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Love at first sight

Barn in the woods(If you haven't already, you'll want to start with part 1 and part 2 from the very beginning of Growing Into a Farm.)

After reading my endless letters about this farm dream (and about rototillers, seeds, and chickens), my college friend, Melissa, decided to put me out of my misery.  Melissa used her computer-programming skills to join in its infancy, so by 2003, her stock options provided a healthy sum she hadn't expected.  "How would you feel if I bought into your farm idea?" Melissa asked.  "We could use my money to purchase it sooner, I'd own half of it, so the farm could be bigger, and you could pay me back over the course of ten years with a no-interest loan."

To anyone else, this offer would sound almost too good to be true, but I was fiercely independent back in 2003.  I'd held off on dating anyone since I figured a man would only stand in the way of allowing me to achieve my dream of roughing it on a farm, and I didn't want to be beholden to anyone.  However, Melissa was (and still is) one of the few chinks in my armor.  The two years we'd shared at college (before she graduated and went off to help Amazon build an empire) were some of the happiest of my life, and anything that made our post-college diaspora likely to reverse, bringing Melissa closer to my Appalachian stomping grounds, was fine by me.

Box turtleSo I accepted Melissa's kindness and started hunting for property.  I knew I wanted water, at least an acre of arable land, and lots of space between me and my neighbors— everything else was optional.  By the time I stumbled across an ad for 58 acres on Sinking Creek, I felt like I'd been on a dozen blind dates with grossly incompatible partners.  There was the mountainside acreage completely covered in kudzu, the recent hillside clearcut with tree carcasses littering the ground and soil already eroding away, and the $300-per-acre tract that was poisoned by runoff from a coal strip-mine.

When I showed up at Sinking Creek, I actually walked through the wrong property first.  There was no for-sale sign in evidence—my land-to-be had been on the market for so long that everyone had forgotten about it—and the realtor's instructions were vague.  But I finally backtracked and ended up in the right spot, where wood frogs, chorus frogs, and spring peepers had combined their calls into a symphony reverberating across the damp floodplain.  I had to park along the county road and trek up a right-of-way for about half a mile, fording a creek and sinking up to my knees in the swamp, but I finally came around a bend and saw a huge tobacco barn towering through the trees.

I was barely able to push my way through the blackberries and honeysuckle to reach the old house, half of which had collapsed with age, but once I got there, the peace was overwhelming.  I couldn't see or hear any signs of human life, although bird songs had joined the frog chorus and flowers were scattered across the hillsides.  Finally, the far-off rumble of a coal train reminded me that humanity existed...but at a distance.  It was love at first sight.

Old newspaperThe world's worst bargainer, I tried to talk the realtor down from the already low-ball figure of $600 per acre.  Despite my rose-tinted glasses, I was well aware that most of the land was good for nothing by human standards, and that the long, wet driveway was going to be a thorn in my side for years to come.  For a few months, I pretended to myself (and to the realtor) that I was going to go elsewhere, but I didn't look at any other land—the Sinking Creek farm had already won over my imagination.

By November, I was planting ginseng seeds on a north-facing slope, and soon thereafter, Melissa sent me a cashier's check so I could close on the property.  I was $17,000 in debt and 58 acres rich.

I thought I'd reached the happily-ever-after stage of my love story, but as anyone who's been in an actual relationship knows, tying the knot is only the beginning.  Luckily for me, my dating experience had all been in secondhand, book form, so I wasn't jaded enough to foresee the future.  I figured the land and I would work together seamlessly, I'd be relishing homegrown apples in no time, and jobs were a thing of the past.  Ah, the innocence of youth.

Stay tuned for the next installment tomorrow, or read the entire book here.

This post is part of our Growing into a Farm lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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Tell Melissa thank you from all of us.
Comment by c. Wed Oct 30 17:29:48 2013

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime