Have container, will settle: Couple homesteading in the woods of Ellsworth with a unique spin on housing
ELLSWORTH, Maine —- Try as they might, Trevor Seip and Jennifer Sansosti cannot contain their excitement.
The young engaged couple recently shipped their lives from out of state to a rustic, 63-acre property they bought on Winkumpaugh Road, where they hope to build a home and future together.
They are not the first to move to rural Maine from a more heavily populated part of the East Coast — Pennsylvania in their case — with dreams of homesteading in the woods. Nor are they the first to do so while in possession of a well-thumbed copy of “The Good Life,” the 1954 book by former Brooksville residents Helen and Scott Nearing that has served as a manual for simple, sustainable living for so many.
“It’s full of life,” Sansosti said of their wooded property which abuts a stream that flows toward Branch Lake. “It has an abundance of natural resources.”
But there aren’t many who do so while living inside former marine shipping containers. Seip and Sansosti, both in their late 20s, have two, each about 20 feet long and 8 feet wide and high, that they have modified into living units, complete with electricity and running water. They have spent much of the past year modifying the containers, which they bought on eBay for a total of $1,500, in Stroudsburg, Pa. This spring they had them delivered to their former logging property on Winkumpaugh Road.
Inside one of the two containers, which they insulated, plumbed and wired themselves, is a table and bed that fold up against the wall, a cushioned bench seat, a sink, a camp stove, a wall-mounted propane heater, and a bathroom complete with composting toilet and full-size shower. In the other is a large storage closet and a folding futon that converts into a couch. Each has one or two windows and conventional residential doors.
“You need to use every inch you can when you’re dealing with 160 square feet” of floor space, Sansosti said.
“This whole thing has been done on a shoestring budget,” Seip added. “We want to build our own village up here.”
Seip and Sansosti designed their living units to exist off the grid. They installed energy-efficient LED lights, which they power off batteries, and they collect and then filter their water from the nearby stream or from a rain barrel they have on the roof. They already own electricity-producing solar panels, but are waiting to have the containers mounted on frost-proof concrete posts before they install and connect them. They also hope to erect a residential wind turbine at some point.
After the containers are set on the posts, facing each other a few feet apart end-to-end, they plan to install a sod roof across both that covers the space in between. A greenhouse, wood stove and adobe structures for additional living space also are part of their master plan.
“We want to minimize our cost of living, but maximize our standard of living,” Seip said.
“We want to be more self-reliant,” Sansosti added.
They also envision having a few small livestock animals (“Nothing so big that we couldn’t carry it to the veterinarian if it got sick,” Seip said) and using some of the stone on the property for structures they build. Eventually, they said, they want to teach others what they learn along the way so society can become more sustainable as a whole.
More information about the couples’ endeavor can be found online at their blog, www.thearkhaus.com.
Seip, a midcoast Maine native who grew up in Pennsylvania, and Sansosti, an art school graduate who hails from New York City, said they have been planning to homestead somewhere and considered places as far away as Uruguay. They chose Maine in part to be closer to their families, they said, but also because Maine is more tolerant of their unconventional housing choice.
The couple acknowledge they are not the first people to take a nontraditional route in putting a roof over their heads. Homesteaders in Maine and elsewhere have been known to live in tents, buses or straw bale homes while learning how to live off the surrounding land as much as they can.
For the young couple, this is the main reason they are enthusiastic about moving to Maine, which has a rich tradition of people providing for themselves. They know there are many others here who share their desire to make much of their own food and housing, instead of buying everything from someone else, while living comfortably and sustainably.
While they are getting started, they’ve been able to help support themselves by working part time at Happytown Farm, a nearby organic farm on Happytown Road in Orland, they said.
“We’re just plugging ourselves into an already thriving community,” Seip said. “It is so resourceful.”
“We make [our plan] up as we go along,” Sansosti said. “This is what the future looks like.”