Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Farm Tour: Plainfield Horse Farm

I got back on the house-hunting horse again today!  (pun intended...even though I know it's horrible!)

Scheduling house tours around the holidays has been a little bit of a nightmare.  I had two tours planned for after work this afternoon, and neither of them worked out.  At the last minute my real-estate agent was able to make an appointment at another property that was on my list: a small horse farm in Plainfield.

The farm can best be described as "okay"

I know that's not the most useful adjective, but I really can't think of another word for it.  Here is the quick breakdown:

Location:  45 minutes from my folks (which is further than I had hoped), but right off 395, which is pretty convenient

Land: 16 acres, half-cleared and half-wooded (an ideal size), but poorly designed and VERY wet.  Apart from a nice pond for swimming, there were 4 springs and several small brooks running downhill through the property.  Most of the land was pretty soggy, which made me a little concerned.  The horses also took quite a toll on the three pastures closest to the house.  The other big downside is that there is also no buffer between the 6 neighboring houses, all previously owned by the farm owner's family and all very close to the property.

House: A raised ranch with a built-in apartment.  Some good updates (like a new roof), but overall a really bizarre design and lots of out-of-date features.  I didn't really care for anything about it (other than the large farmhouse sink!), but could see that with some TLC it could be "okay."  There was a garage and a "barn" but neither were in very good condition.

I think that with a little more effort on my part, I could like this farm.  It is listed at 249K, and the owners are desperate to move somewhere warm.  For now, I have a couple of other properties that I'm looking forward to seeing before I make any decisions.

I'm starting to get excited about farm searching again.  My dream farm is out there somewhere!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

photo from Martha Stewart

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with
their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

- Howard Thurman

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Break

image from
Happy Winter Solstice!

Sorry for the absence of posts the past few days.  My real estate agent is away until after the holidays, so I haven't had much news to report on the farm-searching front (unless spending hours and hours each day searching properties online counts as "news").

I'm really eager to move forward in the farm search process.  I don't take disappointment easily, and a big part of me is still mourning the fact that my plans for the North Stonington farm fell through.  That's been the life I imagined for the past two months (despite trying to remain unattached!), and it's hard for me to just forget about that promise.  I haven't been able to find suitable properties to visit in the area that I was hoping to live, which is a real let down. Combine my disappointment with the very short days (the darkness just exhausts me), and I haven't had much to say.

Yesterday I decided that what I really needed was to be surrounded with love.  A reminder of why I am working so hard for this dream.  So after work I drove west to visit my chickens and K.  Everyone was SO excited to see me.  I spent time outside with my girls until sunset, and then curled up with K in front of the high-def yule log.  The perfect evening.

I'll make this crazy dream work somehow.  But in the meantime, I'm just looking forward to a relaxing holiday weekend.  One day at a time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Missing my girl tonight

Neckie the Turken

with a face only a mother could love.  :-)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Progress Report: Three Months

image from

Well the past month has certainly been a whirlwind of an adventure!  Even though I accomplished quite a bit this past month, in a lot of ways I feel further behind than I was in month two.

Things I Accomplished:
1. Attended a Soil Health Workshop and learned about intense cover cropping for rotational grazing, as well as a screening of American Meat and networked with area farmers.
2. Got a job and began working (almost) full-time again.
3. Farm visits: Stonyledge Farm, Sweet Acre Farm
4. Attended two New CT Farmer Alliance meetings
5. Conducted a thorough soil analysis and met with the DEEP about state-owned land associated with the North Stonington Farm
6. Attended the 2011 Young Farmers Conference at Stone Barns.
7. Attended the Holistic Farm Planning course on Financial Management.
8. Worked on the Beginning Farmers Loan Application and an official contract.  Put in my FIRST OFFER on a farm!
9. Waited a VERY long week, only to find that my contract for the North Stonington farm was denied, with no option to negotiate.
10. Started the process of searching for farmland to purchase again, beginning with the Canterbury "Farm in a Box."

