The One

If you haven’t been following since the beginning, or maybe you have been, but you’ve lost count of all “the ones,” you may not have realized  but this one isn’t the first one we thought was “the one.” My dad was really starting to enjoy it I think. In the loving and supportive way only your dad can, he’d say things like, “oh THIS is ‘the one,’ eh?” You know, like you used to say to your friend from college that brought a new girl home every couple of weeks or so, all in love and everything, saying he was “going to marry this one,” until, you know, they got to know each other. It was kinda like that.

But really. How could I help it? I’ve been writing things like, “Future home of Owl Moon Farm?” for…oh…2 years? We really thought we found “the one” in February of this year. So sure was I that I told EVERYONE about it, before we even made an offer. We’re talking months of build-up before even getting the process started. Our initial offer was not accepted, and neither was our 2nd or our 3rd. In fact, we negotiated for MONTHS before finally deciding to walk away. {Honestly, though, the sellers were kinda insane, and the real estate agent involved (bless his heart) only made matters worse.} It was a nasty breakup. There were tears.

Then there were other ones. Pictures shared on Facebook, addresses typed into Google Maps to see how far we’d all be driving for Christmas…

Maybe we were dating? Maybe we were test driving? You can’t just take home the first one you try on, right??? So ya, no shame here. I’d rather have a few close ones on the way to “the one” – it makes the celebration at the finish line that much sweeter.

The biggest cliché you’ve ever heard (if you’ve ever been farm-hunting) is “The right one will come along.” (Sound familiar?) Anyway, it’s totally true. I mean it. Totally. True. Patience and trust and determination. Every wrong one is one less wrong one you have to see before finding the right one. I would go home after a weekend of looking, without finding, with the saddest, most pathetic, dejected feeling of failure you can imagine. I would sometimes even consider (only for a second or two) giving up on the whole dream. It was that bad. But then, thankfully, I’d snap out of it. I’d remember that I was just going through the motions, seeing everything that might be the one, on my way to finding “the one.” And I did. And in one month I’ll be signing off from my farm. My home. THE ONE I’ve been waiting for.

So, you think you want to buy a farm?

If you thought the farm search itself was the hardest part, well…I’m sorry to say you’re wrong, dead wrong. With the inspection behind us, our only remaining concern is the loan. And I gotta tell ya, finding a loan for a farm is next to impossible – unless you have oodles and oodles of cash lying around, that is.

Even with the proceeds of a fairly lucrative real estate flip here in the historic Philly-bedroom-community of Doylestown, PA, we didn’t have enough cash for the 20% down required from most lenders for ANY property over TEN acres. Ten acres? Yep, if it’s more than 10 acres, it’s a “rural property” and extremely difficult to finance. As far as we can tell, the good ‘ole 80-10-10 that your parents probably got on your childhood home simply doesn’t exist anymore.

If it’s just land, that’ll be 35% DOWN (as in CASH, and don’t forget the 12-15% in closing costs on top of that).

Oh, it has a house? Well, then the house must be at least 51% of the total value of the property. So, for example, if you’re looking at 100 acres listed for $700,000 (which by the way, is a helluva deal if it’s anywhere your potential customers live), the house has to appraise for at least $350,000. Say it’s a quaint little old farmhouse in need of some TLC but totally “livable” – sorry, folks. NO LOAN. What if it’s in really great shape but all your neighbors’ homes are WAY better or, worse, mobile homes? Sorry, NO LOAN. Everything’s kosher but the home’s water supply is from a spring instead of a well (as is quite common in RURAL America, you know, where the farms are)? NO LOAN.

Believe me when I tell you that we called EVERY SINGLE BANK in Central Virginia. Of course we started with the “big banks,” but since they sell everything to Wall Street they were probably saying things like, “well, bless their future-farmer hearts” to each other after hanging up with us. Thanks a lot Fannie and Freddie and your total mis-handling of real estate in America. Anyway, we tried regional banks – also too big. We called all the mom and pop banks we could find, and finally found one that would help us out. And before you say, “What about Farm Credit??? Isn’t that kinda their SCHTICK???” We called them too. 20% down. No exceptions. Our lender, CornerStone Bank, out of Lexington, agreed to do 10% down with a slightly higher mortgage rate than more “traditional” loans.

