I had started this blog with the intention of documenting my progress through this year since I knew it was going to be a busy year. Well you know what they say about the best laid plans. So I will just have to summarize the last three months the best I can.
First off, we decided not to buy a farm for real. In a few years we will reassess our situation. We talked to Gramps about using more of his land and he said sure. But it is not really what we had hoped for. We were hoping for a long term lease with a purchase option. What we got was more land super far from water and electricity. So sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias, some woodies, and sedums are getting planted back there. And I am just going to be grateful for what I have got.
And since we decided to stay put I went absolutely crazy putting together plant orders and rearranging my field in May. We put in permanent beds and have been transplanting the perennials that made it through last year to fit into my plan. We added lots more perennials, peonies, David Austin roses, hydrangeas, and other woody cut. Most of this is not going to produce anything for a few years but when it does…. It’s going to be great. I mean really great.
And we finally put up that hoophouse. There is no plastic on it yet but I put a bunch of stuff in the ground. We also put up a giant and crazy trellis system for the hops. It’s no wonder I haven’t had time to write about it.
I had officially come to the decision (along with the help of my husband and homebuilder of a father) that it was absolutely most cost efficient for us to buy vacant land and build a house. A small energy efficient house. All of the places that we looked at needed new roofs, new windows, new furnace, etc. We figured it was less expensive to put these on a new house. So when I finally heard back from the loan officer at the FSA that they would not approve funds for the building of a house it took the wind out of my sails. I called around and to see if there was some way that this could still work and it seems like there is not, at least not on my budget.
I spent the better part of the day yesterday freaking out and looking through real estate listings. Someone seriously needs to stop me from looking through these listings. We simply cannot afford what it is that we want and spending hours combing through these listings is not going to change that. We have been over this so many times and revised where we are willing to make compromises. In the end it turns out that I am still financially uncomfortable moving an hour away from the city and living in a drafty old house that needs a lot of work. The dollars just are not there. They might be some day, maybe even someday soon, but right now they are not so the deal is off. We are not buying land this year. I am hoping to work something out with Grandpa. He has really been resistant to change but there has to be a way to do something that will help a little. I have decided that there are three things that I really need to make this farming operation profitable:
1. More land.
2. Some really great plants. You know the type that are a little pricey up front and take a few years to get established.
3. Infrastructure. Like a well, a greenhouse, a shade tent.
I can really only afford two of the three, so I am hoping that a little more land will materialize in the form of a long term lease. Again, cross your fingers for me.
The last couple weeks I have been contemplating this question:
Is it better to make the wrong decision or no decision at all?
I am not sure, is the answer but I am tired of waiting around for the right opportunity so we are going to make an offer on a nice 7 acre property a couple of miles from where I grew up. Which I have some mixed feelings about but again, I am tired of waiting around. Vacant lots in our price range are starting to sell.
It is a lot that is hilly and gravelly in parts. And I am already thinking of all the great stuff I can plant there. I am not sure where we will live or if the farm service agency will actually lend us the money or if our conditional use permit will be approved so that we can put up a shed or hoophouses. So many ways in which this could go wrong and cost us a lot of money. Also so many ways it could go right. Cross your fingers for me.
Wow, do I wish they were more helpful. I have talked to a number of loan officers in different counties and gotten different responses from all of them. Unless you plan to milk cows or plant hundreds of acres in corn, they don’t know what to do. One guy was flat out no help at all. He told me that he didn’t really know how to help me and implied that he didn’t really want to learn. Also he gave me the wrong loan information. It turns out that there is more than one loan out there for people like me: wanting a farm but having no money. Good thing I decided not to farm in his county.
Then I talked to some other guy and he also told me that he was not really sure how to help me but he seemed willing to try if I would have pressed him. Which I didn’t because I was still working on coming up with that down payment.
