Learning from Experience … Priceless

Guest “Rant” by Michelle Mather

As many of our readers know, Cam and I have lived in our off-grid home for almost 16 years now. As I will readily admit, I didn’t know the difference between AC and DC electricity when we purchased this solar- and wind-powered home. To say that the learning curve has been steep is an understatement!

We have invested years of our lives and many thousands of dollars in learning how to live as sustainably and independently as possible. We have purchased many pieces of equipment over the years; solar panels, wind turbines, the tracking systems or towers to hold them, inverters, batteries, charge controllers, etc, etc, etc. And that is just for our off-grid electrical system! We’ve purchased woodstoves, chain saws, log splitters and all sorts of equipment to heat our home. We purchased and installed a number of different hot water heaters including our solar domestic hot water system. With each purchase we learned a bit more about how to live off the grid comfortably and how to live more sustainably. It hasn’t come cheaply!

Not only have we invested many thousands of dollars but we have also invested years of our time in learning about all of this technology. In some cases we are “tweaking” old ways of doing things like heating with wood using a modern, energy-efficient woodstove. We’ve read a lot of books, asked a lot of questions, listened to a lot of answers and used good old “trial and error” until we got things working the way they are.

We share what we’ve learned in a number of ways. We write this blog. We wrote and published books. We do talks and we invite people to our home to see our off-grid system and to learn from our experiences. Twice a year we open our home for workshops. We invite strangers to come into our home, we share our knowledge, let them see everything in action and we provide lunch and snacks and let them choose one of our books or DVDs to take home with them.

We post our workshop on numerous websites, wherever we might find people who are interested in learning about living more sustainably. We have managed to find and connect with very keen and enthusiastic participants and our workshop participants always been very effusive in their praise at the end of the day for what we have provided to them.

Recently after posting our upcoming workshop I received an email from the administrator of one of the websites, conveying a question that had come from one of their members. The member wanted to know if he could come to our workshop at a reduced price, if he skipped lunch and didn’t take a book. Our workshop price is $120 per person. It probably isn’t the least expensive full-day workshop out there but it sure isn’t the most expensive either. We like to limit our workshop participants to just 10. We find that 10 people fit comfortably into our century-old home and it is a good number for discussions too.

I’ve already shared with you the thousands of dollars and the years of time we have spent acquiring the knowledge and experience we share with our workshop participants. And in organizing a workshop there are the added hours spent planning the workshop, advertising it, corresponding with prospective attendees, providing numerous emails with information and maps, planning the meals and snacks, purchasing the ingredients, preparing the food, serving it and cleaning up. We are always sensitive to guests with dietary preferences and restrictions and so it isn’t unusual for me to prepare gluten-free or dairy-free versions of our meal and snacks. Cam and I spend the few days leading up to a workshop cleaning and organizing our home to make it ready for a workshop and we often spend the day after a workshop recuperating! So our “one-day” workshop actually entails many days of work for us.

My answer to the person who asked if he could come to our workshop at a reduced price was “no.” I felt that it would be awkward having one person who didn’t eat all day. The “hostess” in me would have felt very strange not offering refreshment to a guest. And I thought about the thousands of dollars and the years of our lives that we have spent acquiring this knowledge and $120 didn’t seem like too much to ask.

The person who asked for the reduced price left a comment on the website that went something like this;

While this does seem like a worthwhile workshop, in my opinion this kind of information should be shared freely and openly – or at least at a minimal price to cover just the costs. Out of principle I can’t justify spending $120 on a workshop like this. If people want to try to make a career out of promoting sustainable, off grid living that is fine but I can’t support it.

This attitude reminded me of the time, many years ago, when we were selling our books at a Green Energy event at a Home Show. A well-dressed woman came to our table and began to tell us about her home and her challenges in making it energy efficient. She lived in THE swankiest, highest-priced neighbourhood in all of Toronto (and if you don’t know Toronto, real estate is VERY expensive!)

We talked to her for a few minutes and then suggested that our book “$mart Power” would be helpful to her in learning about energy efficiency and how to retrofit an older home. She became quite indignant and told us that we should be ashamed of ourselves for trying to profit from such important information. We should give our books and knowledge freely to anyone who asked for them. It made me wonder if she gave away her knowledge or skills. If so, how would she have ever afforded her house in the swanky neighbourhood? Something told me that she was well compensated for her time, her skills and her knowledge.

What a funny world we live in where people who are gainfully employed, trading their time, skills or knowledge for a good paycheque, take offense when others try to earn a living from their time, skills and knowledge. To my mind, sharing what we’ve spent thousands of dollars and years of our lives learning is worth more than $120. Allowing others to learn from our mistakes is worth more than $120. It is priceless.

Thanks for listening. And many thanks to those of you who have purchased our books, attended our workshops, visited us or donated to this blog. We are grateful to you for recognizing the value in what we are doing and sharing!

And now here is one of my favourite photos of my wonderful dog Jasper. Enjoy!