Things I'm Still Working On:
1. Finding farmland to purchase or lease for the upcoming season.
2. Finding a good home for my chickens closer to me.
3. Continuing to develop my farm business plan.
4. Creating a decent back-up plan (just in case finding land doesn't go very well).
5. Putting myself out there and keeping my options open.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Farm Tour: Canterbury "Farm in a Box"

I'm out of the habit of doing farm tours and forgot to take photos today!  Hopefully my girls' beautiful eggs will make up for it!  :-)

After work today I drove about 50 minutes north to Canterbury.  I think K described Canterbury's location best:  "You just drive to the middle of nowhere, and it's an hour further on the left."  Not quite nestled in the quiet corner, it's certainly in a rural part of the state.

I drove up to check out a property that a fellow farmer sent my way.  Word of mouth communication is the most valuable resource in the farming community, and this property was the perfect example.  The 26 acre farm was owned by a young family, but earlier this spring the father unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack.  An incredible tragedy.  The property is too much for his widow and teenagers to maintain, so they are selling the entire property, as is.  A "farm in a box" if you will.

This concept is very appealing to me.  I've always felt that I'm better at "making do" than making decisions.  I can easily think of ways to modify a system, but picking out new equipment feels so overwhelming.  This farm has a well-established, diverse farm business complete with perennial fruits and vegetables (lots of berries and a small orchard), as well as livestock (cows, pigs, laying hens), equipment (two massey ferguson tractors and all the attachments), several outbuildings, and a feed business. 

The farm was incredibly well designed, with the house and central buildings in the middle of the property surrounding a natural pond.  The chicken coop borders the peach orchard, where many of the birds roost at night.  A few acres of vegetable fields and berries line the front road.  The largest pasture borders the woods in the back of the property.  There is even an in-ground pool and a Swedish-style sauna (yes, you read that correctly), as well as an apartment for farm workers.  I can imagine that in the height of the season, it's really a beautiful spot.

Under the dreary skies of winter, however, all I was able to see was the disrepair.  There were six or seven small outbuildings that needed to come down.  The garage was packed floor to ceiling with broken furniture and garbage.  The large workshop was nearly as bad.  The house needed a ton of work: there was a good amount of water damage, lead paint on most of the walls, poorly insulated windows, old appliances, and more.  A diverse farm, with so many different buildings and pieces of equipment, is constantly in need of repair.

And I know that my limited budget (as well as the nature of older farms) means a fixer-upper.  I can get excited to turn a house into a beautiful home.  But walking around today, all I was able to see were dollar signs.  The property is priced at $490K.  The farm is appraised at $289K, as is, meaning all of the livestock (including the meat in the chest freezers), equipment, fencing, and the business are included.  Unfortunately, there are no records (another good reason for good record keeping!!!).  The widow has no idea of what is on the farm in terms of equipment, or of the value of the business.  I'm not sure how they derived the sale price, or how accurate it is, but I do know that I can't afford it.  And that it is overpriced.  Even if I were to get the farm for free, I think I would need my $300K loan to get the farm in real working order.

What it boils down to is that I left the farm without an ounce of excitement.  I was overwhelmed and craving more details (which don't exist).  I know that I need to compromise on my ideals, but this farm was just too far away from home, too expensive, and needed too much work.  Part of me (the dreamer) is intrigued at what I could turn the property into, but a larger part of me (the realist) knows I could invest everything I have into that property and never be able to keep up.

Visiting this farm made me realize a larger key aspect of my search.  K and I are really excited to start our own business.  While taking over an established business has many appeals, a big draw for us is establishing our own business, brand, and network.  We could make the existing business into whatever we'd like, of course, but there's something to be said for starting small and growing within our means.  I worry taking on too large of an endeavor at the start would kill some of that anxiety because of all of the stress.  And maybe that'll happen anyway, but I certainly hope not.

I uprooted my life so that I could come HOME.  Even though there is hardly anything on the market here, I haven't given up on that dream yet.  We are too social to move to the middle of nowhere.

And so, the search continues.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holistic Farm Planning: Financial Management

image from
This past Saturday I continued with my Beginning Women Farmers class with in an introduction to financial planning.  I'll be honest, financial planning is something that I need a lot of help with.  I want to develop a really good system for record keeping and management before I begin my farm operation because I know that I am much better at systems when they have become habit (rather than struggling to compile notes and doing the bookkeeping only when I've fallen behind).

I read the chapters on financial planning that were assigned for homework and felt totally lost.  I was nervous to attend class, especially because I didn't have any farm figures to bring with me to work my way through the numbers.  I don't even have great personal financial records.  As I said before, I need a lot of help.

