Living on Marginal Land

With five years experience homesteading in the Oregon foothills, the author offers some advice for how to live on marginal land.

| September/October 1974

If you've been following rural land prices over the past few years, you've probably been amazed at how rapidly the value of acreage has increased in many parts of the country. If you're salting away money to buy your own homestead, in fact, the growth of your savings may only just be matching the rising price for the type of land you want. Then, if you do buy, the interest rates you'll pay are exploitative and sometimes prohibitive, particularly if you move onto your place right away and try to make a living off it.

What to do? Well, you could save your money and wait for a possible recession or depression. Or you could forsake the dreams of owning property in your favorite area—which is becoming flooded by retirement homes, with a resulting drastic increase in land values—and move to one of this country's poorer rural sections where prices are still relatively low. Or you could consider yet another possibility: Buy sloping land.

Over five years ago (June 1969), our group—which now numbers eight adults and one infant—purchased 40 acres of hillside in southern Oregon. At the time, livable tracts of this kind were selling at about one-fourth to one-fifth the cost of flat, tillable acreage. Today the local price of land similar to ours has almost doubled, but level farmland has skyrocketed too.

Why live do a slope? [1] We preferred to purchase our place outright rather than hassle with payments, [2] we wanted a lot of land (so it had to be cheap by the acre), [3] we had no desire to do any more than subsistence food growing and [4] we were looking for isolation.

After much experience with hillside living, we'd like to share our feelings and knowledge with others who are interested in buying what's commonly called "marginal" land. A tract so described can be gently sloping to steep and may include small patches of relatively flat ground. The term may also, of course, apply to part of a parcel which is mainly farm acreage. No matter what portion of the land is hilly, it will be cheaper per acre than flat, cleared property in the same area. But price is only one factor to consider before you buy.

Slope Management

Let's think first about the slope of the land and how it will affect your life. Obviously, the less grade the better: You'll spend a lot of your time walking up and down, which can be a drag (particularly in wet, muddy weather). Still, that activity does put you in shape and you'll notice the hills less the longer you live on such a homestead.

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