Our first farm visit!

A couple of months ago I contacted a land owner via the VA FarmLink,

an online database designed to link farm owners interested in exiting agriculture with those seeking farms and farm businesses.  The database is the primary component to date of the Virginia Farm Link programwhich was established in 2001 by the General Assembly to provide assistance in the transition of farm businesses and properties from retiring farmers to active farmers.

I have contacted a few other farmers/land owners, but this was our first visit. We spent the holiday weekend with family in Chesapeake, Virginia, and headed up to Orange, VA “on the way home.” It made for an extremely long day, but it was an awesome opportunity.

Pros:

  • Lots of land
  • Flexible lease/ownership
  • Location – halfway between Charlottesville and Fredericksburg, VA

Cons:

  • The land is pretty chopped up, difficult to utilize
  • No hardwoods/timber
  • No useable buildings
  • No dwelling
  • Very far from potential off-farm job opportunities

Ultimately, we’ve decided this property is lovely but isn’t a good match for us.

Orange, VA Farm

Ladies Woodcutting Party

This weekend I spent a day with some great friends, on a beautiful farm, chopping wood. And even though almost every part of my body is in some degree of pain, I had a blast!

Our fearless leader had already spent hours teaching us how to use chainsaws and axes safely while on our Ladies Homestead Gathering Retreat, but we were eager for more practice. When she mentioned having a few downed trees on her property in need of removal, we jumped at the chance to help. I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout – over 20 adults and nearly 10 children! And, in LHG style, we enjoyed the most amazing pre-Thanksgiving potluck picnic!


Homemade Herbal Remedy Swap

If you have talked to me in the last month, you already know this, but I have become totally engrossed in the world of herbalism and natural healing. Ever since joining the Ladies Homestead Gathering (LHG) I have learned more and more about the power of plants and am determined to learn how to survive and thrive using just what the earth provides. The first thing I did was make a list of my top 10 remedies for the home first aid kit (based on what we tend to use most often):

  1. Headache/fever/pain reducer (to replace ADVIL)
  2. Antacid (to replace TUMS)
  3. Cough Syrup
  4. Something for minor skin irritations
  5. Something for major skin irritations (to replace Neosporin)
  6. Aromatic Chest Rub (to replace Vicks)
  7. Something for ear infections (afterall, I have two little ones)
  8. Something for a sore throat
  9. Something to relieve sinus pressure/pain/stuffy nose
  10. Something to relieve diarrhea

While I believe this is a practical list, I also think it’s a LOT to learn, and could be somewhat costly up front. I know a lot of folks out there have the necessary weeds growing in their very backyards, but due to our suburban location, useful weeds are rare in my neck of the woods. So, sourcing the herbs and supplies necessary for this undertaking would require quite an investment in a pound or so of each herb – which with this list could mean 20+ different herbs.

I mentioned my dilemma to Cyndi last week and told her I thought we could do this together to make it simpler (and cheaper). So, this holiday season, the gals at the Ladies Homestead Gathering are forgoeing the traditional “Cookie Swap” and are instead participating in our first Homemade Herbal Remedy Swap. At our last meeting, Cyndi passed around a sign-up sheet and two handfuls of women committed to making enough of ONE remedy for everyone else on the list. That means procuring the recipe, the ingredients and some kind of container so that when we come together for our Christmas party next month, those that participated will leave with a fully-stocked Herbal First Aid Kit. I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am about this!

Here’s what I’ll be making:
Simple Comfrey Salve  borrowed from Paganspace.net

Comfrey salve is a must-have for any herbal first aid kit! We use it almost every day chapped lips and elbows, dry noses, cuts, scrapes, burns, even as an under eye cream! Here’s a super simple recipe for comfrey salve recipe that you can make right in your kitchen. This salve also makes great gifts for friends and family. I like to put up big batches to give out at the holidays.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups good quality olive oil
~ 1 ounce (about two tablespoons) fresh comfrey leaves (or 1/2 ounce dried)
~ 1 ounce (about two tablespoons) fresh lavender flowers (or 1/2 ounce dried)
~ 1 ounce (about two tablespoons) fresh calendula flowers (or 1/2 ounce dried)
~ 1/2 cup beeswax

