First Step to Building a Working Farm: Choosing Good Farmland

Reader Contribution by Ann B. and Poison Ivy Soap Company
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The first step toward building a working farm: choosing the land. More than 20 years ago, my parents decided to turn their hobby into a small business. In an effort to grow the business, they made the decision to acquire land for growing small crops of helpful plants that may become future ingredients.

The idea for me now is to continue the foundation passed on by my mom before her death, a foundation of growing small crops without chemicals. Eventually, my own family and I decided to acquire a 2.5-acre foreclosed property with many features that likely deterred other buyers but made it the right fit for our purposes.

Assessing the Terrain of Farmland

First, the land is a long rectangle that is quite hilly with a shallow creek running across a portion of it. The land also is on the side of a larger hill. This means the soil is well drained, no matter how high or low it is.

Situated in Central Arkansas, it’s also quite rocky. On the plus side, that means any digging uncovers rocks to use as garden borders. On the negative sides, digging any hole can become a labor-intensive task. While it may be hard to visualize, the hill sloping down toward the creek is ideal for building a small factory as it would be protected from high winds or harsh weather on three sides by the hilly nature of the area.

Reviving Gardens

Second, we learned that, more than a decade ago, the owners had lush beautiful gardens, the remnants of which were visible once pointed out. This was a foreclosure that sat vacant for at least a year and had become very overgrown. Hiding in the weeds were several paved walkways and paths that snake around, some leading to the house and some winding around what would have been a garden. There is even a large, round base that once held a large water fountain.

Fat leaves I came to know as irises spot the entire front portion of the property. Knowing that the gardens were once so beautiful as to leave an impact on the utility man whom we met later meant that this land is capable of growing new plant life, which was the motivating purpose behind choosing this particular land.

Using Reclaimed Materials from the Old Farm

Third, there is building material available from projects that have fallen into disrepair. New gardens and other projects will require supplies for borders or benches or whatever happens to be needed. Those previous owners from so long ago had installed a brick walkway approximately 6  to 8 feet wide that once stretched the length of the house and wound around the side. The bricks can be dug up and used for garden borders or perhaps a small garden shed wall.

There was also a wide deck that wrapped around the entire house and included a wider portion at the end near the parking area. The deck wood is rather rotten, and many boards were broken. However, not all of the wood is rotten; the portions that are usable can sustain heavy weight loads, great for repurposing into other projects.

Fourth, one of the more recent owners tried to operate a small machine repair business in the nearly 500-square-foot shed behind the house. That meant that the electric lines were once well equipped in order to power necessary power tools.

The floor of the main portion of the shed can hold heavy weight — the 8-by-11 add-on needed some reinforcement. The roof leaked in a few places but were easily patched up (after all, it’s a storage shed and not a place where people would live, so it didn’t need to be perfect).

Assessing Water Infrastructure for a Farm

Fifth, and something that may seem rather silly, this property has a water well and two septic tanks. A year after moving in, I still don’t know where the well water comes out, since the house is on county water, but the concept of using ground water for gardening is very appealing.

Also, I accidentally located a previous realtor for the property who told me that, in order to obtain a purchase loan, a previous owner installed a second septic tank to be certified without having the first tank removed. That first one can either be dug up and sold or somehow used for some other project.

Restoring Existing Farm Structures

Sixth, and lastly, this property has a structure (or house) already on it. While the purpose of the purchase was to grow future product ingredients, the longer term goals of building a small factory and house could be achieved more easily if I was no longer burdened with a monthly home rental payment. This house was a double-wide mobile home that was remodeled (according to the neighbors) and isn’t readily recognizable by everyone as having been a trailer at any time.

However, the instant challenge was making it habitable when it had been sitting empty for at least a year but was in a state of disrepair long before that. It needed heavy painting, new floors in the bathrooms, and much disinfecting to even think about moving into this place.

After the factory and house are complete, this “project house” can be sold and moved away easier than a traditional house of equivalent disrepair upon purchasing.

After the purchase was made, the projects began! I have tried to document my adventures as I worked on the property, either to make it a better home, to grow a future ingredient, or to build something that would get my family closer to a more natural way of living. Join me as I learn what techniques work and maybe alter a few older techniques along the way.

Ann B.operatesPoison Ivy Soap Company, the business founded 24 years ago by her parents as a hobby. The company focuses on creating holistic products to help ease life’s discomforts. Ann is building an Arkansas homestead from the ground up. Follow the company on Facebook and Instagram, and followAnn on Facebook.

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