Thankfully, the class started at the beginning and I left with a much better understanding.

First off - why is financial planning important?
1. Financial planning helps you to make decisions towards your holistic goals.
2. It helps you to conduct a macro-assessment of your farm, analyze individual enterprises, and assesses potential new enterprises.
3. It helps you plan for the profit you need up front.
4. It helps you to define all farm income streams.
5. It helps you to calculate a cap for all financial expenditures.
6. It helps you prioritize your expenses to invest in.
7. And it also helps you to monitor your plan proactively.

Perfect!  Taking time to develop a farm financial plan will allow me to develop a profitable business, as well as maintain my broader life goals (having a retirement account, going on vacation, etc).

Most financial plans calculate I - E = P (Income - Expenses = Profit).  You plan an income, subtract the expenses, and what's leftover is your profit.  A holistic plan switches things around and calculates I - P = E (Income - Profit = Expenses).  By planning for profit, you put a cap on your expenses and spending and ensure that you have enough money to live out your holistic goals.

The process isn't instant.  Meaning, I can't just plan for profit and get a $1 million mansion in the caribbean (though wouldn't that be nice?).  But with this business mindset and some savings, I could work towards having a vacation home (if that were important to me).

The biggest challenge is limiting expenses.  There are three main types of expenses: inescapable (essential or morally obligated expenses, like taxes and a mortgage), maintenance (regular expenses like electricity, phone, seeds, feed, etc), and wealth generating (solutions to weak links in your business that will help you make money or improve efficiency).  If you can reduce maintenance expenses, you can have more money for wealth generating expenses or for profit.

Overwhelmed yet?  Here are the basic take-aways:
1. Take good notes!  Record keeping will better help you to assess your business and make informed decisions.
2. Plan for profit.  Get an idea of how much money you reasonably need to meet your family needs, build savings, and improve your quality of life.
3. Plan your income.  Then plan your expenses with the remaining funds.  You may have to adjust to make everything work (ie. add a new enterprise, reduce expenses, or reduce profit), but after a few years of planning for profit it'll get much easier.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Expanding my Search

I spent a good part of last night and most of today expanding my search of farm properties online.  The owners of the North Stonington Farm refused to budge below their asking price (which is about $125,000 over the recalculated appraisal value), so I need to move on.

I wish I could get more excited about the search.  It's just exhausting to have to start all over again, especially with the added pressure of the holidays, a new job, and anticipated snowfall.  And it seems like the property of my dreams is not currently on the market.  Compromising on details like location, a house, and even price haven't produced any properties that are super promising.

I sent a list of 8 "diamonds in the rough" to my real estate agent to review.  Hopefully we'll go to visit a couple this week.  And I know that more options will present themselves.  I just need to keep my head held high and stay focused on my dream.

A farm of my own.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


For the past five days I have been glued to my phone, waiting for it to ring.

The deadline on the contract to purchase the North Stonington Farm was 2 hours ago and I still can't get ahold of my real estate agent.  I think in this case, we assume no news is bad news.

I just feel empty.  Two and a half months of work and I'm left with nothing.  Not even confirmation that it's over.

So I guess that tomorrow I will pick up the pieces and start all over again.

Friday, December 9, 2011


image from
Still waiting to hear back on my offer for the North Stonington Farm.  This has been a very long week: going through the motions of my daily routine, but simultaneously feeling like my life is on hold.

I'm just counting down the hours until tomorrow at 5PM - when I hear a response.  Thankfully I have my Beginning Women Farmers course to keep my mind occupied all day.  I'm sure that my offer will not be accepted, I'm just hoping for a reasonable counter-offer. It's just so hard to know what to expect.

This is only the beginning, folks.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Yesterday's meeting between my real estate agent and the owner of the North Stonington Farm did not go well.  They still have until Saturday to respond to the offer, but my real estate agent told me not to get my hopes up.


This waiting game is such a bummer...but mostly I'm just bummed.  I had really wanted this to work.

image from

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Watched Pot Never Boils... now OFFICIALLY my least favorite cliche.

My real estate agent had a meeting to explain the offer to the homeowners at 4:30 this afternoon.  She told me she would call right afterwards with an update.

