Purchasing the right property for your dream farm is a difficult decision with plenty of varying factors to consider. For our Facebook question of the week, we asked you, “If you've managed to buy a small farm, what advice would you give to others who want to do the same?” and here is what you told us.
April Peterson Animals and gardens depend on water. Understand where yours will come from and what legal limitations are on its use. Study your state’s water laws before you select your property.
Elisa Hahn Boe Test your water for quality and availability. Some water is bad enough it can't be fixed and a farmstead that hauls in water won't last long. And, if you have no water pressure, or a very low water table in the summer, you will regret your purchase quickly.
Julia Ford Bolin Have the property surveyed so you know where your boundaries are located.
Colleen Hajek My advice is to buy land in a gorgeous state, full of nearby recreational activities and beauty, because you won’t be able to get away often. At least the beauty and recreational activities will be within close driving distance.
Leeann Fitzell Coleman Don’t buy more land than you can manage. Ask lots of questions. Read blogs — bloggers who are farmers are honest and open about their mistakes. Join local ag organizations. I recently bought an 11-acre, foreclosed farm in New Jersey — it took me 18 months to find it.
Diane Davis Sample I haven't bought the farm, yet (so to speak), but I would say, “be realistic, and take your time.”
Todd N Dina Johnson Make a list of your wants and don’t-wants for the property you’re looking for. That way, you and your family are all agreeing on what it is that will work best for all of you.
Julie Patrick Clark After nearly 25 years of sacrifice, we bought a three-acre property to grow our own food. The operative word is sacrifice. Too many people don't like that word today. I suggest then that they think of it as an investment in their future to forego things they don't need now to fulfill their dream down the road. I hate being told that we are "lucky" when it was sacrifice and hard work that got us to our little three acres...not luck! I'd tell them be prepared to work. Do it right the first time because it is time consuming and costs more to do things over.
Patrick Young Things are different in the country. There are few services and not many jobs available. Job skills in the country are different; you may need to take a job that you consider to be menial. Can you buy a property, develop the lifestyle you want and live on one-half to one-third of your current wages? Plan to have enough money to live for a year without an income, while you get things going.
Anne Dixon Look for land after a good rain to see how much water stands. Good soil and growing seasons are important. We live on a farm in an area that can get two garden plantings a year — one summer, one fall. Our animals thrive in the milder climate. Colder places use lots of energy to keep both homes and animals warm.
Jennifer Robinson Be careful about buying property with easements — particularly if there are a lot of things, such as pipelines, cables, etc., buried underground. These buried lines can greatly inhibit your ability to dig and plant, and to put up structures.
Patrick Young Be cautious of owner financing. Have a title search done in order to find out the owner’s ability to transfer ownership. Are there liens on the property? Do they have water rights? Are there mineral rights? Are there tax liens, property tax, IRS liens, any other liens? (I have bought properties like this, using owner financing, but I always hired an attorney and an appraiser.) What is the market value? Are the terms similar to what I could get from a lender?
Saddleback Mountain Farm I am on year 10 of homesteading, farming — living authentically. Here are my thoughts: Buy land that is at least partially cleared. Know how to work with your hands. Be able and willing to buy the highest quality tools. Build the best fences money can buy. Do not bring on animals until you are ready, and being ready means housing, fencing, water, power and patience. Remember that animals grow up and get old, get out, destroy things, make noise, stink, run away and can’t be reasoned with. Start with a small garden; things do not grow if the seeds are not planted. Deer can jump high, and rabbits and groundhogs can get low. Place your garden where you can see it; if you can’t see your garden, you will slight it countless times. All hoes are not created equal; buy Eliot Coleman’s hoes. Enough. I could write about this all afternoon. Remember this, friends: Small farms matter big.
Annette Woodmark I live on 3 acres just outside of a city with lots of events and within a few hours drive of the mountains, hot springs, and ocean so my situation is perfect. But owning a farm, especially if you have animals, is like owning a child and if you have animals that need milking then you have to milk twice each and every day or else your animal will get mastitis. You can never leave your farm for a day unless you have someone to house sit and take care of the animals. Make friends with a neighbor or through your local feed store where lots of farm kids post their willingness to care for your animals for a fee and these kids know what they are doing because they are farm kids, too.
Bugs Burris Make sure that you design a home with your needs in mind, and not wants. A new home today should be designed to be just as energy efficient as possible, and extra funds that would be used on a larger, fancier home, should be allotted to off-grid energy. I think it is silly for one to consider a home without a barn or garage. The building can be used for many things, and is certainly a lot cheaper than the construction costs associated with living area in a house. Also, have your whole site map on paper to determine a place for all your needs, including that house, outbuildings, gardens (both vegetable and ornamental), and pasture.
Kelly Stevens Decide on what you actually want to do on your farm or land. Then look at areas that are suitable for your needs or can be worked round. Look at your out buildings and the type of soil and whether it’s suitable. Do you need to spend a lot to get it right? If you’re not happy with the house, the rest is pointless. Chat with the locals to see what they grow or do with their land. Make sure you know your boundaries of the property — walk the perimeter. Do your homework and you should be ok.
