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!

15 Responses to “We’re Staying”

  1. Devin says:

    Nice work on the decision making. It is tough to do for sure. I wish we could consider making the move out there and becoming part of your community, but we have bridges to mend in Colorado that require our attention.
    In Frith,

  2. et says:

    Decision making on this scale is exhausting. Getting back into chores/projects on the farm might be a respite.

    Now that you have truly opened the door to selling/moving it will be interesting to see if other places show up. Moving seems to me to be one of those things that, once discussed, becomes inevitable.

  3. Raye says:

    Your decision seems sound to me (as if I had any wisdom here). I am really pulling and praying for you in the community building department.

    I made a decision to stay where I am, in ruburbia, for hundreds of reasons. One thing that this now entails is connecting with neighbors in a way that makes sense for the long emergency. And, wonder of wonders, it is slowly happening. But I don’t quite know what I am doing. I was not trained in community building for the end of empire and cheap oil. Still, there is some grace at work here in my neighborhood, and I am grateful.

    So . . . I will be “listening” for clues from your efforts to make more connections.

    I am finding the ducks quite instrumental in the community building, by the way. Go figure.

  4. dewey says:

    Sounds like a good call. My little backyard garden has a tiny fraction of the labor and time in it that yours does, but the thought of walking away from it and starting over from scratch would make me cry! Once you’ve put in all that effort, you deserve to stick around to reap the reward.

  5. Wendy says:

    That’s awesome! It sounds like you really made the best decision, and that’s, kind of, what I’ve found to be true in many cases. When we hem and haw over what’s the right decision, often we find that we’re sitting right in the middle of it - kind of a forest for the trees scenario.

    My husband and I keep talking about moving, but the longer we stay here, the closer to perfect for our needs our current house becomes, and the harder it is to think about moving just so that we can have more land or more … whatever it is we think we’re lacking. Like Dewey says, the thought of moving, and having to start all over, from scratch, is just too much. So far, we haven’t been able to find that place with all of the more we want without having to put in a lot MORE time and money than we have to invest.

  6. Ann says:

    You’ve made the right decision. Thanks for your details on how you made the decision. We’re all going through panicked decision making right now.

  7. Susan says:

    You can make a go of it where you are, so yes it’s one of the ‘right’ decisions.

    I was tetchy at the start of this year and couldn’t work out why. Not happy here but not wanting to go either. Nowhere is better than here. We looked. We thought. We talked. We drove round looking at places. But there is nowhere better. I kept finding myself looking at homes on rises and hills, where neither flood nor heavy run-off would touch them. This has never been a worry but lately it is and I’m not sure why.

    Then the old thought came back - we really want a new house on the hill - out of flood reach. I have retro-fitted this one as much as I can but some problems just can’t be solved. And after some false starts with the local council and more to come, that’s what we’re working to. Sometimes it’s not the land that’s the problem, it’s something that’s a part of where you are but you can’t see what part.

    And since I’ve come to realise that my gut feeling is to be away from the creek ASAP, other things are falling in to place. Like yesterday’s newspaper headlines that this year will likely be a “big wet” and residents should start preparing now for floods.

    The decision-making process is an interesting one and takes some twists and turns, but you can have confidence that by looking seriously at your alternatives, you are better informed. And now you have identified the problems and have new directions to take! Congratulations!

  8. Kez says:

    Some very exciting plans there - no wonder you’re exhausted with all that mental activity.

  9. Barbara says:

    Well, good for you and Eric for going through with your investigation, and not shying away from the complicated evaluations. It’s usually something like this that shakes up what you thought were your plans and gets you headed in a better direction. And for sure, this sounds like it helped you re-evaluate.

    Hopefully, the ag exemption won’t be too tough to meet. Will they tax you on the $10,000 income? How much will the exemption be? Is it 100%?

  10. Java Jane says:

    Thank you for articulating your decision making process. The ebb and flow in community is something that one cannot control. I so understand how neighborhood dynamics change with divorce, health issues, employment. This is something in which we too have been unwilling participants. Regrowing a community takes energy. I miss our neighborhood potlucks with fresh crabs caught on the docks at the street end. But while one thing is lost, another is gained. We cast our net a bit wider, have friends within the community who are more like minded-they just do not live next door.

    Wishing you and your readers well.


  11. Claire says:

    It sounds like you and Eric did what you really needed to do: have the conversation about how to make where you are work better. It’s funny, but so often we get so focused on everyday concerns that we forget to pull back to think longer-range. You and Eric have had a chance to do that longer-range thinking and come up with ideas for the next few years. Last year, when I took your class, it precipitated a similar conversation between my DH and me. The results have been positive, including fewer miles driven this year compared to last. In the last couple of weeks I have become aware that I need to further redirect my attention homeward and away from a couple of other commitments. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out over the next few months.

  12. Toni @ BackyardFeast says:

    It’s amazing how sometimes our subconsciouses try to tell us things and when we don’t take action they get louder and louder. It sounds like your family needed a big re-evaluation of who you were in the middle of the changing community you are living in. In North America the pull of being able to solve problems by moving somewhere else is a powerful pull, but your working through of the issues you’re facing is inspiring. Sometimes it’s not the place, it’s the issues, and thinking outside the box to solve them sounds like it will force you to stretch and grow in exciting ways. Good luck! And thanks for the lesson-one I need to hear too!

  13. Claire says:

    Oh yeah, and you should put this stuff on considering the other house, and the decision to stay in the current place, in your next book too. It’s a good real-life example of evaluating what you have and how you can make it work better.

  14. The Grass is Always Greener Syndrome | Backyard Feast says:

    [...] I was wrong; they’re staying put.  Lots of reasons, but what they found was that just contemplating moving forced them to take [...]

  15. jackoline Milne says:


    I read your book loved it and lent it out! I’ve been thinking of your challenge over to move or stay. Remember scott and helen nearing. They moved after all that work because of the change in their community. Look at all the work they did, yet they moved!

    We moved 6 years ago a big move 2500 miles, but for a purpose, we are now 100% debt free and have a small 1200 sq ft home(3 kids) and 3 undeveloped acres. We have build 5000 sq ft market garden now. So my advice to you is fix your farm as much as you can just like the nearings did thier first place, make it the best it can be, but in the future if feel you can improve you lot, get debt free, or the community you need I would tell you to move you need to be in the best place you can possible be for whats coming. If it’s the place where you are now then bite the bullet and do the work you need to do with all your heart and soul.
    I’d also say rent the apartment even just for a while to get the extra cash to help with the improvements then build the kitchen and teach.

    A new friend


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