INSTRUCTIONS

~ Gently warm the olive oil and the herbs in the top of a double boiler for about 30 minutes. Stir frequently. It should bubble a bit at the edges, but not throughout the mixture.
~ Strain out the oil by pouring through a strainer.
~ Discard herbs and reserve oil.
~ Melt your beeswax in the top of the double boiler.
~ Add the strained oil and stir until completely blended.
~ Pour the mixture into jars or salve tins.
~ Once it is cool, label and date your creation.

I decided to get my herbs from Mountain Rose because their prices were good and I could purchase in less than 1 pound. quantities. I plan to double, triple for quadruple the recipe depending on how many women are participating. I think I should be able to get about 20 ounces from one batch, and would like to use 4 oz. containers, so 5 jars/recipe = ?? x Also, the Natural Health Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine (Andrew Chevallier, FNIMH) recommends keeping ointments (those remedies which contain oils or fats heated with herbs and, unlike creams, contain no water) in a dark glass jar. So I’m going to get some of these. Again, still not sure of quantity though I don’t think I could have too many….could I?

And yes, if you’re my friend or my family and I’m going to be seeing you this holiday season, expect to get some too!

Book Club & Ladies Homestead Gathering

I was first introduced to Joel Salatin 5 years ago by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. At the time, the concept of a local, seasonal diet was something I had considered, but never really explored. The chapters in the book devoted to describing Joel’s innovative grass-based farm were so inspiring, I haven’t stopped thinking about farming since.

A few months ago I started attending monthly meetings with the most intriguing group of women anyone should have an opportunity to know. Cindy B., the proprietress of Lazy B Farm in Statham, GA hosts, in her home, monthly Ladies Homestead Gatherings. Topics of discussion range from gardening, bread-baking, and wine-making, to chicken butchering, rainwater collection and herbal remedies – and that’s just ONE meeting’s agenda! After years of private exploration of my farm dreams, it is the most incredible blessing to have found this group of women that share the same goals!

Anyway, a few of us are reading Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin and we’re really loving it. After our first meeting this week we’ve pretty much decided the Book Club is a permanent thing and are already looking forward to our next title!

Folks, This Ain't Normal
Folks, This Ain't Normal, Joel Salatin, 2011

First Priority

After an inspirational weekend, I’ve decided to start fleshing out our farm plans beginning with our first priority: Weddings and Corporate Events.

I’ve been collecting photos for a while, so today I put them in an online album. Here’s the link And here’s a preview:

In his book, You Can Farm, Joel Salatin suggests we begin putting our farm plans into action immediately. Start growing and selling rabbits now if you have space. Bake bread, sew something, make applesauce; whatever you can do, do it now. I am still trying to figure out our first move in the short term, while at the same time starting to work on the big picture.

Once we find a suitable location, assuming there is at least a barn, there are certain improvements we will need to make:

  1. Restroom(s)
  2. Coat Closet
  3. Wet Bar
  4. Storage Area for chairs, tables, linens
  5. Prep Kitchen

I am in the process of collecting information about rates for events. I have a very good friend in the  hospitality industry who has offered to help me get started. In the beginning, we plan to rent most of what we would need to host an event, and purchase things a little at a time which will enable us to provide everything necessary. Due to the unique challenges of decorating the space, there are a few things we’ll need to purchase. Curtains and lighting are on the top of that list.

The Hunt Continues

When I’m feeling like this dream is miles and miles away from reality, I give myself a little virtual pep-talk, with a few quick searches on my favorite land brokerage websites. At CentralVaLand.com I always find at least 5 properties that look great on paper. And tonight I found this one.

Don’t miss this farm property with an elevated setting and views of the mountains from this cattle farm. Much of the land is in pasture and there are numerous abandoned buildings including an old home, 3 bay run-in shed, outbuildings, trailer, gargage/shop, cottage, all sold “as is”. The pastures are fenced with some cross fencing. The land is very attractive and useable! Only about 10 minutes from Scottsville and 17 miles from Lovingston!