I’m telling you, folks, if I ever get into politics, it will be over this very specific issue. Lending and mortgage rates and BS WALL STREET requirements passed down from Fannie and Freddie because of their own bad behavior are making land ownership difficult to impossible. Productive farm land is being lost acre after acre to big-pocketed developers and “gentleman farmers” because it’s TOO HARD TO BUY unless your uncle’s last name starts with M and ends with ONEBYAGS. And THAT is a tragedy. It’s pathetic. And it gets me fired up.

Time for an update!?

When last we spoke, we were in the midst of making an offer on a smallish acreage in Charlottesville. There were a lot of great things about that place, and a lot of not-so-great things. Long story short, it was a foreclosure that has a….curious….history. There had been a fire in the basement, which was ruled an accident, but was rumored to have been set intentionally. We thought we could handle the repairs for under $20,000 but we had a home restoration specialist out for a walkthrough and when he estimated the cost of restoration in the $50-$100,000 range, we decided it wasn’t such a great deal after all and decided to walk away. Truth be told, I wasn’t “feeling it” at that place, so I wasn’t disappointed at all. More like relieved.

Timing is everything, folks, because that night I found a place on Zillow that had been listed earlier that same day, a place just 15 minutes from where I would be driving the very next day. A place with everything on our wish list and inside our price range. I emailed immediately and set up a visit for the following morning. I was in like before I got there, and I was in full on crush-mode within 5 minutes of being there. House, land, views, location, outbuildings…everything. I was ready to make an offer that afternoon, but I waited for Tripp to see it 2 days later, and we made an offer the following day. After a very brief negotiation our offer was accepted. We went back a forth for a week or two over some details of the contract, and then we all signed. And just like that, we were under contract.

We went out last week with the home inspector and everything is in great shape. The only “big” issue is the plumbing that was installed (according to code) in the 1980s has a very bad reputation, and must be replaced. It is habitable, safe and even insurable as is, but “it’s not a question of if the plumbing will fail, more like when.” So, a plumber was sent out to make an estimate, and we’re hoping to hear from him tomorrow. I joked with a friend that we’re just waiting to hear how many kidneys we’ll have to sell to pay for it, but really, we’ll figure out a way to make it work.

I can’t wait to share the very happy news of farm ownership with you very soon. But until then, here’s a little taste:

The one.

The one.

Ladies Homestead Gathering

I have been leading the Doylestown, PA chapter of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering for a year and we have outgrown my house! A few weeks ago we did a canning demonstration at the Doylestown Farmer’s Market which was a great success. We used an induction burner to boil water for canning and prepared a fresh-fruit + simple syrup recipe for the market shoppers, which we sold for a fundraiser. Blueberries & Bay is one of the easiest canning recipes I’ve ever done, and the result is simple and yummy (see recipe below).

We talked to lots of people about our group, but the luckiest moment of the (very hot!) day came when we met Shawn Touhill of Sandy Ridge Farm and Market. He and his wife are the newest full-time farmers in Doylestown, and have generously offered to host our monthly Gatherings in the Community Room of their Farm Market! The market is a great fit for our group, and will give us the space we need to meet comfortably and to grow our Gathering. You can read more about the Touhill Family and Sandy Ridge Market here.

In addition to hosting our monthly Gatherings and any workshops we decide to do this year, Shawn is a great resource for farm-to-consumer marketing and I hope to learn much more about his business as a potential model for our own farm.

In other news: We are back on realtor.com every day searching for potential properties. We are feeling a new sense of urgency that has us buckling down on the small house renovations, and hoping to sell within the next year. We’ve looked all over, and currently our search is centered around Madison County, Virginia because it’s halfway between Gramma’s house and Grampa’s house, and because it borders the Shennandoah National Park and other preserved land. I’ve been doing some asking around and it seems like Madison County (or neighboring Rappahanock County) would be a good fit for our farmy family, so we’ll see!

Blueberries & Bay

Blueberries & Bay Canning RecipeIngredients
Approximately 3 quarts fresh or frozen blueberries
5 cups water
2 cups sugar
Bay leaves

Equipment
Waterbath canner
Jar lifter
Lid lifter
Ladle
Canning jars, sterilized
Unused canning lids
Canning jar rings

Directions

  1. Place canning lids in heat-safe pot or bowl and cover with boiling water to sanitize and soften the gum. Fill the waterbath canner and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. Heat water to boiling and add sugar, stirring to dissolve. Boil for 5 minutes and set aside. Place blueberries and one bay leaf into jars, leaving ½” headspace. Ladle hot syrup into jars, maintaining ½” headspace. Remove any air bubbles from jars before wiping the rims with a warm, damp dishcloth.
  3. Add lids and attach rings – tighten just until you feel resistance.
  4. Place jars into canner, insuring they are covered by at least 1” of water. Bring to a rolling boil and begin timing: 15 Minutes for ½ Pints and Pints; 20 Minutes for Quarts
  5. Carefully remove jars from canner and allow to cool on a towel-lined countertop.

