Food Water Shelter

Food Water Shelter is a sustainable housing and agriculture project in Texas, USA.

In 2002, already seeing what peak oil and climate change could bring to his community, Lester Germanio decided he needed to do something.  So, given his background as an engineer and architect, he set out to do what he knew how to: on a bit of land just outside downtown Austin, he began building a sustainable homestead with the goal of supporting 8 people from one small bit of land.  “All I can do is show solutions,” he told us when we visited.  “I come from an architecture background, and this is my solution.  Simple and fringe as it looks, this is what I can do.”

Today, Lester’s house has become Food Water Shelter.  “It is supposed to be a demonstration urban homestead that would be functional off grid, all this in anticipation of things like peak oil, climate change, and economic challenges, all of which we’re seeing now that weren’t so apparent in 2002.”  The land includes living space for 8 people (Lester and his immediate family), as well as an aquaponic growing system meant to provide them with all the fresh fruits, vegetables and fish they can eat, with some left over for sale or barter.  Energy will come from solar panels, though passive solar design makes energy consumption lower than it might otherwise be, with no need for air conditioning even in the oppressive Texas summer heat.  On the day we visited it was almost 100° in the sun but the uphill segments of the house remained cool thanks to a refreshing breeze.

The house also includes a rain water catchment system that is able to harvest up to 40,000 gallons of water for every 9 inches of rain.  Combined with intelligent water use (composting toilets for instance can make a tremendous difference in household water consumption) and 18 inches of rain a year, the house should be self-sufficient in water as well.

“I’m doing this little thing,” Lester said as we sat down to lunch later, “but I think it’s an important component of a bigger system. This could easily be a prototype of an eco-village, of sustainable homesteads, and if you start having a homestead in an eco-village, and it’s one part of a network that support cities, that makes cities sustainable.”

The garden gate says it all.  “I tried to symbolize in it the things we have to work with: the sun, the wind, the rain, the soil.  Those are the things, if you’re completely sustainable, that’s all you have to work with.”

Construction hasn’t been without its challenges, including the overzealous local mayor who was a little less than enthusiastic about having a self-sufficient homestead in a neighborhood usually reserved for Austin’s ultra-rich, launching a criminal case against Lester for imaginary code violations.  After the government spent over $150,000 pursuing the case, it was dismissed by a judge and Lester’s project has continued.  The house is expected to be finished by fall 2011.

To find out more about how the experiment is going, visit:

5 Responses to Food Water Shelter

  1. Terri says:

    Hey Permacyclists,
    How exciting! the next step from Helen Nearing in New ENgland. It is certainly inspiring. I wish I waqs an architecht and engineer , how does the average dolt do this? Are there companies who can build like this? or is this something an individual needs to feel passionate enough to learn? The off the grid idea appeals so much as well.
    Thanks for showing this idea

  2. Dave says:

    Hi Terri, glad you liked the update! I’m sure there are builder types who know how to make passive solar houses work, and there must be permaculture designers who know how to set up an aquaponic and water catchment system. Anyone with opposable digits can build a compost toilet though.
    I think for us that a lot of the pleasure comes in the building and designing and learning along the way. We loved our natural building course, and we know that there are some other schools around where the non-architectural among us can learn how to build houses and do basic carpentry – some well known ones are even in VT, not too far from you guys… not to give you too many bad ideas, but one of the schools is online:

  3. Gordon and Linda Marie says:

    David and Anna,
    A very nice presentation on FoodWaterShelter, which is certainly an essential anomaly in water-and-resource wastful and too affluent West Austin! We will contact Lester, and perhaps be able to go visit and see the house. When you return from Latin America, try to go to the Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico area, where there are lots of experimental, sustainable houses and living projects. Some go back to the ’60s!
    All the best, Gordon

  4. Hello Gordon,

    Thank you for your comments, glad you liked the piece. I hope you do get a chance to meet Lester, he is a really nice person and he’ll talk your ear off if you give him the chance. I think he organizes visits from time to time to show what he’s working on – it should all be finished this fall, which would be a great time to go see it (like we say, there’s no air conditioning…).

  5. Pingback: The end? | permacyclists

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