And at less than $500,000 it’s closer to what we might be able to afford than I thought we would be able to find. Most of the parcels I’ve been finding with 100 acres or more don’t have a live-able home, so my plan is to build a tiny log cabin for a few thousand dollars where we will live while we grow the business and slowly build the dream house. All we need is a new job for Tripp that will allow us to relocate…

The Formation of a Dream

I believe if you want a dream to come true, you have to believe in it, completely. So for years I have been cultivating this dream. Growing it, and nurturing so carefully that it has become like a parallel reality to the life I’m living now. After 10 years, I don’t talk about “the dream house” anymore; I talk about “our next home.” Our future life on a hundred acre farm is not something I am hoping for; it is something I am planning for.

And so, to get this blog started, I thought I would spend a few entries sharing my ideas, and inspiration for our farm. I have considered at length nearly every aspect of our future life in the country. The land, the home, the barn, and most importantly, the business that will make it all a reality.

The Land I grew up in Virginia, and have always dreamed of raising my family on a farm in rural Virginia. It has to be at least 100 acres to give us plenty of space for a truly sustainable farmstead, so I have to be flexible with the exact location. I want mountain views, and a good-size creek on the property. With self-generated power, organic garden, vacation cabins and historic barn, the land will beg guests to relax and stay a while.

The Home I used to think it would be a Victorian home, with bay windows and gingerbread trim on the porch. I guess I was attracted to the old-fashioned look of so many quaint small towns I’ve visited and driven through. Then one day I started thinking about what a home would look like if it had been on the land for 100+ years. What building materials would have been used, in rural Virginia in the late 1800’s? How would the home be laid out? And that got me thinking more along the lines of a traditional farmhouse

farmhouse exteriorfarmhouse exterior

the farmhouse, exterior

It is actually quite difficult to find photographs of two-story farmhouses on the web. The exterior drawing that goes with the floorplan (top), shows a lot of the features I want to showcase: stone porch, a clearly differentiated “addition,” and simple landscaping. However, I want a full second story to give the two front bedrooms one large window each instead of two narrow dormers. The drawing on the bottom is from a website for Victorian floorplans and is closer to what I am looking for, though I still had to make a few alterations to get the larger dormers. So we will pull a little from one and a little from the other and end up with the perfect farmhouse.
We’ll do white horizontal siding on the “main” house, and vertical siding on the “addition.” We’ll use a stacked stone porch and chimneys, but we won’t use any railings. Similar to the porch on this house:

thompson house bogart georgia

Thompson House in Bogart, Georgia

The floorplan is based on a four over four, the traditional floorplan for American farmhouses in the late 1800s. It features four main rooms downstairs, and four rooms upstairs. Our version includes what would be an “addition” to the original home (and might still be, if we find a home in good enough condition to renovate). The addition allows us to include an attached garage and to put the master suite on the main level, without taking away from the core elements of the home: Living, Cooking, Dining and Study. The study will be comfortable and inviting, the first room guests see upon entering the home. The formal dining room will be large enough to seat 8-12 people around a large farmhouse style table. The kitchen will be an authentic farmhouse kitchen and will include a built-in bench around a small, round table. The family room will have a large fireplace, a casual sectional, and a wall of glass panels that will open onto the huge screened porch. The master bedroom and bath will be comfortable and relaxing, and only as big as necessary.

farmhouse first floor

farmhouse, first floor

Upstairs, the children’s rooms are spacious and bright. The guest room has an attached bathroom, and what the floorplan showed as a clearstory to the kitchen below, I’ve built out as a home office and homeschool room. Above the garage is a large rec room which would utilize daybeds or Murphy beds to increase the home’s overall guest accommodations.

farmhouse second floor

farmhouse, second floor

Ultimately, I would like to have a full finished basement as well, but I don’t know if that is something we could afford to do right off. I like the idea of having a true cellar for food and wine storage; a game room with a pool table, bar and television for football watching; and an arts & crafts room for Momma.