I came up with that down payment, well most of it, and called to find out who would help me fill out this ridiculous application. I had to drive to Madison, seems silly but OK. And I met with a loan officer who was actually helpful. Turns out I didn’t need a down payment at all. Fine, now I have some operating money saved. But the downside is that a few of the properties that would have been a great fit for me are sold. Alright, that’s OK, we’ve moved on. We’re getting ready to make an offer and I have just a few more questions about this application. Now the once helpful loan officer is not returning my calls.
This application is so redundant and so not applicable to my operation, see above comment about cows and corn. But I have it mostly done after months coming up with theoretical numbers and figuring out how to convert bouquets to bushels. Now I am just wondering if they will actually loan me the money or not. They don’t have any to give out as we speak so I just have to get in line, for potentially six months. That seems like a tough sell when negotiating a price for a piece of land.
OK, I am seriously freaking out. This weather is driving me crazy, if it would just warm up a few degrees at night I could start moving things outside which would free up room under my grow lights for some more seedlings. And since I am about three weeks behind in my seeding schedule, I could really use some warmer night time temps here. I know that last year was an anomaly and I wasn’t expecting that again but I was really counting on at least having average temps. But then I suppose that’s why the call them average, you have to take the highs with the lows. I have snapdragons that are getting too tall and I just pinched them back. I guess that’s not such a bad thing I will have more flowers but they will be shorter. I do really love my tall snapdragons but I have learned that being a farmer is a lot about being happy with what you are given and adapting to circumstances beyond your control. Ugh. Really? I don’t like that there are things beyond my control. I really need a greenhouse in a bad way. At least I have this studio move to keep me busy, keep me from stewing in anxiety all day long.
What’s that you say? A move? Yes! I am moving my flower studio out of my non-air-conditioned, unheated, and poorly lit garage and into a lovely corner of a friends retail shop. That’s right, no more back ally flower deals for my clients. For real! People used to come to my garage door in the ally to buy flowers. Not very professional but it’s what I could afford. This move also means no more anonymous coffee shop meetings with brides. Since weddings have quickly become the largest part of my yearly sales, I decided that I really had to step up my game.
This is really exciting and exactly what I need to keep my mind off of so many other things that are distracting me right now. With this move we will reclaim our spare room and our garage. I think that Nich is more excited about this that I am. He says we should be able to use our garage for more standard garage related activities. The move will be complete by the end of the month and then I just sit back and wait for the flowers to bloom…. And plan a party, there will definitely be a party.
The farm hunt has taken up so much of my time and energy over the last three years and we are getting down to descion time. Do it now or wait for fall. And when I say do it now I mean like next week. This decision has absolutely consumed me this winter. It is not just a home purchase, if it were I would have done it by now. It is also my business and potentially where we will earn our living for the rest of our lives. So it is a huge decision and it is weighing on me. Up until this year we have not really had the funds to afford it, I had been looking and I thought that if we found the right thing we would make it work in some way. Well now we have the funds and I am having a hard time finding the right thing. Compromises have to be made due to the fact that our funds are limited and our situation is unique. How far are we willing to commute? How many tillable acres do we really need? How many would we really like? Is that landfill across the street going to cause a lot of problems? How close to the lake is too close? Adjacent to a trailer park? And can I really live in some of these houses? This has been the biggest issue. Nearly everything we see needs works, usually a lot. Some of them should just be torn down, seriously they look like the setting of a serial killer movie. I have answered all of these questions so many times and with each new possibility the answers change. And so we have decided, again, for the fourth time, that it is most cost effective and comfortable for us to buy vacant land and build a small house. Seems easy enough, right? Well all of the lots I had my eye on have sold and it is back to the drawing board. It has become difficult to keep out the negativity, I know it is not useful but it has a way of creeping in. I will be spending the next week looking through listings, calculating drive times and calling around to all of the various municipalities about zoning, permitted uses, etc. I hope to make an offer to someone by the end of the week. And I hope they accept it.