Friday, September 30, 2011

Surveying the Land

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I spent a large part of the afternoon soaking up the sun (man, was it gorgeous out today!) and flipping through real estate catalogs.  There is SO much property on the market and the beautiful photos and tempting advertisements make purchasing property seem pretty appealing.  That, and the fact that it voids a lot of the complications of leasing land from another person that I have been trying to sort through the past few days.

But what's the difference between a farm and a house on a large piece of property?  Well, a lot, actually.  I'm hoping to find a farm with a house and at least one barn/outbuilding (unless a perfect piece of property presents itself).  For me, the barn is almost even more exciting than the house, as it is the center of storing feed and housing animals.

There are other considerations, as well.  Zoning is a big one.  Land must be zoned for agriculture in order for a lot of farming practices to be allowed.  Land is the other.  Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) has a Web Soil Survey, where you can enter the address for a property and learn about the soil quality.  It's also important to take several samples of the soil to be analyzed for nutrients and potential toxic substances.  UConn also publishes CT Environmental Conditions Online, to help survey the land before purchasing/leasing.

As for the catalog shopping?  I found a few potential properties, but nothing in the towns that I was hoping for.  I contacted a real estate agent earlier in the week and hope to hear back from him with potential properties early next week!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Meet the Flock

I drove back home this morning after spending two days at the farm visiting K and my girls.  Reunited.  Being away from all of them is definitely the hardest part of embarking on this journey of starting my own farm.  I was especially happy to see Pokey, my little special needs chicken with terrible hip problems.  She has a lot of rough days, but was so excited to see me.  And I was SO excited to see her and the rest of the flock!

Meet my flock!

Pokey has a hard time getting around and spends most of her day hanging out under the lilac brush.  She's about 1/3 of the size of the other chickens (even though she's the same age), but loves eating fruits and vegetables - especially strawberries.

Dottie and Maypearl are the troublemakers of the flock.  They are two of the friendliest chickens, but also the most independent, often escaping the run for grand adventures and turning up in surprising places (like treetops).

Honey Sunshine had the most beautiful whistle when she was a chick - until she matured and it turned into a HONK.  She's by far the fluffiest and softest chicken in the flock and loves to be held.

Marla is the bully with the bad hairdo.  While very friendly with humans, she asserts herself with the other chickens and enforces the pecking order.  She's also the best forager of the group, always chowing down on grass and bugs.

Speaking of bad hairdos, Neckie's toupee has a mind of its own.  Especially when she spikes it like Liza Minelli.  Neckie is a chicken that looks like an ostrich and thinks she's a dog.  She frequently chases birds and squirrels, love treats, and always tries to sneak into the car for a ride.

Saphera was always known as the grandmother chicken, squawking with disgust at the other chickens and going to bed at lunchtime.  Until she disappeared one day and showed up three weeks later with a chick running behind her, making ME the grandmother!  Eragon is now eight weeks old and a spitting image of her mother.  They have separated themselves from the flock and sleep in the forsythia bush, fending for themselves.  They even survived Hurricane Irene outside on their own, but I hope one day soon they will rejoin the flock.

Speckles is the head honcho of the group. As a chick he matured a little late, thus making himself at home with the rest of the females of the flock (until I heard that cock-a-doodle-doo!).  His snuggley nature and skill at protecting the other hens has secured him a space in the flock.  Though he's never more than one step away from the soup pot because of constant need to practice his ninja skills on innocent passerby.

Gertie is named after Gertrude McFuzz, the Dr. Seuss character that has only one short tail feather, but learns to love herself just as she is.  Gertrude was picked on as a chick and spent a lot of time in the "hospital" but made a full recovery and even lays eggs!  The only scar remaining is the mark of her single tail feather, which doesn't seem to bother her one bit.

Princess Ballerina also spent most of her young life in the "hospital" after her fluffy leg feathers were repeatedly picked off.  She is blind and deaf on the right side, so often walks a little crooked and occasionally gets lost.  But that just makes her extra special!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Leasing Land

This afternoon I made a mug of hot cider (mmmmmmm.....autumn) and sat down for a webinar on leasing land organized by the American Farmland Trust.  I've taken online classes on leasing land in the past, but found it a helpful refresher as I embark on the prospect of leasing land for next season.

Leasing land works similarly as renting a house does - except with a million exceptions and unique facets depending on who owns the land, what the land will be used for (animals, organic vegetables, etc), and what else is involved in the lease (a house, tractor equipment, utilities, land improvement, etc).  While lots of farmers get by on a hand shake, nearly everyone has advised that a lease should be in writing, with a "notice of lease" recorded with the town clerk (in case of third party involvement, such as the lessor passing away).