Jasper's-eyes

 

15 Responses to “Learning from Experience … Priceless”

  • Sonia:

    I can’t believe what I just read. $120? That really pisses me off! People spend money on USELESS crap all the time, but when it comes to things like health, and things that will better their lives, they seem to have a problem with it. They’ll drop $500 on the latest phone, or a brand new TV, but to spend $120 to snap out of their zombie induced state, forget about it.
    My husband and I had the pleasure of meeting Cam and Michelle a few years ago on our private consultation we had with them on their farm. Not only were we happy to pay for the more than reasonable private tour rate, but we left extra. We felt that these wonderful people had taught us so much, and gave us that push we needed in order to pursue our dreams. We sold our house in Toronto last year, and are now renting a farm house close to where we are building our off grid home. Although it is a work in progress, we are just happy to be out of the city (and rat race ) with our chickens and minds intact. Thanks Cam and Michelle! We look forward to another visit soon. S & P

  • Way to go, Michelle. Experience and knowledge presented is a valuable commodity and as such, you should charge for sharing that. I do understand. After all, the mechanic charges for that, the plumber, the lawyer, etc. Your experience and knowledge is just as valuable if not more. Stick to your principals and don’t reduce the amount !

  • Neil:

    I think the pervasive and vast nature of the internet has reduced the “value” of knowledge to the point it seems like it all should be, for all intents and purposes, free. But what you offer in your workshops is not only knowledge but also experience. As a past participant in one of your Off-the-Grid Sustainable Living workshops, I can attest to the worthwhile value both in what you and Cam share and in the unique opportunity to connect with interesting like-minded people!

  • Renny:

    Call a plumber and it will cost you $95 and hour. Call a handyman and it’s $55 or so, and no one objects because they supply needed information and tools that others do not have. You charge $20 an hour for your hard earned knowledge and people complain? They don’t get it. They simply don’t value what you offer. Too bad for them because they won’t get it until it is too late, if then. You are wonderful people. Thanks for the knowledge you freely share on your blog.

  • Shelley:

    Appreciated your “rant” Michelle. Good for you for being prepared to share your decision and rationale. If I didn’t live 3 provinces away I’d sign up for your very reasonably priced workshop. Would love to meet the two of you in person and give Jasper a scratch behind the ear.

  • Paul:

    Good for you… do not let the 1% discourage you from the other 99%. The reason we are in this mess of a biosphere is human nature and you will not change that. Keep up the good work.

  • jim:

    Bravo Michelle;

    You were absolutely right to say ‘no’ and from what I read, absolutely right in what you wrote…..

    Let him enjoy his Starbuck’s coffee…..to justify why you should give him a discount……

    Probably is driving a BMW to boot

  • Marcus:

    Stick to your guns guys. $120 is a cheap day for what you offer. 🙂

  • Tricia:

    To the guy who doesn’t want any lunch: Whatta dork.

  • Always wanting something for nothing. That’s the mentality these days. And it seems that some of the richest people are the biggest cheapskates! Pillaging the proletariat. No need to justify why you charge for your expertise. No one would say boo if they were charged a lot more money for your workshop taught through a college. I agree with Susan’s comment above.

  • Jeff Barlow:

    Sorry Michelle that you ran across another of these cheapskates; after a lifetime in the travel business I know that I must expect request that start “would you mind?” – recently a lady who had booked an expensive cruise on line asked me if I would complete the cruise line questionnaires for her as she did not know how to do it properly; she became really incensed when I suggested that she call the cruise line and even more incensed when I said I could help but I’d have to charge for my time…..
    Stick to your guns; your seminars have value because of your knowledge and experience – and these days $120 for a full day is very reasonable….
    Cheers

  • Gerrit Botha:

    Great post Michelle, and spot on. I know from personal experience how much knowledge you guys have accumulated. Some years ago, Antoinette and I spent a few hours at Sunflower Farm on a consulting visit. We left very happy and excited over a whole new world of possibilities. We thought the fee was reasonable and we got way more information than we had even thought possible. It was more than value for money. Based on our experience, I would say the workshop fee is more than fair. I heartily recommend a Sunflower Farm experience. The beauty of a personal visit is that the human interaction with like-minded people generates all kinds of questions and discussions, which enhances the knowledge gain tremendously. And who knows, even generate new friendships?

  • Susan:

    If that person doesn’t want to pay to have this information spoon fed to him then he should get it the way you did. Years of trial and error. $120 for a workshop that could and probably would result in avoiding a much more expensive mistake is more than worth it. No one asks Drs. or Lawyers to spit out what they know for free. I am on your side, completely. In my experience, customers like that turn out to be more trouble than they are worth.

  • David Hribar:

    I also am glad you posted this and please keep your chin up. I have donated in the past as I am thankful that you both take the time and experience you have gained in your journey and are sharing with the rest of us. I work in the medical field and I learned a long time ago you can not please all the people all the time. Thank you for all the work you do and sharing as well.

  • Diana:

    I’m glad you posted this. Everyone wants everything for free, especially in the environmental and green arena. People should be compensated for their time and effort. Sorry that person was so shortsighted and negative. Their loss.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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