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.

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