Archive for August 2nd, 2010

We’re Staying

Sharon August 2nd, 2010

We almost did it. We really did. We went so far as to get mortgage pre-approval, meet with a builder about the costs of repairing the barn and the house, and make an appointment to make a written offer. And we decided to stay here.

There were several reasons for doing so. The first was that our offer would be contingent, and we thought there was a better than 50-50 chance that the sellers might well sell the house out from under us – that is, since we didn’t per se want to sell the house, but rather to buy *this particular different house* the fact that we’re in no way ready to show (my comment was that the best way to make that happen would be to put the children in self-storage ;-) ) meant that a contingent offer was pretty contingent. We know the realtor wasn’t making stuff up about the additional interest – two more people stopped by to look at the house while we were there.

The interior of the house needed about as much work as we’d expected – and the nature of the work was doable, but one factor made it more expensive than we’d hoped – raising what we’d have to get out of this house to do it without debt. Add to that the expensive fencing requirements (not for the livestock, for Eli, our autistic eldest who needs space to roam without being able to wander off – we’ve got that in place in our current space) and we began to wonder whether we could do this without taking on short term debt – which is the exact opposite of the point.

None of those things, however, was really the defining factor – it was simply that we sat down and talked about what we could do in our current place to lower costs and expenses and make the farm here more profitable. We decided we needed to have this conversation regardless, since there was a real chance we wouldn’t get the house even if we made an offer. And in the course of it, we decided we were more excited about going forward where we are than about the year of chaos and instability that moving would bring – that if we stay, we can make more progress on the farm and less on the marathon job of just bringing ourselves up to speed.

It was a tough decision, and one that we still have some regrets about. It took us until Saturday to finalize it, and for the last couple of days I’ve felt exhausted, as though I ran a marathon – my whole mind was in another place, then back again, and I’m tired. But I think we made, as Eric put it “a right choice.” I’m not sure about “the right choice” but maybe that’s too much to ask for.

Chief among our plans is to lower the property taxes by getting our farm exemption – which means we need to achieve 10K in gross sales averaged over two years. We did achieve that much in sales during two years during our CSA, but were not eligible because our agricultural production occurred on only 2 1/2 acres. Now that the livestock are a larger part of our farming production, we can definitely meet the 7 acre requirement, but because my attentions have been so divided between writing and agriculture, we haven’t sold enough to qualify. So that’s the next project – making the land pay.

We’ve also decided that we’re going to get serious about rebuilding our local community. For years, we were spoiled – we lived near several families with kids about our age, and we were totally intertwined in each others’ lives. We had shared ownership of vehicles, washing machines, traded childcare and carpooled everywhere. There were other members of our community, but three families sat at the center.

And then something unspooled. One family’s marriage broke up, and the remaining parent was too overwhelmed and busy to take part, another family had both partners take new, demanding jobs, and suddenly it didn’t work anymore. And we’ve spent more time and energy trying to recreate this than in moving on and making community with other folks. We decided in our conversation that we would work harder on other sources of mutual support, and look for other people who want to work in the barter economy. We also made a list of all the friends and neighbors we do barter or trade or share with – and it was surprisingly long. Perhaps some of the problem is our intentions.

Meanwhile, the house next door to us, complete with in-law apartment and rather nice open land is for sale, if anyone wants to live next door! And we’re talking about either renting out the apartment Eric’s grandparents once lived in to a nice family who would like to share community, or if we can’t find housemates, converting the apartment to an inspected kitchen for the production of food using our produce, and a space to hold classes in.

We’re also planning on changing the livestock around a bit – we’ve always planned to add sheep for meat and fiber to our upper pasture (we have sheep there now, along with a beloved guard donkey, Xote, but this is in a barter arrangement with a neighbor who actually owns the sheep – it has been a lovely agreement, but she’s got a closer pasture available now, so it will likely end this year), but lately we’ve been talking about fiber and meat goats – small ones, and about participating in the projects going on to breed triple purpose small goats – meat, milk and fiber.

We’ve been doing experiments with woody hay crops and silvopasturing that I’d like to continue. The wetland plants and herbs that we’re growing are doing well despite the unusually dry year, and we have already had inquiries about doing native plant restorations in areas cleared of invasives. We’ve been selling vegetable, herb and flower plants, but are planning to expand.

Moving would have required that we put in several thousand dollars of capital investment into making the farm ready to sell – we decided in the end we’d rather invest that money in projects that make the farm function better, rather than improve the aesthetics of our home (not that they couldn’t use improving in some spots). Our goal is to get the infrastructure of the farm solidified, and enter next spring (I can’t do much before then – I have to finish a book!) ready to achieve a number of new agricultural goals.

So we’re staying. Again, we don’t know if it is the right decision – but we’re hopeful that it is *a* right decision. There are good reasons we might be wrong – but all life is full of risk, and you can never know the best thing to do. This, at least, might be *a* best thing.

Thanks everyone who offered comments and advice, thoughts and suggestions for consideration for helping us think this through!