The Urban Frontiersman

Rich Deming is an evangelist for self-sufficiency-while still living an urban lifestyle

Rich Deming is an evangelist for self-sufficiency-while still living an urban lifestyle

Rich Deming is an evangelist for self-sufficiency -- while still living an urban lifestyle

When you learn that Rich Deming is modifying a wine cooler into an extreme low-energy-use fridge, building a solar oven, and converting a discarded water heater to solar power, you might form a mental picture of a man in a tool belt. But when you learn that he's a biofuels entrepreneur and a certified beekeeper who has started two community gardens, the mental picture becomes more collage than snapshot.

Deming wants to live as far off the grid as possible while living in the city and thinks more people would want to do the same if they had the tools. Six years ago, Deming was running a construction firm that he built to $24 million in annual revenues. Now he subleases 350 square feet in the Cherry neighborhood, where he lives in part to minimize driving. So far he's winnowed it to about five miles a week, which takes two gallons of fuel a month. "I had the big stupid life and then woke up. Now I'm so much happier."

Once he decided his "big stupid life" wasn't going to get better on its own, he moved in with a friend in Waxhaw and planted a half-acre garden. Something sparked. He followed his new agricultural obsession to farm conferences, which led him to enroll in a boot camp for making diesel out of vegetable oil. He partnered with a fellow boot camper to open Fat City Formulae. Fat City turns discarded vegetable oil from restaurants and culinary schools into the partners' personal biodiesel supply. It also makes tiki torch fuel, fire starter, and a wood treatment coating (available in some area Earth Fare stores).

This summer, Deming joined South End-based Calor Energy, a sustainability and renewable resources consulting company. One of his projects is to help the nine-county Centralina Council of Governments apply for federal Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grants. "I'm intrigued by how to pull the levers," he says, smiling.

Big Idea

"If everyone bought their fuel and their food from someone who made it themselves within a couple hundred miles, and no one felt the need to build monuments to themselves in the form of McMansions, we wouldn't have an environmental crisis." Deming's community garden at Friendship Trays epitomizes his philosophy. The plot uses captured roof water and provides culinary students with a working food lab. Friendship Trays is a community organization that prepares and delivers meals to the elderly and infirm. So its clients also get the freshest and most healthful food possible.

More »Related Stories

50 Things Every Charlottean Should Do

The Story of Charlotte, Part 4: Whistles to War

Charlotte’s fight for the railroad, and the bigger battles that follow


The man who writes obituaries, the people who hire him, and what we learn from our last words

Around Town: Matthews

Fresh food, fresh faces, and an old way of life preserved

We invite your responses and discussion. Please refrain from personal attacks, profanity, commercial promotion, or non sequiturs.

Add your comment:


Stay up-to-date on all things Charlotte by siging up for our newsletters. Learn more by clicking here.

Blogs »

Way Out

Dispatches in Inanity from Jeremy Markovich

Why Was This WWII Bomber Circling My House?

No really. I have a picture and everything.


Dine & Dish

News, Notes, and Gossip About the Charlotte Restaurant Scene

Basil Thai Coming Soon

Basil Thai, which sits in uptown, will open another Charlotte location further south


Charlotte at Home

Creating Your Space in the Queen City

Weekend Project: Pickling

With cucumbers, squash, and okra in peak season, now is the time to give pickling a try


Poking the Hornet's Nest

Greg Lacour on Politics

Roundup: President Pat (Ha!), Immigration, Hagan's Strategy, Bill James' 'Tell'

A grab bag: McCrory, Hagan, sales taxes, and drilling, baby, drilling


Dusk Till Dawn

Jarvis Holliday Chronicles Charlotte's Nightlife and Social Scene, Straight No Chaser

Charlotte Bachata and Salsa Festival, Young Professionals Mixer, Panthers Fan Fest, Ice Martini Bar’s Anniversary, and More - July 24-27

There’s something for everyone on this list of social events and parties. Go out and make a new friend or two.