Short term leases (less than 5 years), rolling leases (option to renew each year), long term leases (more than five years), and very long term leases (legally up to 99 years in CT, with clauses on inheritance) are all options.  On one hand, a short-term lease gives everyone the opportunity to see if the relationship will work happily, and on the other hand a long-term lease gives the farmer more incentive to invest in the land, through sustainable growing practices, infrastructure, and soil improvements.

It's possible to lease land from private owners, as well as from towns and land trusts (who often are in possession of a good deal of "open space" land and farm land).  Land is most often leased by the acre, though can also be leased by the parcel depending on crops and soil quality.  The 2010 Real Estate Value for land in CT was $11,500 an acre (national average was around $4,000), but this doesn't necessarily translate well into leasing farmland.  As with all real estate, location is of highest concern.  Followed by what the land is used for.  Land for vegetables (a high-value crop), for example, would most likely be more expensive than land for hay (a low-value crop).  Depending on the agreement, leasing farmland in CT can cost anywhere from $1/acre (the cost for many non-profits) to $1,000/acre.

Like any legal document, it is important that a written lease is as thorough as possible.  It's also important, when entering such a complex relationship like leasing a farm, that all parties understand their responsibilities.  Below are the 18 aspects of a good lease:

1. Identification of all parties (including board of directors, if applicable)
2. Description of property (maps, address, and specific parcels)
3. Durational terms of lease (start, end, option for renewal)
4. Rent or payment method (amount, due dates)
5. Taxes (if applicable)
6. Utilities (water, electricity, internet, etc)
7. Uses of the property (goals, growing practices, recreation)
8. Entry (how much notice is required for the lessor to enter the property)
9. Maintenance and Repairs (who is responsible for what)
10. Alternations and Improvements (what is allowed, who pays for them)
11. Stewardship Guidelines (mandates for sustainable growing practices, soil improvement, pesticide use)
12. Additional Limits (restrictions on farm practices)
13. Subletting (is it allowed)
14. Default Provisions
15. Security Deposit
16. Monitoring and Reporting (problems, concerns, requests for improvement)
17. Insurance and Liability (likely to be held by both parties)
18. Condemnation and Casualty Loss

Phewf!  It seems like a lot (and it is!), but it also feels really important to understand all of the logistics of leasing before embarking into such a complicated agreement with a landowner.  Thankfully, there are lots of successful examples of land leasing in CT to feel encouraged by (if, ultimately, I find the right piece of land to lease).  After all, 38% of farmers in CT lease all or part of their farmland!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Nothing like a trip to the pumpkin patch to get into the autumn spirit!  I can't believe September is almost over!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Putting Myself Out There

The arrangement with my "dream" farm fell through.  They found another farmer just a couple of days before my inquiry.  While at first I was terribly disappointed (all that finger-crossing for nothing), I quickly accepted that this was not MY opportunity.  A beautiful farm, full of potential, but with challenging logistics that ultimately wouldn't have been exactly what I was looking for.  I need to be strong enough to not be tempted with "okay" opportunities and accept something that may not be what I'm looking for.  For now, anyway, while the pressure of the growing season isn't just around the corner.

Turns out rejection, for me, is a big motivator.  Rather than my usual routine of banking on one opportunity, fingers and toes crossed to their fullest extent, I made a list of small items that can help me move closer to my goal.  One a day, just like a vitamin.  Most of them being to spread the word that I am looking for land (to buy or lease).  (Why is it so hard for me to just put myself out there?)

I applied for CT Farmlink, a state-run "online dating" service of sorts for farm seekers and farm owners.  The program needs a little revitalization, but it's a list of opportunities.  Even though the odds of finding a match through this system are low, all I need is one farm.  One opportunity.

I also made a list of farmer friends in the area to contact and visit.  People who may know people who may know an old guy with a farm who is willing to lease his land to a crazy youngin' like me.  Word of mouth is still the best form of communication in the agriculture industry.

Visiting farms and looking at property helps me to get a better idea of what I'm looking for...and what I'm not.  Each farm is so unique and I'm leaving my options opened.  I don't have my heart set on growing a particular product just yet, or particular equipment needs.  My business plan is best described as "vague."  I'm just looking for property in southeastern CT, with an on-farm house, and a pretty flexible leasing arrangement (ie.  not someone else dictating the business plan for me to execute).  There are just as many challenges with leasing land as there are with buying (something I'll get into another day), so at this point I'm open to either.  I have a small amount of savings and I feel ready to invest in this dream of mine whichever way seems better (though, we'll see how that goes when the time comes to actually write a check).

I've been "retired" for a week and a half now and couldn't be happier with my decision.  I love having more time to be with family and friends and work on projects around the house.  I know as more time passes this luxury of time will seem more stressful; I will put more pressure on myself to develop a concrete plan.  I want this so badly.  But for now, I highly recommend retiring.  Just do it.

