Seeking a life of simplicity and self-sufficiency, a Mulvane family has decided to live off the grid and allow television cameras to film them as they build their lives anew from the ground up.
Blake and Tina Elliott and their three daughters will be featured on a new series called “Risking It All,” which starts at 9 p.m. Tuesday on TLC.
Two other families, both from South Carolina, are part of the show as well. They moved to North Carolina to get off the grid.
The Elliotts moved 1,800 miles to unincorporated Elmira, Ore., about 15 miles west of Eugene.
“We didn’t do what we did at the direction of some TV show,” Blake Elliott said. “This is something we were going to do anyway. For us, it was really about teaching our children about thinking ahead and learning skills to be self-sufficient.”
The move from Mulvane to Oregon was the toughest part of the ordeal, said Tina Elliott. They had to pack up their 17-acre farm in Mulvane, where they tended gardens and raised animals.
At the end of May, they put the house on the market, took all their savings and left for Oregon, accompanied by a film crew. They arrived on land that had no house, no running water and no electricity.
They lived in a tent and slept on air mattresses while Blake Elliott went to work building a house. Tina Elliott and the girls planted gardens to raise food and medicinal herbs and tended rabbits and other animals, as they had in Mulvane.
One big motive for the move: Tina Elliott has osteoporosis, degenerative arthritis and a blood clotting disorder that made those activities difficult in the extreme weather in Kansas. The family needed a more temperate climate, she said.
Filming for the six-episode show lasted 10 hours a day over the summer. The Elliotts’ daughters – Lily, 18; Grace, 13; and Caroline, 11 – dealt with it better than their parents, Blake Elliott said. They pressed on without many problems, he said.
The daughters never were big TV watchers, so they didn’t miss any shows or other trappings of teen culture. They are being home-schooled by their parents.
Their biggest concern was the welfare of the animals, their father said.
“During times Blake and I were off our rockers and totally stressed, it was the girls who kept us straight,” Tina Elliott said.
Blake, who left his job as a real estate appraiser when the family made the move, felt pressure as they started their new lives. He believed he was responsible for everything that was happening, and he sometimes felt guilt watching his family struggle, he said.
“When you go off the grid and you have your whole family, it’s tough to plan, so every hour from your old life that was planned out for you by circumstances now is a mystery. Hour by hour. Those are some of the longest 24 hours I’ve ever had,” he said.
Tina was able to enjoy life more because she wasn’t beaten up by the weather anymore. Taking care of animals in the extreme heat and cold of Kansas had been stressful. It had become harder and harder for her, and when it was really hot or really cold, she couldn’t do it at all, she said.
“There was no joy anymore in gardening,” she said. “It was an absolute struggle.”
“We lost animals and plants every year to the weather, so coming out here, the weather is just so temperate it relaxes a big chunk of stress.”
Their move toward a simpler life actually started about five years ago. Blake and Tina, who have been married for 16 years, lived in Wichita and wanted to get out of the city and away from traffic and noise. They also had spent years going to doctors and dealing with medicine for Tina’s health problems. They finally decided to simplify and change everything. So they moved to Mulvane and started living on a farm in a way that was as self-sustaining as possible.
Tina, who began raising herbs for her medicinal needs, wrote about their new lives on a website to encourage people that if she could do it, anybody could. TLC producers put out casting calls for their new “Risking It All” series on such websites, and the Elliotts eventually signed up to appear in it.
Blake brought solar panels they had used in Mulvane to Oregon to supply their power. They were able to charge cellphones and computers. Grace uses a computer for a rabbit breeding business she started.
Although they could stay in touch with friends back home, there were times that things were so dire in Oregon that Blake didn’t want to talk to anyone, he said.
One of the most difficult things was watching their oldest daughter, Lily, leave for college at the University of Kansas.
“Extremely rough,” Blake said.
They had some second thoughts about the move – a few “what have we done?” moments – but the Elliotts never seriously considered abandoning the effort.
“We had committed to this,” Blake said.
The experience was valuable especially for their daughters, because it taught personal responsibility and self-reliance, they said.
“Schools don’t teach self-reliance skills,” Blake said. “That was one of the real nice things you realize once you’re in this situation. The girls did a great job transitioning and doing what needed to be done and thinking for themselves.”
Filming for the show is over, but the family remains committed to living off the grid in a new location they would not reveal.
“We didn’t move halfway across the country to quit,” Tina said.
Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.