Farm search complete!

First off, the best Christmas present I could have gotten this year…I’ve bought a farm! Technically, it doesn’t close until February 27, 2009, but my offer was accepted and now I just have to get my ducks in order so that the money to pay for it is ready by the closing date. It’s a 40 acre farm by the town of Chesley, south of Owen Sound and east of Port Elgin. The property has a 2400 square foot farm house first built in 1886, a bank barn, a drive shed, and various other small outbuildings. The house itself is surrounded by mature trees and gardens, though I have yet to see them in all their glory!

I didn’t update this blog during the farm search because I didn’t want to write about the process while it was happening. It was just too much of an emotional rollercoaster for me to want to get my hopes up too high before I actually managed to secure a place. I knew that if it wasn’t in God’s timing for me to have my own farm straight away, that it wouldn’t happen, and I didn’t want to assume that I could be so lucky as to farm my own land in 2009. That said…I really wanted to find a place so I could farm my own land in 2009. It takes years to set up the right growing cycles for a farm and I just want to get started. And if I got a farm now, I was guaranteed to have a farm business partner for at least the first year, Mark, which would make the whole farm startup that much easier because I wouldn’t be doing so completely on my own but would have a trusted friend by my side. In my lower moments, I tried to cheer myself up by considering farm manager jobs that I could take next year instead. But that didn’t really cheer me up so I knew that if I didn’t get a property, I would be very depressed over Christmas. But no need to consider that ‘what if’ any more because I got the farm I wanted and I’m going to have the best Christmas ever!

Rewinding back to the start of the farm search process…while I was still at Everdale, I looked at a lot of Multiple Listing Service (MLS) farms to get a feel for what was out there and what the pricing was like. I did go to visit a couple properties, one close to Everdale and another one north-east of Barrie. The property close to Everdale was definitely far outside the realm of affordability, at $10,000+ per acre, which is how any property within an hour of Toronto was priced. The property north-east of Barrie had promise because it was 200 acres of land with 2 houses on it, as well as various outbuildings. I was quite excited to go and see it because on paper it seemed just right, but it turned out to be a really disappointing trip. I felt no uplifting of spirits when I looked at the land and of the 2 houses, the bungalow was basic, but liveable, while the 19th century farm house needed a lot of work. Even given the low price (around $1000/acre), I would be spending too much time and money making the buildings and property liveable to me, instead of farming. Not that I’ve had much experience or success in the dating game, but it felt like I had set up a date with a guy that looked really compatible on paper, only to have absolutely no chemistry with him on a face to face meeting. I certainly didn’t expect that having chemistry with a property would factor so strongly into my search!

A week or so later, I spent a day with an agent who brought me to 3 farms around Durham (west) region. One of them had beautiful land, but a house in about the worst condition that I have ever seen without actually being condemned. It was a fascinating place in that the owner was clearly an eccentric collector and had a lot of items that would have been interesting to explore. The second place was a horse boarding farm with a beautifully kept house and outbuildings, but the land itself lacked fertility. The third place was right on a busy road and the house reeked of cigarette smoke. So none of these properties were suitable.

After I returned to Toronto from Everdale, I started to seriously scout out properties on MLS and booked 2 days of showings all around south Grey Bruce to see 10 different properties from almost as many agents. The first day was really positive as each property looked promising and I could see myself farming on them. I was really happy that I could feel positive about these places because my last few experiences had left me worried that I wouldn’t see anything that I could like. The second day was a bit more hit and miss, with one mixup on location so that I missed one appointment. At the end of the 2 days, I was definitely tired. And soon after that, the snow hit, so I knew that if I were to be farming my own land in 2009, it would have to be one of the properties I had looked at.

Mark was with me for all these farm property visits and at each place, we performed the John Slack Dutch auger 10% hydrochloric acid soil test. All the agents were quite fascinated by this as it’s certainly not something they would have seen before. Essentially, we were testing for free carbonates in the parent material of the soil, as well as looking at the soil layers for texture which would indicate microbial activity (something to be encouraged in organic farming!). On most of the properties, we had to pull up almost 4 feet of soil, which meant we were often hitting water since it’s been such a wet summer. Of the properties tested, only a handful didn’t ‘fizz’ (reaction between the acid solution and calcium carbonate) and would therefore not be worth trying to farm since the land was missing the basic mineralogical components for good fertility. I think many of the agents were quite surprised that I would be the one digging the hole (Mark and I did take turns), though honestly, most probably weren’t expecting a short, Asian woman to be so seriously looking at farmland!

