Off the Grid with Thomas Massie

(gentle banjo music) – There are a lot of
labels floating out there. Libertarian-leaning Republican, constitutional conservative,
Tea Party, deplorable. I'll go with any of those labels. I don't really get caught up in labels. I've been called a redneck and a hillbilly and a nerd and a geek. I find those to be terms of endearment now instead of derision. This is the Shire. I mean, look at it. It can't get any more beautiful than this. Here in these hills, these are the people that I grew up with, and the families that I grew up with,
they're the same families my kids are growing up with.

And to come back here
and have real interaction with people you know,
and you know you're gonna know until you die, is
very rejuvenating to me. My philosophy is live and let live and I think it comes from growing up here in eastern Kentucky,
where sort of the motto is, "You don't worry about
what somebody's doing in their hollow, if they don't worry about what you're doing in your hollow." And that comes from the people
who settled these hills. They learned to be self-sufficient, and they learned not to poke their nose in their neighbor's business. I was bored growing up. But I found that I liked to build things and make things, especially things that would improve other people's lives. When I was in junior high,
I invented a flower pot that would water itself
when the soil got too dry. And that was for grandmother
who liked to travel a lot and she wanted to make sure her plants didn't die when she was gone. She was paying my brother
and my sister to water her plants when she
was gone, and I decided to liberate them from their paycheck and invent a self-watering flower pot.

Water is life, so a lot
of what I'm doing here on my farm is managing water everywhere. In front of my house,
we're on a hill here. I built this terrace garden and the water runs off the roof and
we get a lot of water and all that water off my roof comes down here and waters the garden. So it produces lush tomatoes every year. That's gonna be yummy on a BLT. Some of these are rotten. These are gonna go to the chickens. Chickens gonna eat that. We don't compost because
basically everything we produce, the chickens
or the dogs will eat. So we don't really have to compost things. I quickly get two eggs. That one's still warm. There's a couple levels of farming. You can buy the offspring
after they're hatched or born, but really the next level is when you start breeding your own stock. These chicks were raised right on the nest with the mother, and the benefit of that is we never have to bring 'em inside and put a heat lamp on them or feed them.

They've never been fed
little chick-y food. They just come out here and eat whatever their mom is eating, which today happens to
be tomatoes and bugs. It just, it seems like a miracle everyday that I come out here and
there's still seven chicks. Because there are predators
right off in the weeds here. There are raccoons, there
are foxes, there are coyotes, there are the neighbor's dogs, and all them like to eat chicken. I like to say the reason so many things taste like chicken is that everything likes the taste of chicken. My goal, my dream was to go to MIT. I'd never even visited the campus. I read about this place called MIT. Never been really north
of the Mason-Dixon line. I applied and was accepted. I did well at MIT. It was like drinking from a fire hose. At MIT, I invented some technologies, some virtual reality technology that let people touch
virtual objects to feel them with their hands inside the computer.

I commercialize this device. I got patents for it. I raised venture capital money. A lot of this happened
while I was still in school. My high school sweetheart
who actually grew up on this farm also went to MIT. So we were doing this company together while we were both students at MIT. That was very rewarding, but my wife and I wanted to get back to Kentucky. And because we'd started the company in our married student housing dormitory, we had hired 70 people in New England. I thought about trying to offer them all 40 acres and a mule to come
back to Kentucky with us, but ultimately we had
to sell our ownership and separate from the company in order for us to
relocate here in Kentucky where we wanted to raise our kids the same way we had been raised. We bought the farm that
my wife grew up on. Her parents still live here. And we decided to build a house
and to do tangible things.

I had been living in virtual reality, that was my business, a
virtual reality device. But getting back to
the earth was important to both my wife and I,
so we wanted everything about our house to be real and
nothing about it to be fake. Kentucky was the best place
for us to live this dream because there are very
few regulations here. I came back here just to blend in. I didn't want to be the nail sticking up. Shortly after coming back
here and starting to build our house with everything real, the local government decided they wanted to start passing more laws and restricting what you could do with your land. I thought, well I can just ignore that and just go on with my life. And I did. I ignored it for two or three years and then I just couldn't take it anymore and I wrote a letter to the editor to air my grievances with
the local government. They were gonna raise our taxes that day, and we stopped it from happening.

