'You're literally surviving': Woman strives to live off-grid in northern Alberta

Kristeva Dowling is living off the land on an acreage near Grande Prairie, Alta., relying on her skills as a hunter, farmer and gatherer to survive.

Even in the dead of winter, Kristeva Dowling is surviving off-the-grid on an acreage near Grande Prairie

Kristeva Dowling relies on her skills as a hunter, gatherer and farmer to live off the land on an acreage near Grande Prairie, Alta. 1:59

A turquoise cabin glows from between snow-laden branches on an acreage about 30 kilometres south of Grande Prairie, Alta.

Smoke trails from the chimney. Inside, embers glow in a wood stove and cast their heat into the nearby kitchen. 

Kristeva Dowling, 50, crouches to check on barrels of homemade mead. Jars of preserved fruits and vegetables line the shelves along the wall.

Since moving into the cabin last year, Dowling has grown, hunted and gathered about 40 per cent of the food she eats.

"We as a society have gotten really, really disengaged from where we get our food," Dowling said.

"We take it for granted that it's going to show up in the grocery store."

Kristeva Dowling grows, hunts and gathers nearly half the food she eats. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Her goal is to ​become self-sufficient, Dowling said, relying on the land for food and water. 

"The best thing for the planet, for my health, for the ethics of animals is to grow as much as I can and source it locally," she said.

"There's the personal satisfaction, obviously," she added. "You're literally surviving."

She bought the property in 2014, after farm-sitting for a friend in Grande Prairie. The experience convinced her to settle near the city.

The cabin is connected to electricity because she couldn't afford her own power source. She uses a nearby dugout pond for water.

"Once you get your hands on land, you literally never get your hands out of the land," Dowling said. "There's this nice organic relationship."

She cleared a wooded area for her home, which is still unfinished. For now, she works in the city as a registered massage therapist to pay for the cabin.

In the summer, she grows fruits and vegetables, gathers berries, mushrooms and herbs in the forest. In the fall she hunts deer. Dowling also has a horse, three beehives and a herd of six goats.

Once you get your hands on land, you literally never get your hands out of the land.- Kristeva Dowling

Winters are for making plans, preserves, cheese, mead and wine, she said.

"I find myself dreaming about things I still want to do," Dowling said.

Whatever she can't produce herself, Dowling trades for. She also makes exceptions at the grocery store for spices, sugar, oil and coffee.

"You can't do everything," Dowling said. "You have to get real about the things you can and can't do.

"You realize community is vital and trading with people is vital."

'Akin to a calling'

Dowling has lived off the grid before, striving to become fully self-sufficient for one year on a patch of land in British Columbia.

She recorded her experience in the book Chicken Poop for the Soul: A Year in Search of Food Sovereignty.

By documenting her failures and successes, Dowling said she hopes to inspire others to try off-the-grid living.

"I don't understand people who retire, or on their days off all they want to do is get away. I don't want to get away from my place.

"It must be akin to a calling," she said. "If I won the lottery, I would spend the rest of my life losing the money on farming."


Kristeva Dowling is building a cabin to support her off-the-grid lifestyle near Grande Prairie, Alta. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

About the Author

Zoe Todd

Video Journalist

Zoe Todd is a CBC video journalist based in Alberta, filing videos and stories for web, radio and TV.