Off The Grid Expo will soon be coming to Reno, Nevada. Off The Grid News recently sat down with event organizers Tony Spiker and John Appert to discuss the expo designed to educate those considering untying themselves from the power grid tether and offering new resources to experienced homesteaders. If previous attendance estimates hold true for the 2013 expo, there will be approximately 5,000 folks converging upon the Reno Ball Room for two days in October.
Throughout the summer, Off The Grid News will be highlighting prepper, homesteading, and off-grid events throughout the country. The expos and festivals do boast a plethora of vendors selling cool gear and necessary tools, but the primary focus of the events are to offer insight, training, and networking opportunities among the ever-growing prepper community in America. According to the most recently available statistics, there are about three million prepper families in the United States. Survival and prepping experts will be on hand at the expo to offer guidance, and vendors from more than 100 companies plan to attend the Nevada gathering.
The most recent off-grid families  statistics are not all that recent – they date back to 2006. According to a USA Today report, at least 180,000 American families are living off the grid. That figure represented a jump of 33 percent from the decade prior. The same study also noted that approximately 1.7 billion people are living a power-grid-free lifestyle worldwide. Unverified off-grid living estimates from a different report place the number of American families living in a self-reliant manner at 750,000 in 2013.
People opt to live off the grid for a whole host of reasons and in a vast variety of ways. Unplugging from the power grid could mean living in a rural area, but it does not necessarily have to. Although I personally favor the “five miles past the last paved road approach,” folks can go off grid without leaving their suburban home, if they so choose. Living off the grid, regardless of your address, offers the opportunity for reduced energy costs, freedom from dependency on our overly-taxed and vulnerable power grid, and erases fears about weather-related loss of power. Rural off-grid families often garner a deeper appreciation of the land by gardening, farming, and raising livestock. Suburban off-grid fans do not have to trade location convenience for self-reliance. The Off The Grid Expo in Reno offers more than a little bit of something for all off-grid families from all walks of life and locations.
Although many non-prepping Americans might still conjure up images of a hippie commune when they hear the term “off grid,” such a scene couldn’t be further from the truth in many cases. Some of the legendary communes from the 1960s and 70s have survived and provide a wonderful eco-friendly lifestyle, but the new generation of off-the-grid residents are just as likely to be teachers and lawyers as they are artists and musicians.
Going off the grid  today is a lot easier thanks to the growing prepper industry. Americans seeking to leave the city behind do not have to give up all the creature comforts of the modern world, thanks to solar generators and solar panels. Many folks feel that they must live in the South or California to reap the full benefits of solar power—that’s just is not so anymore. Powerful solar generators and solar panels allow even those who live in the heart of Appalachia to generate energy for not only common household appliances, but for flat screen televisions and Wi-Fi service as well.
Sonny Jobe had this to say about using solar power to garner energy for his West Virginia homestead:
“We got solar out here primarily because we’re interested in living where we’re at, but we couldn’t afford to have the electric put out here. But, now that we do have solar, electric could be put out here, and we wouldn’t connect up to it, because not only do we want to get a return on investment, but we would have an electric bill.”
The changing seasons and weather patterns do influence the habits of the Jobe family and thousands like them living in mountain regions. If the weather forecast calls for cloudy skies, they adjust their vacuuming and laundry chores accordingly.
Off The Grid News interview with Tony Spiker and John Appert
OTG News: The Off The Grid Expo  is being billed as the “world’s greatest” sustainable energy, survival skills, and organic farming convention. What prompted the creation of the Off The Grid Expo and how many such events are scheduled for this year?
Off Grid Expo: We were looking at some of the challenges we faced as we worked in our own lives towards a more independent lifestyle and thought that it would be great if there was an event in Reno where subject matter experts and the local preparedness community could network and learn from each other. That event didn’t exist and we figured that if we thought it was important, we should just make it happen. We saw a need we had in our own journey and thought others might need this type of educational opportunity as well. I’m excited by the new skills I will learn based on some of the people who are coming to this event.
There will be only one event this year. We really wanted to focus on one event, and execute that event well prior to expanding. We expect to expand to three events next year.
One of our goals with Off The Grid Expo  is to put a structure in place, in each area we put the expo on is to leave behind a structure, a community, where people who are interested in off the grid living can get the support and knowledge that they need. No one can be fully prepared WTSHTF, but with the support of like-minded individuals, each will be more prepared with the help of others.
