The summer of 2004 found Dan Adams and his wife Leah baking under the Indiana sun. For several years they had been practicing self-reliance in urban Cincinnati, all the while harboring dreams of a rural life. The time had come to make the leap. Together with friends, they purchased land and spent the summer building a large barn on the property.

As the big structure rose above the sod, neighbors and friends turned up to lend a hand. The generosity of everyone who came to help that summer had planted the seed. A software developer and computer programmer by trade, Dan began to think about how modern technology could be used to rekindle some of that old-time community spirit.

RECESSION REALITIES

Financially, 2006 was a hard year for Dan and Leah. Dan watched as more and more of the work he depended on was sent overseas. Software development lends itself well to being outsourced. “This became the canary in the coal mine,” said Dan.

A global economy could mean only one thing in the long run, he thought: lower wages for lots of people in the U.S. But don’t think Dan a pessimist; this is not a glass half full or empty scenario, rather the glass is twice the size it needs to be.

Despite a bleak forecast Dan and Leah refused to wallow in doom and gloom. Forced to sell their beloved Indiana property, they fell back to a small place outside of Glencoe, Kentucky. There they set to work, once more doing the same things that have carried people through for hundreds of years. Gardening, canning, dairy goats and making maple syrup, just to name a few. Instead of “opting out,” they chose to partake in the simple life.

Even the most independent folks still need some help from time to time. At some point you simply run out of time to do everything and there are some things you cannot do alone. As the Adams worked to keep afloat, Dan thought more and more about the barn raising and all the folks who had pitched in to help. Working alone, he realized, self-reliance will keep you alive, but working together, a community of likeminded people can thrive.  Dan said it best, “What we should be encouraging is an ‘interdependence’.”

BIRTH OF EARTHINEER

The need was there and Dan had the skill set to bring it to fruition. This need to re-forge connections in the homesteader community is at the heart of Earthineer. Dan’s original intent was to develop a trading network, a place where people can trade surplus for other items or services needed.

In 2011 Dan rolled out the test version of Earthineer with 25 test members. Today it’s going strong with over 14,000 members and growing. The trade network is still in development but Earthineer is chock full of many other useful features that are up and running. Each new member gets a page to tell others a little about himself or herself and a messaging feature allows members to send each other personal messages.

Open forums are a great place to see what others are up to. Yankee227 posted pictures of his basement aquaponic fish farm; Bearclover wonders if anyone has a good fix to keep bears out of beehives, while Jimbo is working the bugs out of a wood-gas generator. Blog posts are very popular and a great resource. ‘Earthineers’ (short for  earth’s engineers) from all over offer up their first-hand experiences and opinions for others to discuss and debate. Topics are broad but all are relevant to new and old pioneers.

With a little digging you will find good firsthand information on just about everything—GMO seeds, home-built solar panels, blacksmithing, canning, composting and much more. Aside from great “how to” information, Earthineer is the place for some old-fashioned moral support. Sometimes it’s just nice to know that others are struggling with the same problems you are. 

FUTURE GROWTH

Adams is currently working to grow and expand the website, but it is still a labor of love. Somehow he has found the time to start talking with advertisers and investors. This is proving to be just as much work as the software development. Dan says getting investors to see past the “homestead” stereotype has been a big hurdle but people are coming around.

Dan remains adamant that advertising on the site be on his terms. By offering targeted, local advertising and member product recommendations, he hopes to start a change in the way companies use social media to do business. The trick is to get them to start acting more like people and less like “sell at all costs” marketing machines.

By the time this reaches print, Dan intends to have released an updated version of Earthineer with some new features. This facelift fixes the bugs, and will make the format more user-friendly by beefing up the most helpful features and doing away with some that have proved not so useful. Possibly the most exciting aspect will be the opening of the trading network later this year. Log on and in just a few clicks you will be able start building your own network of trading partners, friends and neighbors.

Though in its infancy, Earthineer is already a powerful tool. It is a great place to meet, talk, and share ideas with others in the same boat. Dan’s vision transcends run-of-the-mill social media, going well beyond flashy pop culture. Earthineer has the tools to bring about positive changes on a personal, community and national level. 

Relearning to live within our means and helping others to do the same isn’t just a nice thought, it’s a necessity. But as Dan explained, social media is only as good as the people using it. For it to work people have to participate. Dan says that in the early days of Earthineer, when the site first got started, keeping members active was like “trying to light a wet fuse.”

Now that the site has taken hold with die-hard homesteaders and regular users, it has been much easier. The more people participate the better it works. But that’s how all good things start: A slow ground swell that continues to build until the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. 

This article was originally published in THE NEW PIONEER #167 2013 magazine. Print and Digital Subscriptions are available here.