(engine running) Alright, so on my farm, there
are some very large stones like this, and they're
great building material but they're too big for me to manage. So what I do is I slice
them up using a gas chop saw and wedges to split the stones. So this is a stone where
I've sliced into it with the saw and then drove
wedges into it and split it. Eventually, I get down to
something about this size, but I don't, that's not
a nice looking face, so I want it to look good,
so I face this with a chisel.

So my idea for my house
was to build it all from stone and timber that I
could find here on my farm. And when I told people
that I was gonna do that, they were worried for me that the stones wouldn't be good enough, that somehow because they were available
right here on my farm and local, that maybe they were inferior. And I'm sure you've seen
stones that look like this. This is how they end up looking like this. When they try to imitate
stones that look like this, they're trying to imitate work. 'Cause this is a lot of hard work. But I think there's this
notion that if something's available locally it's not as good, that it's gotta be
exotic, that you've gotta get this stone from Italy in order for it to be something meaningful. For me, it's more
meaningful because it came from the location where
I'm building the house. Literally, I want a
house that's coming out of the ground and belongs here.

That's the other thing. The stones on my house match the stones that we're walking on in the ground here. 'Cause it's the same stone. And it's gonna last pretty much forever. We had an ice storm that
struck our farm in 2003, and fell a lot of trees on our property. I spent a year with my
bulldozer and a winch going into the woods and
dragging these trees out. And those are the trees
that are here in my house, the ones that nature cut down for me. I just had to drag them
to my saw mill and then cut them into the shapes
that would form this house. I started studying timber framing, and I even signed up for a one week class in Tennessee on timber framing. And when I went there, I
learned how ignorant I was. And that the beauty of
building a timber frame house is that you can make the fasteners
out of the same material. The fasteners are wood. The whole house is held
together with wooden pegs. But if you study it even more, it's not even the pegs that
are holding the house together.

There's joinery. The tenons go in the mortises. And then if you lay it out
correctly and properly, almost all of the joints are held together just by the force of the
house, not by the pegs. So when I found out they were
trying to zone the county, that means they wanted to pass a law where we would be required
to go to the local government and ask their permission to
do things with our property. I decided to write
another one of my letters to the editor, 30 people showed
up at that zoning meeting. Now, I stood up to speak first, and after five minutes, the chairwoman advised me that I should sit down, that I was done speaking.

I stood at the podium
wondering what I would do next, because I certainly
didn't want to sit down. A Democrat in the crowd
who had been inspired by my letter to the editor
to show up at the meeting, stood up and told the chairwoman, "He can have my five minutes." And she said, "Okay, Mr. Massie,
you've got 10 minutes now." And then everybody in attendance
stood up, all 30 people and said, "We're giving
him our five minutes too." That was inspiring to
me because those people trusted me to speak for them and they wanted to hear what else I had to say. And we stopped the
county from being zoned. So they nicknamed this group
of people Thomas's Angry Mob. Ironically, they weren't angry, and it wasn't mob, they were informed and they were organized and
I was helping organize them. And that's when I realized
you could be an activist and you could change government.

It's 88 psi. We have a pond that's 200 feet in elevation above the house. It's back here in the woods. It's at the head of that hollow about a third of a mile away. You know, when I visited Monticello, I noticed that they had
10 roofs over everything and they were trying to
catch every drop of water that hit the roofs and then reuse it.

But I also noticed the next
hill over from Monticello was much taller than Monticello. Thomas Jefferson could've built a pond on top of that other hill, and use gravity to feed it
right there to Monticello and he could've had all the
water he wanted at a pressure, a water pressure that
would've just been incredible. But the problem was, they
didn't have plastic pipe. I ran two-inch pipe right here, from that pond down to here, and you get like .4 psi
per foot of elevation, so I have 88 psi of water and there's almost half a million
gallons of water in the pond and as I use it, whenever
it rains it fills back up.

So it will last for maybe 500 years, you know, if you keep
the trees off the dam. (chicken crowing) Because without water,
you can't have anything. Water is life.
(chicken crowing) So eventually I was
persuaded by the people who were inspired by my
letters to the editor. And I ran for this position
called county judge executive. You have to judge which
roads need paved first, which wooden bridges need
to be concrete bridges, which dogs need to be caught, which dogs don't need to be because the
dog catcher worked for me, who would operate the trash routes. These were things you had to judge. It's not government from 30,000 feet, like it is in Washington, D.C. You're in the trenches with
bayonets and pitchforks trying to settle these issues.