I'm also applying for part-time work to help pay my student loans and other monthly expenses without having to dip into my savings account to deeply.  We'll see how it goes.  I don't mind doing the work (I would enjoy having more structure to my schedule, actually), but I do want to be careful that finding a farm remains the priority.  At least through the month of October.  Once winter begins to set in, my plans may change depending on how everything goes.  I can't believe October is only a week away.

"Wherever you go, go with all of your heart." - Confucius. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011


photo from

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant - Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Falling in Love

photo from

I drove by a farm today that I heard from a friend is looking for a new farmer to take over.  I have no information beyond that, really (why the farmers' are leaving, what the arrangement is, how much it would cost to lease) but a potential farm is enough to occupy all of my thoughts.  I'm so excited for an opportunity. A real, potential farm.

I spent too much time researching the farm's website and looking at satellite images of the property - learning as much as I can without really learning any of the important details.  Today I drove by the property (stalking, as my father would say), and instantly fell in love.  A beautiful farmhouse, enormous barn, milking parlor, greenhouse, orchard, and thirty acres of fenced pasture in an ideal location. It was perfect.  My heart swells .

I think tonight I will just enjoy this time of pure love.  The love of a concept, of a dream.  I know this feeling will quickly dissipate when the realities and challenge and worry all set it.  I'm hoping to get more information on Friday and am expecting that this opportunity will be too good to be true.  This adventure will not be an easy one.  Of that I am sure.  But today I caught a glimpse of my dream farm and tonight I will rest with a full heart.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Things I Miss Most

I made this list today while I was sitting in the lawn with my dog, enjoying the peace and quiet of a Tuesday morning.  It's not meant to be a list of longing - just a recognition of some of the things that I love most about living and working on a farm.

1. Chores in my pajamas before a farm-fresh breakfast (bacon, eggs, and fresh fruit).
2. Snacking on produce in the garden between projects.
3. Watching Chicken TV after work.
4.  NEEDING a shower at the end of the day.
5. Accomplishing tasks I wasn't sure I was capable of.
6. Having a reason to religiously check the weather and watch the radar.
7. Teamwork.
8. Funny chicken stories (or soap opera drama) every time I step out of the house.
9. Multi-tasking and constantly thinking of ways to do things faster and more efficiently.
10. Constantly learning new things about the world around me.

Longing is like the seed / That wrestles in the ground - Emily Dickinson

Monday, September 19, 2011

Down on the Farm

The most unexpected part of quitting my job as a farmer is, well, now I have more time for farming!  This weekend I spent time with my chickens, visited the farmers' market, went to a Farm Day at a local farm, made delicious farm-fresh dinner, and went apple picking with old friends.  Celebrating autumn the best way possible.

It's inspiring to have time to visit other farms and participate in agricultural activities.  It's exciting to walk onto a pick-your-own farm and only think about harvesting apples - not worrying about whether the port-o-johns are clean, that the staff is on time and working efficiently, or about picking up trash (well, okay, I still pick up trash).  It's reassuring to see that I truly love everything about being on a farm; being on a farm is where I feel most at home.  Visiting farms is also a constant learning experience, to see how unique each farm is in how they grow, care for, and market their products.

Saturday morning K and I visited the Litchfield Farmers' Market.  It was a gorgeous drive, past rolling pastures and large farmsteads.  I felt the power of the bumper sticker catch-phrase "Eat Your View."  If supporting local farmers means a landscape like the Litchfield Hills, I'm all in.

The market offered everything one would hope for - a variety of produce, meats, cheeses, eggs, and baked goods, in addition to live music, children's activities, and a sense that something as simple as gathering at a Farmers' Market really can be the starting point for building a community.  I love the atmosphere at Farmers' Markets, but usually don't buy much because I already have it at home.  For the first time, I purchased all of the ingredients I needed to make a meal - grass-fed beef, potatoes, sweet peppers, and a gigantic heirloom tomato.  We prepared a feast that evening out on the grill.  It felt so good to be eating such delicious, nourishing food collected just that morning directly from the hands that grew it.  Looking back, I love that I was able to provide that feeling for others when I was producing food (well, I hope so anyway!).

We wandered back home from the market on the back roads - the best way to travel on a lazy weekend afternoon.  We spotted road signs for a Farm Day at a local Nature Conservancy and followed them to another adventure.

Sunny Valley is a 1,800 acre nature conserve with a 600 acre working farm.  Each year they open the farm to families to celebrate local agriculture.    We enjoyed walking around and seeing all of the young children taking hayrides, walking through the corn maze, petting the animals, and running around.

And who doesn't love ogling at large tractor equipment?

