Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Beginning of Our Search

by Danelle

I am short on time this week, but since so many people keep asking/telling me about their own farm dream, I thought I would share how we found ours. It is a long story though, so here is part one!

"Ok, the farm thing. I grew up on a farm/ranch sort of, in rural Colorado, off and on through my childhood. My dream then was to live in a concrete flat with metal furniture and lots of abstract paintings and weird music. Funny now. For a wedding present a neighbor taught us how to garden our 25 X 17 ft yard. We quickly out grew that and bought a bigger fixer upper house, with a bigger fixer upper yard, then bought an adjacent lot for more garden space.

There are problems with gardening/farming in the city. Livestock restrictions for one, though some places allow 10 or less chickens, if housed and penned. Lead soil contamination is also an issue. Exhaust, dust, noise, etc....

We built raised beds and planted fruit trees. We have yet to get any fruit because of the hooligan children who live next door; they keep vandalizing the branches before blossoms set. We have a 6 ft fence to no avail.

We garden the veggies and trees organic. This means picking off pests by hand (or shop vac) and composting.

We've been visiting farms and talking the business side of things with the farmers.

So we started looking at farm properties both near and far just to get a good idea of what we will need. Here is what I have learned so far:

1) Check for urban growth and development encroaching. 10 acres is a minimum for us, but it has to be away, away from housing (I don't mean other farm houses.)
2) Ag near by: no hog confinement lots please. Corn fields are a potential hazard too because of "drift" or over spray of pesticides. A slightly windy day could take out all of your vegetables. Pasture is good, but roaming livestock will require good fences. Wooded can also mean shelter for predators.
3) Out buildings. What we decided we need is a good multipurpose barn. One property we looked at had a 3 level: hay loft, main floor for pig, cow, horse, poultry, and a walkout basement level with more horse/cow stalls and a sheep/goat pen. Perfect. They had a milk house that had been converted to a smoke house. Then a machine shed/4 car garage. the multipurpose barn is something we are now looking for. We saw another property with twice the acreage but a separate building for each and it seemed sooooo much smaller. We also want a pond.
4) Viable well water. Past wells surveyed. Old farmsteads just covered the hole when a well dried up. In Iowa we have aerial maps for the past 80 years to tell us where these are and back fill them. Very dangerous. Actually "rural" water is better in Iowa because of the way conventional farmers contaminate the watershed with chemicals.
5) The house itself. Electrical wiring, heat source, etc.....Farmers like to do their own repairs. Sometimes good, sometimes not. A modern update can be more detrimental than one done in the 1950's. Good, fast, or cheap: pick two. Can you guess which ones our "peers" like to choose?
6) Flood plains. Check.
7) Generator and food stock. Winter storms can really bury you in.
8) Internet access. Some places in rural Iowa are actually wire-less as in there is no way to get a wireless signal or even dial up. Satellite connection only. Can be very expensive.
9) Nearest hospital? Get trained as an EMT first responder and volunteer with the fire department. This alone may save your life or someone you love's. In rural Colorado, the nearest neighbor was 20 miles and the nearest hospital was 120 miles. My aunt was the paramedic and they owned their own firetrucks. I can remember more than one occasion where someone knocked on the door and said their been a car accident. Sometimes, they were a bloody passenger/survivor who walked 5 miles to her house on the hill. Sometimes it was too late. I also remember when my baby sister ate a bottle of heart medicine, there was no trip to the ER. We had to work fast. Cells phones (where there is a signal) and helicopters have made this less of an issue, but not much less. Ah, and fires? If your house goes up, it's likely a loss since you'd hope someone is close enough to see the smoke, call it in, and then wait for the volunteer fire department to gather.
10) Gas prices are only going up up up. Cost of commute and activities with friends will too and might be impossible in adverse weather. Consider changing vehicles (though what we drive will work rural too...)
11) An added concern in Ohio (where we thought we might move to) are the natural gas well pumps on almost every rural farm we looked at. Bonus is that some of these homes get free gas from the gas companies as a kick back for the pump and royalties, downside is how dangerous the pumps can be.
12) Check for meth labs. Check in the woods, in the outbuildings, in the basement/crawlspace, in the bathtubs. Those chemicals are very very toxic.

We've been practicing for years now. We are so ready. We will not be doing it as a business though. We will be "homesteading" and producing only what we will need and maybe selling meat to friends or setting up a booth up at a farmers market on a whim. We will start with chickens and a pig, then add a cow, and go from there."

So that was the story three years ago. Before baby # 2 was born, before I taught online classes, and before we even had an idea of how close our dream actually was!