I was inspired to go to other counties and talk to groups that had organized. One of the messages
that I try to get across to people who wanna get
involved in government is that you gotta be
involved at every level. And that even the water
board or the sewer board, or the school board has the power to take your property,
either through taxation or outright condemnation and
that's a very powerful thing. And so you need to either
run for that office or be very concerned about
who takes that position. I was building a base
that would ultimately persuade me to run for
this congressional seat. And that's what happened
is our congressman announced his retirement and these people that I had gone to and spoke to, because they cared and I cared, they got me elected to Congress. And now, I'm in Congress,
so I tell people my life, my career started out in virtual reality, then I came back to the farm, and now I'm back in virtual
reality in Washington, D.C.

Yeah, one of my sons, now he
doesn't like working for me so he went and got a paycheck. He got a job where he gets a
paycheck working construction. He's 17. Now he's got little stub
that's got withholding on it so there's FICA and federal
income tax and state income tax. Until then, I'd been paying in cash. So I asked him, "What
do you think now, Son?" He showed me his pay stub and he pointed to the federal withholding, he said, "I think I'm paying your salary now, Dad. "You work for me." (water spraying) One of the things I
regret about my orchard is I didn't label the trees. Like I thought I would always remember what tree I had planted where, but then I ran for
Congress and got elected and went to D.C. and I
forgot what this tree is. So now I've done something
to keep from forgetting. I've had to come up with a
sign that would outlast me so I figure tombstones were
made to outlast people.

So I made little tombstones
for my trees that tell me and the person after I die, hopefully that's not too soon, what
the tree actually is. And this is a Belle of Georgia. It's a white peach. This is the Shire. I mean, look at it. It can't get anymore beautiful than this. And it stands in stark contrast to what lies beyond those hills. Eastward is Mordor. I mean, Washington, D.C. When I go there, there's
no greenery like this. Man has tried to create
something as magnificent as these hills, but he's failed really, in D.C. to do that. There's a lot of glitz
and glamour in Washington.

And I think it's, it's built that way to impress people, to
try to convince people something important is going on there. (duck quacking) Here, ducky. So daddy duck is the white one. He's a, oh, they don't like
me interrupting their food. The white one is the daddy duck. The black one is the momma duck. He's a meat duck, he's a Pekin duck, and this is a Cayuga duck. She lays eggs, and my goal
was to cross the meat duck with the egg layer so that the offspring would be sort of a
double dual purpose duck. I learned, you don't
touch the metal bucket and the duck fence at the same time because you might mispronounce duck. So that solar panel powers this. Now, I can plug a solar,
I can plug a fence charger into my house, anything
that's running off electricity on the top of this hill is
running off solar power.


Whether it's got its
own little solar panel or whether it's running from my house. The electric wire that connects
you to the electrical grid is like an umbilical, like in the matrix. Government has a lot of
control over your life through that one little wire. If you refuse to comply, the first, with one of their regulations, the first thing they
do is to cut that wire. And typically the first thing
you would then do is cry uncle because try going without
electricity for a day or two once you've gotten used to it. One thing's become apparent to me now that I've been in Washington, D.C., and after having been
in the private sector, and also every weekend
coming back to my farm, is that the folks in Washington,
D.C. have no business trying to make decisions
about what's most efficient for people back on their farms
or back in their businesses.

So there are a lot of
people that have never been in the country that
live in Washington, D.C. And try to make rules for the
country and the countryside. Out here, heating with
wood is a very inexpensive practical renewable way
to sustain your household. And in Washington, D.C., the EPA, even without congressional action, has been trying to crack
down on wood burning stoves because they've got this notion somehow that all the trees are gonna disappear and that burning wood is
a bad way to create heat. Well you can see over here on my hillside. Literally, even before you
get to the real leafy stuff, there's four or five
dead trees right there that will heat my whole house this whole winter, this entire winter. The four trees that you can see will provide all the heat that I need. If I don't go cut down those dead trees and burn them in my wood gasifying boiler, they're gonna fall down and termites are going to work on them.

And instead of producing CO2,
now they're gonna produce methane which the environmentalists say is 43 times worse in terms of greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Alright. So this is my boiler
room, and this is where all the heat for the
house comes in the winter. My children stack wood on this U-boats and we roll them into the basement. And if we fill up four of these U-boats, we've got enough wood to
heat our house for a month.

