The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

What to look for in a homestead

Congratulations on your success and longevity! My questions: Obviously you love your land and home, but knowing what you know now, if you couldn't have the same property, what would you look for instead? Would you spend the same amount of money, get a smaller or larger property, move to another area, etc? Also, in hindsight what are the longer term things you wish you had started early on and what were the things that could have waited? Do you wish now that you had put up garden fences?
--- Lisa

Ford across the creekThis was such a thought-provoking question that Mark and I discussed it over the dinner table that night.  It turns out that there is almost nothing we would change about our property if we had to do it over again, but I have to admit that I didn't realize all of the positive points of this property when I bought it.  As we see it now, here are the major advantages of our land:

  • Cheap land in an area with cheap land prices.  Most people like to think of their home as an investment, but I would have to be in extremely dire straights to sell our beloved farm.  Instead of looking for a property that will increase in value, I recommend that folks consider looking for land that they can buy without going into debt and which will maintain a low value so that their property taxes will stay within reasonable bounds.  We pay just over $25 per month on property taxes but know people who pay twenty times that much.  Do you really want to keep working a mainstream job just to pay property taxes?
  • Rural, non-swanky neighborhood.  Although Appalachia has lots of problems, it Hayfieldalso has a slew of benefits.  Around here, building codes are really only an issue in cities, and even the mayor of a nearby town told Mark that he wouldn't apply for a building permit for a project like our East Wing.  When I think of all of the hoops we could have had to jump through to run our seat-of-the-pants operation, I feel very lucky that the long arm of the law doesn't reach our farm.  Our half mile driveway, passable only by golf carts and four-wheel-drive vehicles, helps us maintain that independence.
  • Plentiful water.  I chose our farm in part because of the huge creek that runs along a boundary and the smaller creek that flows into it, but I didn't realize until we moved here how useful that water really is.  Our climate is naturally wet, and many people farm without irrigating, but it's nice to have unlimited water at our beck and call.  We also pump that water up into a storage tank to gravity feed to the house for unlimited wash water, which means we can just drink out of our well and not worry about running low on potable water.
  • Farm grown up in weedsStarting with nothing.  Although at first it seems like it would have been easier to step into an operational farm, in retrospect I'm very glad we started with nothing except a briar patch.  If our farm  had come with a pasture, I suspect we would have immediately bought sheep and a milk cow, and then we would have had our hands full with serious livestock and bushhogging weeds while we were still wet behind the ears.  Having to start new garden areas from scratch with hand tools also helped me rein in my boundless garden dreams to more manageable proportions.  Each year, we add a bit more infrastructure as we can afford the time and money, and the slow growth gives us time to really learn all of the skills we need (and to enjoy the journey.)
  • A lot of the other factors mentioned in Everett's post about why he chose his property.  I won't repeat them all here, but they're very good points that folks looking for land should consider.

All of that said, there are some things I wish we had that didn't come with our property.  Our homestead is on the north side of a hill, so the sun doesn't peep up over the trees on winter mornings until around 11 am --- a southern exposure would have been nice.  Two-thirds of our growing area is nearly pure clay and half of that is waterlogged, so it will take a lot of love before it becomes fully productive (but I have to admit that building soil is a delight for me, so I almost consider this to be in the "start with nothing" positive category.)  I would love to own the entire watershed, but the truth is that our 58 acres nearly always feels big enough to let me spread my wings without worrying about the neighbors, and I wouldn't want to be paying a big mortgage or working a city job just to own another hundred acres.
Deer deterrent in the snow
Since I've already written far too  much, I'll point you to a previous lunchtime series to answer your question about what longer term things I wished we'd started earlier.  The only thing I would add to that list is getting up my courage to quit my outside job sooner.  Mark and I are quite adept at living simply, and I suspect that if my job hadn't been draining our vitality, we could have become financially independent sooner, giving us yet more time to sink into our farm.

And, to answer your last question --- I wish we'd gotten our deer deterrents working sooner rather than fencing at all!  For all of the time and money we put into building fences around the garden that the deer made their way through anyway, we could have made dozens of deer deterrents and had a garden as beautiful as the one I've enjoyed this fall.

Our homemade chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Life is a journey and we have had so much fun building our homestead 25 years ago, cheers from New Zealand, Marie
Comment by Marie Sun Dec 19 14:13:13 2010
Certainly one of the most fun things I've ever done. :-)
Comment by anna Mon Dec 20 10:24:14 2010

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