OTG News: Some of the 100-plus presentations at the Off The Grid Expo include permaculture, solar power, homeschooling, personal protection, emergency preparedness, water purification, precious metals, shelters, hunting and trapping, food preservation, and food storage. That is quite an extensive list. Most of the presentation topics are now widely associated with the prepper community, but were once considered commonplace in America. Why do you think there is such resurgence in self-reliance skills now?
I think this is one of the really exciting aspects of the current movement in America, what I think of as skill sets that most of our grandparents took for granted. There are strong trends among wide ranges of people that all lead to these types of lifestyles. We have libertarians, foodies, hippies, and preppers who are all coming to this place because of different forces in American life—from government over-reach to a desire for better food, to concerns about the long-term sustainability and robustness of big agriculture. All of these failures of the modern government/corporate complex lead people to think that maybe the way our grandparents lived was better.
I think this naturally leads you back to these skill sets and once people start practicing them, they realize that it leads to a much more fulfilling life regardless of what your political views are. This means there is a great opportunity for grass roots change by all of us focusing on these common goals that all these groups share.
OTG News: Off the grid living offers a unique sense of freedom and takes away the uncertainty involved with being dependent upon commercial stores for our every need. What are some of the primary reasons why expo attendees have noted they want to, or have, decided to live off the grid?
Off Grid Expo: People are concerned about their families. Think about everything that has happened over the last 15 years. We’ve had multiple recessions, credit bubbles, natural and man-made disasters, and record high foreclosure rates. The promise of security by being a company man and leveraging yourself to the hilt is clearly false. Everyone we talk to mentions something along those lines. The specifics can change, but that is the general message.
That being said, while that gets people to start the process, we hear from people who are further along that process who rave about how much better their tomatoes taste or how much enjoyment they get out of the problem-solving aspects of living independently.
We also think it is important to mention that living off the grid means different things to different people. Some people have other commitments in their life that make buying a homestead 50 miles outside of town unfeasible. That is why we will have guest speakers on subjects like urban permaculture and energy back-up systems for suburban homes. Even if you are living in suburban or urban landscapes, you can move towards a more independent lifestyle.
OTG News: Monsanto continues to push GMO seeds, GE salmon, and even stronger pesticides upon consumers. How much of a concern is preserving the integrity of our food supply for off the grid Americans?
Off Grid Expo: There are two real concerns with GMO and heavy pesticide use. The first is unintended consequences. We don’t know what the second and third order effects are of genetic engineering and heavy pesticide use. The other concern is the negative impact these things have on regional ecosystems. If your homestead is surrounded by mega-farms using unsustainable practices, what impacts are there on your property? Nothing happens in a vacuum.
Is the steep decrease in bee population numbers a concern for expo presenters and attendees? Monsanto is allegedly poised to introduce what is being deemed a Roundup Ready queen bee  that can survive strong pesticides. Such a bee could very likely kill or natural bees in just a short amount of years. If such a scenario did develop, all organic crops grown outside of a greenhouse would be pollinated by genetically modified bees.
I’m personally concerned about the decrease in bee populations and I don’t think the answer is genetically modifying bees. The answer is changing our food system. The best way to do this is in the marketplace. If we as consumers vote with our dollars at farmers markets and local CSAs, we can have a bigger impact than pushing for legislation reining in Monsanto. Trying to fight Monsanto in DC is a losing proposition. We have to fight them by supporting those who are not using pesticides. In essence, we need to do an end run around them.
OTG News: What are some misconceptions about off-the-grid living?
Off Grid Expo: The biggest misconception I see is that people think you have to go off into the wilderness away from people. I live on the outskirts of Reno in suburbia. Off-the-grid living is about resilience and self-sufficiency. This can be as simple as gardening, saving seeds, and building energy redundancy into your life. This is something everyone can do. It isn’t just for the hippy or the libertarian survivalist. Some day I hope to have a farm, but I’m not there yet. Everything I learn about raising food in my half-acre lot makes me more ready for the day when I can purchase a farm and move to the next level of preparedness. Off-the-grid living is a process.
OTG News: Is the Off The Grid Expo appropriate for families? Will there be activities for children?
Off Grid Expo: It is certainly appropriate for families. We are working on activities for children, although we don’t have anything finalized yet. If your audience has anything they want to see, they should send us a note and we’ll see if we can add it.