At the end of the 2 days and 10 properties, I knew there was only one property that would be a possibility. It was the smallest property we had looked at, with 40 acres, almost all workable, and a price tag that I coud finance without having to find outside investors. After looking at a lot of 100 acre properties, I had a better feeling for the size that I could manage. While the 100 acre properties were the best value with price points between $3000-5000 per acre, they had varied percentages of useable acres and buildings in different states of repair. And given the current and predicted future state of the Canadian economy, I didn’t want to have to incur more debt than I had to. So after confirming some details about the 40 acre property, I decided to take the next step of booking a home inspection.

I went with a home inspector with an engineering background who specialized in century homes. I knew that I would be getting a very thorough inspection (it lasted for almost 6 hours!), as well as an education on how to care for a century home. The day of the inspection dawned sunny and clear so the roads were good. I also brought my mother and best friend Julia along to see the farm. And it’s very lucky that I did as the early hour meant they were desperate for coffee, so I stopped the car at a gas station in Orangeville so they could get something to drink. When I went to restart the car, it wouldn’t start. Just as my mother started to pull out her CAA card for us to call for help, a CAA truck pulled in right beside us. I jumped out of the car to talk to the CAA mechanic so quickly that I don’t think he knew what hit him ;P Both Julia and my mom were calling it a miracle, as after he got his coffee, he had us follow him to his shop so he could check on the battery and see if it just needed replacing or if a more serious alternator replacement was needed. Luckily for me, only the battery needed replacing. The mechanic, Eric, had the battery ordered and replaced within an hour and we were back on the road! I’m so glad that we didn’t discover the car trouble at 3:30 pm as we tried to leave the farm!

We arrived at the farm to a winter wonderland. There were probably 2+ feet of snow on the property, and on the house’s roof! The home inspection itself revealed that the roof of the farm house needed replacement as soon as possible, but that otherwise, the work that needed to be done on the house all involved sealing the building envelope to prevent moisture penetration that would eventually rot the wooden joists for the floors. So I know I’ll be doing a lot of sanding, priming, painting, caulking and mortaring come spring. But these are all responsibilities I would have to take on as the owner of a century home anyway, so I’m up to the challenge! Most importantly, the home inspection confirmed that the wiring in the house was all grounded. If it had turned out that the home still had knob and tube wiring, I wouldn’t have bothered trying to buy the place as the whole interior would have to be gutted to update the wiring. I suspect that this house remained without electricity until after the knob and tube period was past. It is a heavily Amish area after all! I didn’t hire the inspector to look at the barn, but he did walk through it quickly with me and felt that it was in good condition. When I move there, I’ll have to get the Amish barn expert in the area to show me where some additional support may need to be put in.

The home inspection gave me a starting point for coming up with an initial offer amount for the farm. Essentially, I subtracted the immediate repair costs of replacing the roof and fixing the barn from the purchase price. After 2 nerve-wracking weeks of back and forth offer and counteroffer, the seller accepted my price and I signed the final papers on December 20th. In the end, I’m paying a bit more than my ideal price, and the seller is selling for a bit less than her ideal price, which means we’re probably at just the right price. I’m just super happy that the pricing process is over and I can actually kick myself out of stasis and into farm planning gear! Up until now, I didn’t know what 2009 would bring and was just trying to hold myself in neutral so that I wouldn’t be too disappointed if I didn’t end up with a farm for 2009. And part of me is still in shock right now and worried that something will derail this process before February 27. Any prayers or positive thoughts you could throw my way so that everything proceeds smoothly to closing would be greatly appreciated!

I don’t have any pictures I can post yet as I didn’t take any exterior shots of the place and I don’t want to post pictures of the inside of someone else’s home since the seller still lives there. But I will take exterior, wintry shots the next time I’m up there! If you feel so inclined, start planning an Ontario road trip next year and come out to visit me at my new farm 🙂

This is the story of my journey into sustainable agriculture. From the streets of downtown Toronto, to the farm land of southern Ontario, I hope to discover the techniques and practices that work for me in both mind and heart.

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