That was over 4 hours ago.

Do you know how many times I can pace around the kitchen in 4 hours?

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Offer

image from matchbook magazine dec, 2011
I put in an offer on the North Stonington Farm this afternoon!

I couldn't help but smile as I autographed the contract about 25 times.  I feel really good about the offer.  I know that the owners aren't going to accept it, but I'm hoping they come back with a reasonable negotiation.

My saint of a real-estate agent met with a team of advisors and spent the day crunching numbers on the house.  They estimated the current appraised value (it was last appraised in 2005), did a market analysis of comparable homes on the market as well as comparable homes that have sold in the past year, and compiled everything into an easy-to-understand chart.  Nothing makes this girl more confident than submitting an offer with a chart to support it.

One of the hardest things about determining whether or not I could actually afford to purchase a farm was that I couldn't find any finances to compare to.  I understand that finances are private, but I wanted to share where I am at in the process.  Please don't use these numbers to judge - this is only what I (and my growing team of advisors) think will work.

Asking Price: 399,000 for sale by owner (originally listed at 680,000 in 2009)
Appraised Value: 349,000 (2005, before market crash)
Maximum Loan Amount through USDA FSA Program: 300,000
Comparative Market Analysis - Average: 273,000
My Offer (12.5.11) - 265,000

My real estate agent has a meeting with the homeowners late tomorrow afternoon, and they have until this Saturday to respond.  Neither of us have any idea how it will go, but I will admit that I'm excited.  It's only an offer, but it's a really solid step in the right direction.

I know I've been doing a lot of finger crossing lately, but this time it's for real!  :-)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Letting Go

photo from
I just got home from a meeting with my real estate agent about putting in an offer on the North Stonington Farm.

The conversation involved a lot of numbers.  It doesn't even feel like money to me anymore.  I've worked my entire life for the money that I have in my bank account and it's not even 1/10th of the money that I need to purchase the farm.  I know a lot of people that love to spend money, but I just can't conceive of spending money that I don't have.

We spoke about the specifics of the North Stonington property, comparable properties in the area, and where the market is at.  Tomorrow after work I will meet with a broker to discuss the finances in more detail and decide on an asking price and negotiation strategy.  I want to offer a fair price for the property, but do not want to pay considerably more than it's worth.  And with recent tax assessments, the offering price will be considerably lower than the asking price.  That's just how it is.

The biggest accomplishment of the day was not the financial conversation, but the process of letting go.  I will put in an offer that I can afford (with a little wiggle room to negotiate and cover any unexpected costs), and then wait.  Either the family will come back with a reasonable counter-offer or they won't.  I'll be disappointed if we can't negotiate (for sure), but I'm prepared for that.  I will not do whatever it takes to get this property - only what I know I can do on my own to make it work.

I feel sort of sad having to let go, even though I won't know for sure until next week.  But I need a clear mind to make the best decision, and that does not involve dreams of gardens and pigs and all the special-needs chickens I can care for.  If I've learned anything thus far in life it's that things rarely work as I first plan, but they always work out in the end.

Clear eyes, full hearts.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Young Farmers are Awesome

It always feels so good to come home.

Especially when I get to spend the day lounging around, wrapping gifts, and decorating for the holidays.  It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

I'm back from the Young Farmers Conference at Stone Barns.  Two full days of good food, fellow farmers, and all sorts of interesting workshops.  Record keeping, silvopasturing, electric fences, heritage breeds, developing a profitable farm, innovative tools and caterpillar tunnels.  Even though I was a little disappointed with some of the workshops, I left with enough innovative ideas to make it all worthwhile.

I think what I wrestled with most at the conference was not having a farm to identify with.  Even though I've never had a farm of my own, I've been working at farm after farm for the past 5 years without gaps in the season.  It's hard to be a farmer without a farm - especially when you're surrounded by strangers who are looking to figure out who you are as simply as possible (vegetable grower?  dairy farmer?  cattle rancher?).  I hadn't realized how important my work is to my identity.

Tonight I'm curling up with a new book (Jenna Woginrich's Barnheart - an inspiring young farmer that tells the heartfelt story of starting her farm), a cup of peppermint tea, and warm thoughts that I'm not alone in my quest for a farm of my own.