Now, with your canned blueberries, you can make muffins, syrup, or just eat them on top of cereal, ice cream or yogurt. Enjoy!

Begging your forgiveness…

I don’t have any excuses other than LIFE. Life has prevented me from sharing it with you. It started with chickens. We have 15. We started with 16, arriving June 11, but one little girl was lost at about 3 weeks. I’m not sure what happened. One day everyone was fine, the next she was sitting very still, and 2 days later she was gone. The surviving 15 grew big and strong and now live outside in a moveable chicken house {“eggmobile”}. We asked for 4 roosters {1 each: Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Dominique, Rhode Island Red} but it looks like we didn’t get a Rhody. The Barred Rock seems to be the bossman, but after attacking our daughter this weekend, he’s been put on Death Row. I’m still trying to decide if it would be better to eat him or keep him – he’s the largest and the only one that crows. So for now I don’t let the kids in the pen without me, and I’m trying to “train” him {read: putting my boot in his face whenever he comes near me; seems to be working so far}.

The garden was a huge success {for me}! I planted late, due to our move in April, but we were able to get LOTS of cucumbers and zucchinis, crook neck squash, Bennings Green Tint Squash {a scalloped variety}, and Sungold Cherry Tomatoes. I didn’t plant enough paste tomatoes to make anything substantial, and our larger tomatoes {Azoychka and Black Tula} just didn’t produce much. I was proud of the corn {Country Gentleman} until a few stalks broke {?} and I think the poor drainage and maybe poor sunlight of that corner of the garden led to under-development of the kernels. In August I planted kale, chard, kohlrabi, broccoli and cabbage all of which I hope to overwinter as long as possible. I also planted a few lettuces but I plan to harvest them before any significant cold weather. This weekend or next I will be building one or two cold frames to see what I can do with seed through the winter. Fingers crossed!

We are always searching for land and have visited a few more places:
Monterey, VA: Beautiful landscape, growing local food community. Nearly completely land-locked but huge mountainy mountains. Locals are currently driving an hour and a half to Wal-Mart for groceries every week because there is NO grocery store. No Co-Op, No library, No coffee shop. It’s not a tourist thoroughfare by any means and the only hotel in town is literally crumbling. Oh, and the tiny school system (200 kids, k-12) is shrinking, which tells me the town itself is dying. Very sad. With 30 other couples like us it could be saved, but I’m not sure how that happens…
Floyd, VA: We each spent time here before and after we met, and have always loved this little town. Our recent visit was lovely though very short. The land prices are great: $4,000/acre for most properties. Just 40 minutes from my Alma Mater, it’s high on my list of Towns I’d Love to Live In, but it seems like a lot of things we want to do are already being done by other farms in the area. They are even working on opening a heritage skills school with a grant from the government. Sheesh!

I’ve been looking a lot at Nelson County, VA, though we haven’t visited yet. Nelson County borders the Shenandoah National Park/Skyline Drive/Appalachian Trail so many of the properties we’ve found have amazing views. I have a couple good friends in Arrington, VA, so I might be able to gain some credibility in the community more quickly than other places…? Plus, there are three breweries and four wineries on the main highway through the county: lots of great things happening in the area, it seems. Only downside: land prices, still high at $6,000/acre.

The gist is: we’re still looking.

But the greatest news is that I have been working on our Mission/Vision and had two amazing brainstorming sessions over the past weekend. Basically, I’ve figured out how to focus my energy and my seemingly endless list of “what kind of things would I like to do on my farm?” into 6 categories: Food, Health, Family, Community, Spirit and Education.

We will make the connection between people and their FOOD, by building COMMUNITY, nourishing whole body HEALTH, strengthening the bonds of FAMILY, challenging the norms in EDUCATION all while honoring the SPIRIT.

No one part of our mission is more important than the other, so we could just as easily say: We will build COMMUNITY by making the connection between people and their FOOD, nourishing whole body HEALTH, etc, etc.

Owl Moon Farms Mission

And, lest you insist this is too much for one family, have no worries. I am starting to believe the only way to accomplish my dream farm goals is to enlist the help of one, or two, or four other families that share similar dreams. Between the lot of us, surely we can build something amazing. Stay tuned…

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