While acres and acres of farmable land lie fallow..

Many of you know we moved to Pennsylvania for Tripp’s job. We chose Bucks County because it is in the middle of the two offices at which he will be working over the course of the next few years. As anyone who as been here will tell you, Bucks County, PA is beautiful. Rolling hills, 150+ year old farmhouses on literally every road, and I don’t know how many miles of the Delaware river. However, due to its proximity to Philadelphia (45 mins) and New York City (less than 2 hours) it is expensive! We were lucky to find a home to rent because even just a few acres in the area will cost you over a million dollars. That’s right. Even though the place is plum covered up with historic and not-so-historic farms, estates, and homes on any number of acres, if you don’t want to live in a cookie-cutter subdivision, you’re gonna have to spend some serious dough. (Don’t misunderstand me, typical suburban homes are expensive too).

New Hope, PA
photo credit: tripadvisor.com

I say all this in an attempt to illustrate how completely and totally out of place I feel here (as a wanna-be farmer). I love the quaint villages sprinkled across the countryside, and the Pennsylvania Dutch barns are certainly lovely, but to see all this land just sitting here… “Lawns should be turned into food production places…all that land going to waste…around rural residential estates just to provide a place for people to drive lawn more tractors around.” (Joel Salatin, You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise) I was very used to seeing lawn maintenance trucks and “lawn mower men” in my old neighborhood in Athens, but I saw one today, on a quiet country road, miles and miles from town. Why did they move out the country if they’re not even going to mow their own lawn??! Then it dawned on me – Bucks County may be rural, but it is by no means country. I keep thinking I’m going to see chicken houses in every backyard, but I’ve only found a handful so far. The vast majority of folks in this area are not living here to live off the land; they’re living on the land.

One of the amazing things about the book I reviewed yesterday, The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love, was how Essex Farm got started. Mark and Kristin had a dream to create a full-diet CSA and for 9 months they searched for farmable land. A friend of a friend heard they were looking and offered them 500 acres in Essex, NY. The owner had been holding on to the land for years, hoping to use it recreationally, but his busy job as an attorney in NYC made it impossible for him to spend any time there. So, he called them up and said they could farm it, however they wanted to, for free. Yes, for free. A few years later they were able to purchase 80 acres and now reside there permanently. What a great deal, right? Joel Salatin mentions a similar scenario in his book as well; a former intern of his at Polyface did exactly the same thing. There are programs out there to link wanna-be farmers with landowners or farmers that want to retire but have no children or whose children do not want to become farmers. Check with your county extension agent, too, s/he is sure to have an idea of who is looking to sell/lease/lend their land.

While I am pretty sure Bucks County, PA is out of reach for my family’s long-term farm dreams, I am still hopeful that we will find what we’re looking for someday – we just have to know where to look, and let people know we’re looking!

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.