So this is a gold mine to me right here. I found a fallen tree across my trail where the wood has already dried out. You put the wood in the boiler, and instead of burning the wood directly, it gets it really hot,
turns it into charcoal, drives off the gases like the hydrogen gas and the other hydrocarbon gases, forces them down into a
lower chamber where it burns at 1,500 to 2,000 degrees
in a ceramic chamber. And literally everything
burns in that chamber. And the benefit is all
of the smoke is combusted in that chamber as well as
the things that normally burn. So all that comes out
of my chimney is steam. At our house, we're
producing less pollution by burning dry wood and it's
also a carbon zero cycle. In other words, all the
carbon that's in this wood was collected from the atmosphere. So that when we readmit
it into the atmosphere, there's net zero carbon production. Is that the solution for everybody? No, it's not the solution for everybody. But every solution needs to be tuned to the local environment
and the local culture.

And that's why it's so
wrong for Washington, D.C. to try an dictate that. Our Founding Fathers
didn't want that executive in Washington, D.C., to make
all the local decisions. So we've got levels of
government, state government, county government, city government, and a dangerous trend that I see, I see this in Congress,
is that that vertical limitation is now being eroded. Horizontally, they balance
the power of the judiciary and the legislative and
the executive branch. And we've sorta forgotten that. Every time we see the
presidential election, we think it's the Super Bowl of politics, and we're electing a king. And that the legislative branch and the judicial branch
would be irrelevant. The king will just use his pen and his phone and do what he wants. But, so we've forgotten that. People are as guilty as
the media and anybody else in remembering that government
is horizontally limited but they are also guilty of forgetting that's vertically limited. And Washington, D.C., is making decisions that should be made at the state, should be made at the county level.

Maybe they should be
made in your living room, and not made by any government. But we need to always be working to keep that government in check,
because it's a dangerous thing, and I learned it at the county level. So my cattle are on the
other side of the creek there in the distance, and we're
gonna move them over here because the grasses had
time to recover here and it's grown tall
enough for them to eat. Some people say that cattle
are bad for the environment and that you shouldn't eat beef because more productive things could be done with the land. And those people really have never seen a farm in Appalachia, because look at this field right here, this terrain. Most sane people would not
drive a lawnmower on it. It's a hill, right? You can't grow any kind
of crop here effectively. Some days in Washington, D.C., I feel like this little white calf here. I look around and say, how'd I get here? What am I doing here? Do I belong here? The farm has taught me
how to be more patient and that's the greatest resource I think you have to have in Washington, D.C.

These cattle here, the
genetics are the result of three or four generations of breeding. And I've got momma cows that have calves on their own without a lot of problems. But you can't expect all that
in one year or two years. Making food for other people
and watching them eat it and it provide nourishment
to their bodies, that's honest, that's not fake. And you know something got done, and somebody appreciates you for it. And those are concepts that are somewhat foreign in Washington, D.C. I mean if you think about it, nothing is produced in Washington, D.C. There's nothing manufactured,
there's no food grown, there are very few inventions
created if you will. It's just a place where nothing is created and a farm is exactly the opposite. There's life happening here everyday. I've found out that I can get more money for my animals if I
keep feeding them grass, get the calves to an older age and then sell that beef directly to consumers. Now, there are government barriers to that as you can imagine, and the big
players in the beef industry don't want any of those barriers removed.

So the USDA rules require you to employ a USDA inspector in
your facility full time if you want to have
the USDA certification. And there's a butcher house
three miles from here, three miles from my house
that does a fantastic job on these animals, and
as long as I sell you a share of this animal before I take it to that butcher shop, it's all legal and you can have the meat
after it's butchered.

But I can't sell you less
than a quarter of the animal. And it's healthy, and the US government has no problem with that, but if I try to sell you a steak, and we don't pretend at least that you own this animal before I butcher it, I go to jail. And the big guys like that, 'cause you can imagine how hard it is if I come up to you and say, "Would you like to buy some of my beef?" and you say, "Yes, I'm having
a cook out this weekend." I say, "Great, the smallest
order is 300 pounds.