After dinner we took a walk around K's farm to check on the newest piglets (now 4 weeks old).  They were excited to gnaw on our watermelon rind and to bite into a dinged up pumpkin.  They're so adorable.  And I loved being reunited with my chickens - even if it was only for a day.  They remembered our routine and came running right towards me when I arrived.  Even the rooster begged for some cuddling.  Counting down the days till my next visit...

Sunday morning I drove to northern MA to visit a few of my college roommates.  We hung out for a while chatting and playing with a new baby and then decided to head off to pick apples.  It was beautiful weather and the apples were SO crisp and delicious right off the tree.

Did I mention how much I love fall?

A perfect weekend spent on the farm(s).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen...

We have ourselves a FIG TREE!

I couldn't be more excited.  Not only are figs one of my favorite foods, I'm excited to have the opportunity to learn more about growing and caring for them.  It falls under the general category of one day hoping to have a small orchard to feed myself and my family.  No time like the present to begin!

My mom and I discovered the trees for sale at a greenhouse hidden in the middle of Ninigret Park, Rhode Island.  We loved walking around and marveling at the four-foot elephant ears, enormous carnivorous plants, and beautiful flowers.  We also loved checking out the animals: chickens, ducks, goats, and even a pair of emu!

Though I understand that figs, like all plants, take time to grow and that realistically we may not get fruit this fall, it didn't keep me from checking the plant all afternoon to see if there was any progress.  Tonight I'm dreaming of platters like this one:

photo from

With a round of salumi, a hunk of farmstead cheese, and a loaf of warm baked bread.  With this for dessert:

photo from

A girl can dream, right?  Of farming and futures and fig trees galore.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fresh Nectarine Tart

Remember these gems from yesterday's pick-your-own adventure?

Well, this evening they become this incredible Fresh Nectarine Tart, inspired by THIS recipe and made with love by my mom.

In other news, the nesting continued with painting galore! I finished my bedroom walls and began painting my bookshelf, dresser, and desk.  It feels good to be settling in to my new home and to have physical work to keep me feeling productive.  And the delicious food certainly helps!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


This morning I woke up in my parents house.  The past few days were a whirlwind of packing, wrapping up work at the farm, saying goodbye, and shoving all of my belongings into my station wagon.  Moving is never quite as easy as I remember it, but it feels good to once again be settling in.

I was instantly struck with a wave of opportunity.  First, with the realization that I had ample time to do anything I wanted to.  Work was no longer an excuse for not being able to accomplish the things that I hoped to.  This excitement was quickly followed by the fact that all of the things that I hope to accomplish while I am here (finding land, developing a business plan, and ultimately starting my own farm) were a little more daunting than my normal pre-breakfast routine: feed the chickens.

The chickens who I miss immensely.  I didn't realize what a central part of my day they are.  Morning feedings, post-breakfast treats, hanging out in the lawn at lunchtime, watching "chicken tv" while we eat dinner, making sure everyone is tucked in bed at night.  So many of my stories are based on their soap-opera-esque lifestyles.

Instead of sinking into nostalgia, I focused on starting new projects and taking time to do things I enjoy.  Starting with, well, farming.  My mom and I ate breakfast and headed off to pick our own apples at a nearby orchard.  The weather was gorgeous and NOTHING beats the taste of fresh picked fruit.

It's amazing how quickly we picked 20 pounds of apples, pears, nectarines, and peaches.  All while dreaming of pies, snacks, and preserving for winter.

On the way home we drove by a bunch of houses/farms that are on the market.  The shear number of properties is overwhelming, but it was nice to discuss (and articulate) what I was looking for, and what I wasn't.  Seeing real-life potential opportunities made my new adventure feel so real.

While we were on a roll picking things, we headed to the paint store to pick out a new color for my room.  I picked out a lovely shade of grey (after much deliberation) and already put on the first coat!  Nesting.  Photos to come as the unpacking begins...

All in all, my first day unemployed was wonderfully productive.  Fingers crossed I can keep it up!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why Two Blue Boots?

These are my boots (along my chicken).  A pair of size eight, nautical blue, L.L.Bean wellies that have been through a lot of crap.  Literally.

But this blog isn't really about boots.  It's about the beginning of a journey.

A few weeks ago I gave notice at my current job.  In four days I will complete my job as a full-time farm manager, move out of my beautiful farmhouse, say goodbye to the friends that I have made here over the past two and a half years, and head off on my next adventure.  Blue boots in tow...and that's about it.

I'm headed to eastern CT to be closer to my family and to begin the lengthy process of starting my own farm.  (Logistics and details to follow.)  Though it still feels somewhat crazy to have quit a perfectly good job in this terrible economy, and though I am dreading having to say goodbye to my flock of chickens and my partner, K (all staying behind for the time being), and though I don't have any specifics right now, I'm EXCITED.  This dream that I've had for the past 5+ years is slowly beginning to become a reality.

Hold on tight, folks.  This is going to be a good one.