Inspiring Off-Grid Community Discovered in the Appalachian Mountains

January 6, 2018 at 1:19 am

Hidden in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina is a tiny band of friends taking refuge from the stress and worry of modern-day civilization.

Scavenging wild animals, gathering wild nuts and berries, drinking wild water, and tending their own forest garden, they live as free as they possibly can in the ever-dwindling wilderness.

NBC recently caught wind of their existence, and now the Wildroots community is national news:

“I would find myself sitting at my desk wishing the day was over so I could go home…” says the community’s founder “Todd” in the mini documentary.

“And then I would wish it was Friday … and then I would wish my next vacation was coming up. And then I realized I was very literally wishing my life away.”

Todd was a “successful” engineer until he quit and moved to the woods 11 years ago.

He, his girlfriend, her 8-year-old daughter and a handful of other unruly characters live in handmade mud huts on a 30-acre primitive homestead, where they host about a dozen other transient residents at a time, teaching them wilderness “thrival” skills.

Todd and his girlfriend

Wildroots has no electricity or running water, other than a stream and springs throughout the property, from which they haul water to camp in jugs. Its members make their own leather clothing, shoes, tools, baskets and homes.

They’ve been cultivating a food forest on 5 acres of formerly logged and eroding hillside for the last seven years, planting chestnut, hickory, persimmon, apricot and cherry trees, and kiwi, currant, raspberry and pawpaw bushes.

“As modern people we’ve evolved to the extent that we’re not capable of feeding ourselves, clothing ourselves, providing our own water, even getting rid of our own shit and piss,” Todd says.

Todd and student

Wattle and daub hut

“The food – it just grows,” says Whip, another refugee from technology, formerly employed in cyber-security. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, but I don’t need it if the chestnuts grow on trees.”

Whip tans a hide

“Seems like the more money I’ve had in life, the less freedom I’ve had,” Todd concurs.

“A graduate degree in engineering seems like a spec of shit compared to … just being down there drinking that water and being free … instead of sitting in an office, breathing recycled air, going clickety, clickety click on a computer.”

Todd drinks straight from the stream

A young woman named Sparrow says a lot of people to come to the community to learn survival skills in case “shit hits the fan.”


“I think that’s pretty cool,” she says, but “I’m also here because I love how it is here.”

Whenever Sparrow goes to town, she’s amazed by the number of people she sees staring at their phones. “I feel like people are becoming robots,” she says.

While Todd says he gave up on “hope for the mass of humanity” a long time ago, both he and Sparrow both acknowledge they are still inevitably dependent on the industrial society they were born into, dumpster diving to supplement their diets while their food forest matures, purchasing supplies they don’t know how to make themselves, and sipping an occasional soy latte while they are in town catching up on the news via the internet.

Food-forest preserves, plus dumpster-diving scores

“We’re not in this bubble pretending society doesn’t exist,” Sparrow says. “We’re like hyper aware that society exists. We reap the bounty we can from the scrap yards … from dumpsters.”

“We [humans] have destroyed the ecosystems to such an extent that even if we did know how to live off them, there’s just not much left,” Todd adds.

“We’re basically wealthy white people living in an area that hasn’t been utterly demolished,” Todd says.

“Being on the fringes, you get away with a lot more. If my skin was darker, or if I wasn’t as well educated, or if I didn’t have all my teeth, I know that I would be looked at very differently by the police. I’m going to try not to use it to anybody else’s disadvantage… except the police.”

But Todd doesn’t let his occasional glimpse into the outside world get him down.

“It’s been raining all morning and now the sun’s coming out,” he says. “There’s a lot of joy in that. It doesn’t matter what Trump’s doing. It can’t take that from me.”

Visit Wildroots’s website for more info on visiting, earth-skill training, donating and how to become a member.