"But you can go to the
supermarket and buy one steak "because that has the
imprimatur of the USDA "because that facility
employed a USDA person "and kept them at their facility
when they were butchering." So the net result of that regulation is instead of going three
miles from my house, I have to go 150 miles from my house to a facility that has a USDA inspector, which raises the price and the effort and then I've gotta come 150 miles back with frozen beef without letting it thaw. And then distribute
frozen beef to consumers. It's a very difficult proposition. Democrats and liberals want the ability to buy locally and consume healthy food, and they're starting
to wake up and realize that the healthiest food
comes from your neighbor where there's accountability.

It doesn't come from some
centralized, industrial food production system that's corporate. And this is what we're gonna
be eating, beef brisket. You cook this low and slow. Sweet. So for me, I mean I like the
fact that it's quote green to be off the grid or to
be running on solar power, but for me it was about independence. Sunlight hits the panels,
panels produce DC electricity, these devices take that DC electricity, step it down and charge the batteries.

Now we've got DC power
but we need AC power to run common, everyday
appliances in the house. That's what these puppies do. These are inverters. They take 48 volts from the batteries and produce 120 volts
AC, alternating current, the kind like your blender wants to use or your air conditioner. And that's what these components do. The thing that's gonna
be the next breakthrough in energy production is
actually energy storage. The world doesn't need
a better solar panel, the world doesn't need a better windmill, the world needs a better battery.

So next to the big Tesla, we
got the little Tesla here. This is an electric
go-kart that my son built. And we charge it with the solar panels and then you know in a zombie
apocalypse when the zombies take over the refineries
and they're shut down, we'll be able, not only to drive a car, off of the solar power from the house, but we'll be able to also have a go-kart. When I started farming this property, I've thought about my mission statement. So my mission statement,
and my mission in life on this farm, my goals for this farm, is to come up with a sustainable
money producing model.

That's why I have cattle on this farm. I don't need 50,000 pounds of beef. That part of it's not a hobby farm. That part of it is figuring
out a business model that the next generation can use, whether it's my children or
somebody else's children. I don't wanna see all the trees stripped at once and it logged, I would like it to remain
very much like it is now. Here's the thing about the
hobbits that go to Mordor. Most of them succumb to
the intoxication of power. In fact, I've got my
precious here with me. This is my congressional pin. I usually just keep it in my pocket, where I can reach in and feel it. It gives me some comfort, but I try not to ever wear it more than I have to. Because when you wear precious, and every congressman has one of these and they love to wear them,
you become intoxicated. And it's the subtle
things that you don't even realize that are happening
when you're wearing this pin.

For instance, the Capitol Hill police get out of your way as
you walk toward them. I once bumped into a policeman, because I didn't have precious on, and he didn't yield to me,
and it's those subtle things, like when you get in an elevator with 10 people on Capitol Hill and they look down and see you're wearing precious, they all quit speaking. They'll hold the door open
and let you exit first. When you're walking down the
hallway wearing precious, people won't make eye contact. They'll look away and look down when you're wearing precious. And all of those things,
as odd as it may seem, make the hobbits who wear
precious feel powerful.

And I can feel it myself,
and it's a scary feeling, because I know if I
wear this for too long, it's gonna affect me and not in good ways. I think one of my weaknesses and one of my strengths is that I'm a romantic. My dream is not to be a politician. My dream, I'm living it
here on my farm already, and that is marrying my
high school sweetheart, building our small castle with our own resources on top of a hill. This is actually the
farm my wife grew up on. And to be raising a family
here and teaching them values like self-sufficiency, that's my dream.

My dream is not to lord over people from a central government somewhere. I get to live that dream one day a week while I'm serving in
congress six days a week. And that's important to me. ("Old Home Place") ♪ It's been ten long years
since I left my home ♪ ♪ In the hollow where I was born ♪ ♪ Where the cool fall nights
make the wood smoke rise ♪ ♪ And the fox hunter blows his horn ♪ ♪ Chorus ♪ ♪ Not yet ♪ ♪ I fell in love with
a girl from the town ♪ ♪ I thought that she would be true ♪ ♪ I ran away to Charlottesville ♪ ♪ And worked in a sawmill or two ♪ ♪ What have they done
to the old home place ♪ ♪ Why did they tear it down ♪ ♪ And why did I leave
the plow in the field ♪ ♪ And look for a job in the town ♪ ♪ Now take the chorus ♪.

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