For two years we toured farms, read about farms, produce, and livestock. We stepped up the study when we finally put our home on the market in 2008 and suddenly, graciously, we received invitations to several farms.
The first one, the home and garden of fellow unschooler Meg and her family. 3 acres right outside of town, nestled between neighbors, but far enough out to feel like a secret world. We tagged and let loose monarchs, roasted marshmallows, and picked white peaches by moonrise light. It was magical. I loved talking breastfeeding, unschooling, and history with Meg and her family. Her kiddos are older than Lil'Bug but they were all fast friends. What I came away with is that I aspire to be Meg. Her garden was overflowing and messy, her kids happy and curious, and she could count the stars if she wished.
The next farm we visited was 10 acres to the West of town. Close to a major road, lots of wide open space, a tree stand at the back. Lots of lawn, lots of wind. Their garden was overflowing as well. We shared a meal and talked gardening. Good time. What I came away with there was that the home is just as important and how your family lives inside and out must be comfortable and work for us. They built their own home and it is beautiful. We also got a feel for what our 10 acre minimum actually played out. We decided on the drive home that to make the farm do what we want, we'd need more than 10 and we wanted a water feature to draw wildlife, more trees for shade.
Then we visited Sugar Creek Family farm. Another 10 acre farm, but this one is/was a working CSA. We toured her garden, and chicken set up. Ate amazing food and let Lil'Bug get messy. We went back later to learn how to butcher and pluck chickens. We added to our list of requirements good fencing and more distance from neighbors.
The next farm we visited was a 40 acre horse farm. They had a neglected apple tree to harvest, but also a pond, pasture, timber and nice out buildings. That farm was an hour and 45 minutes away from Des Moines. We adjusted how far we were willing to drive from home to work. Not quite that far. ;) We had a nice visit and tour, met some of the neighbors and our host's family. Picked so many apples!
We attended the Farm Crawl, a series of farm open houses in two neighboring counties. An unschooler from our local yahoo list posted the event and we toured and toured! This year I paid intense attention to the Blue Gate CSA because they farm like we intend to, on a property most like what we wanted, with many of the elements (like bees) that we have our hearts set on, AND the farm we want is nearby in the same county. Then we we visited with Jill and Sean again, without the busy chaos of a crowd! It was a delightful time. Lil'Bug harassed their cats a bit though. We are working on that with her, she just gets so excited about animals. The Blue Gate folks really bolstered our intentions that farming the way we wanted to is possible and economical on a small scale.
I'd like to add, Blue Gate's eggs.....we scrambled them up for breakfast and Dearest and Lil'Bugthought I had added cheddar cheese to them. I did no such thing. The yokes were orange and the flavour.... cheesy! Wow.
The plus one? Ours. We were one step closer to realizing our dream.