Mark Mauney Inspired by MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we did this on a shoestring back in 1982. We've made more bad decisions than good ones over the years but I wouldn't trade all of the hard times and dead ends for anything. My advice is 1: Seek a good balance of fundamentals (soil quality, timber, pasture, water, climate, road access), low property taxes, minimal regulations and decent local employment opportunities. Central Arkansas fit the bill perfectly when we moved here in '83. 2: Plan the long-range projects carefully (building and infrastructure placement). 3: Don's skimp on quality - even if it takes longer to achieve.( i.e. I have been building a small barn/workshop at $50/week for over a year and it is only a quarter complete - but far surpasses any previous attempts at quick and shoddy outbuildings I thought I should settle for). 4: Start a Facebook group for the area you're interested in to encourage dialogue among your future regional neighbors. "Arkansas Agrarian" on Facebook has been an inspiration — an encouragement — and a source of new similarly-minded friends.
Gary Beaulieu Every day complete a major task. Set small goals — it involves hard work and patience. If you’ve never had a garden before, don’t plant an acre. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Mike Ellis I am not there, not even close, but making the best of the three acres we have (just added goats). I'd say make a list of all the wants and needs, and then see where you can do those things legally with minimal hassle, that should help narrow the search. I also agree about having the things you want to do and need nearby as you will not have the luxury of time to travel too far with having to maintain the homestead.
Rhvonda Lee Launsby We have two acres that we’re trying to clear enough so we can do a big garden. We have rabbits and are going to get a small pool to grow our own fish. Having our house and land paid for helps a lot. We want a well. And solar power may be a while, but something to work toward having. The best advice is to start when you’re young enough to do the work.
Barbara Clark Be careful especially if you are moving to a new area. Do lots of research and see how welcoming the locals are, some small towns do not welcome, nor do they support new people moving in.
Jeri Karason Know how to and be fit enough to work without modern equipment. Learn the skills and collect the tools to repair old machinery by yourself.
Chuck Olliney Never give up. It took us many years, but we found it. Plan to do a lot of the work yourself. We have had our property for five years, now. We get a little discouraged, but it’s the best life there is. Our kids and grandkids love it.
Marty Micronized Yes water and road. If your road isn't good, fall, winter and early spring will be a nightmare. I have to rock my road every two years and fill a spare 2,500 gallon tank for emergency water.
Gotta Love the Country - Our Farm Look for something that satisfies the needs of the entire family. We knew we wanted to raise a few animals and have a garden and also knew we wanted to be away from the road, to be somewhat secluded. When we began looking, this place was perfect for us. We found a house off the road, on about four acres that already had some fruit trees, grapevines and a perfect garden spot. When we drove up the drive, we knew right away we wanted it. Not as big as we wanted, but to be truthful, I don't think we could handle much more. We have room for the kids to roam somewhat freely and play outside - away from the road, we have privacy, we have enough room to have a few goats and chickens, and we have a fabulous garden! I think you just have to know what you want, what you can handle and what your needs are.
Papa Bealles If you are moving to the country, remember, it will not have the services that you depended on in town. We moved into the country 40 years ago. The township supervisors were farmers. There was never any grief. Then a bunch of folks moved in that were from the city, and wanted city services. They just about ruined the area before cooler heads turned things around. We have laws to protect everyone in the township, not just those that think that everywhere should be like downtown. Subscribe to MOTHER EARTH NEWS and any rural self-help book you can find. Look for garden and house plans before attempting it by your self. Search the internet for the gems of knowledge that will benefit you and yours. Relish in the joy of raising your own veggies. Try a few chickens for eggs and meat. Use a goat to clear brush for a garden. Did you know that a lot of 4-H kids will lend out a goat for field clearing? Remember that the Earth is fragile. Buy second-hand goods, recycle, save rain water, compost, mulch and share the wealth of your garden with your neighbors and those less fortunate.
Kimberly Gilley Chavez Be aware of the hydrology, topography and soil conditions on land you’re considering. Find out what the climate is like as well as the length of the growing season for that area. Know how you will facilitate providing water to livestock. Visit the land several times and if possible do so at least once after a heavy period of rain to note any areas prone to flooding. Drive the boundaries to know who your neighbors are and what they do with their land. Know the flora and fauna of the area; survey for noxious plants or predators. A new farm can be an exciting experience but it can also be your worst nightmare if you don't plan ahead.
Gloria McKay Good phone service is a must. Look for good road care, closeness to supplies and be ready to be at the whim of Mother Nature. Remember: Good fences make for good neighbors. Goats climb; cows will go thru a fence and go thru it again when being put back in. Have a good dog or two to patrol the property and to help herd those determined to-be-elsewhere critters. Don't be afraid to ask for help or to accept it when offered.
Paul Huckett Excellent supply of potable water, fertile soil, the ability to work physically hard for 10-12 hours a day and close proximity to the services of a reasonably sized town. If you are too remote, your kids will spend hours on buses and you'll drive hours to shop or visit the doctor etc.
Lorrie Simmons Do research into the water and soil quality in the area. Also check with township on taxes. They can really increase after buying from the original homesteader.
Thank you to all those who submitted your great ideas. Answer more questions of the week at MOTHER EARTH NEW’s Facebook page.
To learn more about finding the perfect property for your dream farm, read Finding Your Place.