My husband and I have owned three farms in our 20-year farming career, so we’ve spent a lot of time looking at farmland, farmhouses and farm real estate ads. Our search for the perfect farm has taken us down winding gravel roads and across untended fields, into houses occupied by squirrels and rats, and into rural counties in four states. We found our perfect farm in 1997, and have been happy here ever since. This is what we learned on our long journey home.
Because we are market gardeners, we knew we needed open, relatively flat land with good soil. Because we had young children, we knew we wanted good schools. And we knew how much we were willing to pay for a mortgage, plus how much we could afford to spend outfitting a new place as a veggie and flower farm.
For more than a year, we looked at every rural property that appeared in the farm real estate ads, but we weren’t finding the right place. In frustration, I decided to pick out some farms that I thought would be right for us — even though they weren’t for sale. I drove around a part of the county where friends have market gardens, and where the soil map showed good vegetable-growing potential. I picked out the pretty white farmhouses with red barns, ponds and south-facing fields. I fell in love with one farm in particular; we passed it every Sunday on our way to church, and my children started calling it “the farm of Mommy’s dreams.”
With a list of half a dozen addresses in hand, I went to the county assessor’s office and looked up the owners of the farms I admired. I wrote each of them a letter, asking them to keep us in mind if they were thinking of selling, or if they knew of another farm for sale nearby.
That was in late November. The day after Christmas, one of those owners called me to say they were going to sell their farm. As we talked, I realized we were talking about my No. 1 choice, the farm of my dreams. My heart racing, I asked the price … and was astounded to hear that it was just what we were hoping to pay. We arranged to visit a few days later, but before we set foot on the property, we sensed that we were destined to live there. It was a powerful feeling, and it carried us through some trying times as we remodeled, rewired, replumbed and spent more money than we expected, getting this farm ready for our family and our businesses.
The people who sold us the farm bought another farm nearby from a woman who had just purchased the farm of her dreams. A friend of ours bought our property. Four farms changed hands in a month, and not one of them was ever advertised for sale.
The experience taught us that a beautiful farm is a rare and valuable thing, and finding the right one takes leg work, networking and the willingness to move fast when the opportunity arises.
Lynn Byczynski is the editor and publisher of Growing for Market, a monthly newsletter for market gardeners, and the author of The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers, just published in a revised, expanded, full-color edition available from Growing for Market.