reinvested in the Saskatchewan place.
Sharing the WisdomThrough resisting debt, living frugally, reinvesting, generating energy, and saving money from various part-time jobs, the Melchiores have helped generate their own retirement fund. Their lifestyle has become an inspiration to other budding homesteaders, and after being “kept after” to write a book for some time, Mr. Melchiore finally gave in.
“The reaction has been magnificent. The book [The Self-Sufficient Backyard] has sold close to 200,000 copies,” Mr. Melchiore said. “I mean, you can’t ask for anything more in life than to be able to say you’ve done something for one person ... and there have been many people where we’ve done that.
“We’re so full of gratitude that we’ve had this opportunity.”
Looking back on 43 years of homesteading, the Melchiores consider each of their experiences as a “stepping stone,” and advise others to take small steps toward their homesteading goals while leaning on the wisdom of people who know more.
“There will be failures, but build on all the successes,” Mr. Melchiore said. “Educate yourself before the big move. Have a basic understanding of your short- and long-term goals. Make sure the property you buy has a climate you can live with and is zoned for what you'd like to do.
“Start small with a garden, and learn how to properly and safely preserve that produce, then expand the garden next season,” he said. “Get the orchard planted pronto since that will take many years before it will produce. If going off-grid, understand how much energy is consumed by all the appliances you wish to power, so you size the solar electric system properly.”
For the Melchiores, their stepping stones led them to a destination they never knew existed: true freedom.
“True freedom is being able to park yourself in the middle of nowhere, have everything that you need to survive, and not only survive but thrive,” Mr. Melchiore said. “Have the skillset, the knowledge, and the confidence that you can overcome any problem that life throws your way ... then wake up the next day, and you’re back off and doing everything that you can possibly want, enjoying life to the max!”