What began as hobby gardening has turned into a mission to live sustainably with zero waste for Phoenix resident Quita Jackson and her family.
In 2005, Jackson took up home gardening as a way to make personal changes and improve her family’s habits. The hobby led to an interest in becoming more self-sustained and a re-evaluation of their lifestyle.
“I decided we needed to downsize and I told my husband the only thing I really needed was my garden,” says Jackson. “My husband redid our garden and was able to sustain it 100% with rainwater.”
The seemingly impossible feat of maintaining a garden using only rainwater in the Arizona desert piqued Jackson’s curiosity, and ignited a passion to explore off-the-grid living to reduce her family’s carbon footprint and eliminate waste as much as possible. It also instilled a belief within her that humans should mimic nature’s lead and think about the end results.
“We wanted to be self-sufficient and document the journey to help educate others as we went,” Jackson explains.
The idea for off-the-grid living spawned from there, and Jackson, her husband, and her sister-in-law began researching the subject by reading countless books, scouring the internet and watching blogs and YouTube videos. Then came the idea to build tiny houses where she and her family could take off-the-grid living to an entirely new level.
Jackson found further inspiration in HGTV programming and thought to herself, “If they can do it, so can I.”
It’s a motto she has lived by throughout the journey.
Jackson admits to not even being able to use a drill when she began the project, and calls herself “frugal and cheap,” yet she and her crew have managed to create two fully livable tiny homes out of shipping containers for $50k each.
“You can hire companies to design and build tiny homes out of shipping containers for you, but we wanted to save on costs and do it ourselves,” she says.
The ultimate DIY project has been a life-changing adventure for the family. During this time, Jackson retired from her job as a producer at a local television station, which allowed her more time to focus on this new chapter in her zero-waste journey. Six months of research followed the initial idea, and then the containers were purchased. Six to seven more months followed before the containers were transformed into livable dwellings.
The path to off-the-grid, fully sustainable tiny living was not without pitfalls and roadblocks though, from leaks in the roof to legal red tape that ultimately resulted in a major move.
“We started building the tiny homes on our property in South Phoenix, but we ended up moving them to Texas to be completed,” Jackson shares.
The move was due to the endless runaround they encountered with the City. During construction, they were forced to stop building due to not having the proper permits. When they tried to obtain the right documents, nobody could tell them what those were.
“We were given different information by everyone we spoke to, and referred to different departments. Nobody had the answers we needed; nobody could help us,” says Jackson. “I don’t blame the City—it’s just that the idea is so new, the City hasn’t had the chance to catch up.”
The best solution for Jackson and her family was to pack it all up and move the shipping containers to Texas, where they own land that has been in the family for over a century.
Once in Texas, they were back in business. Jackson’s husband has a mechanical engineering background and completely designed the homes using free programs he found online. They learned to weld, and commissioned friends and family to help clear land, build, paint, and more to get the containers ready for move-in.
“It took about a year and a half from the initial idea until the homes were completely livable and self-sufficient,” says Jackson. “We use solar panels for power on sunny days and propane on cloudy days, and we use a gray water system for indoor plumbing and rainwater for drinking.”
Jackson is enthusiastic about educating others about the benefits to sustainable zero-waste living. You can follow her journey at www.greendesert.org for tips, tricks, and more information.