blinders on: time to make it happen
There's a chicken I raised and potatoes I grew on this farm in the crock pot right now, swimming in a stew of cream of broccoli, potatoes, carrots, and onions. Later today I'll ladle it into a butter pie crust and bake it into a pot pie. It'll be served with bread I am baking today, and green beans I blanched and froze from this past summer. Dessert will be with apple turnovers brushed in butter and sugar. The meal is for Brett and I, after a we spend the afternoon constructing supports for the basement floor. The floor of of this house was always wonky, but recently, due to either the high moisture of the summer followed by the daily heat of the wood stove, age, or both: the floor has been creaking, dipping, and rising up in new bumps. So Brett's going to inspect and correct it, and for his kindness I'm making him dinner. It's a fair trade, as a home-grown pot pie is out of this world and I don't care who's making it (or if they cheated with some Campbell's in the stew). Looking forward to the work, the company, and the meal!
I spent the morning enjoying the extra hour of sleep granted by Daylight Savings. But when I woke up the house was a chilly 56 degrees. Talk about motivation to get outside and do your chores! By the time both stoves were cleaned of old ash, re-lit, and roaring I was outside feeding the sheep, chickens, pigs and handing carrots to Jasper. Out there the world was crusted in ice. The thermometer read 22. The sheep had ice on their backs and the chickens were already up on the open areas of pasture first hit by the sun, so they could scratch and explore in the defrosting horse patties. I live on the east side of a the mountain, so I get daylight before my neighbors on the other side do. I think it's nice this time of year to see that sunrise sooner, and to watch the grass go from white to dark green as a flock of mini dinosaurs trot past me to eat some horse poo. Nice, indeed.
I am spending the day at home, both taking care of it and being taken care of by it. The work of reinforcing the floor, stacking wood, and animal chores is just as vital an enjoyable as baking fresh breads and pot pies by a warm fire. This farm grew the food and some of the wood, and it deserves some TLC from time to time. When I stand up in the pasture and look over this place I am held in an emotional limbo that leaves me floating somewhere between ebbs of gratitude and incredulousness. I can barely believe it happened, but it did happen, and that's what I want to write about this morning...
I bought a farm. I bought a farm at 28, with no savings, poor credit, and no experience with negotiating beyond livestock tailgate parties. I want you to know that if this is something you want as bad as I did, you can do it too. Do not let ANYONE tell you otherwise. Those naysayers are full of more horseshit then my chickens.
Buying this house was a blur. It was the first (and only) house I looked at. I walked in it, around the property, and felt every kind of heart-gripping compulsion to make it mine. I just wasn't sure how? The realtor, Leon Barkley, was the man who showed me around the place. The first time I met him I was terrified. Not because Leon was in any way scary, but because he represented a possibility I had never let myself believe in before. He, however, sold many homes and knew who was and wasn't going to cut the mustard. He had faith in my story, and felt this old girl was a good match for me. His instincts were right, but it turned out his connections were even better...
I told Leon about my below-average salary, zero savings, and 530 credit score and he didn't even flinch. He explained that traditionally I might be in a fix, but other options existed outside of banks and the FHA. He said I should talk to a mortgage broker he trusted named James Teele. He said James knew the USDA loan program inside and out, and those mortgages didn't have as strict qualifications as some banks, and required no money down. This sounded made up to me, but I called the man he suggested.
James Teele explained that Washington County, all of it, was in an area the US government considered "Rural Development". Unlike Vermont, where I was living at the time, this place had options for a new homeowner without a fat bank account. I was intrigued, and James was kind, honest, and coached me through the process of buying this farm. He was invaluable and without him I would not be here today. That is a summary of my personal story of the winter of 2009/2010. But waht you need to understand is that this isn't a case of just luck and circumstance. This farm happened because I walked into a house I wasn't sure I could buy, with the belief that no matter what, I would make it mine. It wasn't a case of money, or who I knew, it was a case of stubbornness, faith, and belief in myself and in the outcome I had written down on a piece of paper months ago that I carried with me everywhere I went in my back pocket.
I'm going to stand on my soapbox now.
Listen, if you want a farm then you need to stop telling yourself it'll happen later. None of us are getting any younger, and as far as I'm concerned putting it off is the same as giving up. Life is happening now. You need to start making it happen now, because for some of us, it isn't a matter of just moving boxes and road trips. Some of us have credit and savings to repair, and it might take a five years. Well guess what folks, five years are coming no matter what, so why not be on your own farm at the end of them? Start the process now. I don't care what your situation is, start now.
Pick up a home selling flyer at the diner and send some emails, scan the local papers, walk into local Realtor offices and check want ads. Drive around the places you want to live and ask questions, note For Sale signs, and take notes. Make appointments at your local, and other credit unions. So what if you walk into a bank and are laughed at?! (I was laughed out of three.) So what if you are told no, over and over again? There is no law on the books that says that you, the dreamer, can not pursue the dream of a farm. No police who scan you for credit scores before you take the tour of that farm outside of town. You can and should do this! Call those Realtors, walk into those houses and see them. Touch the banisters and barn walls. Fill your current coffee tables with those library books on goat shed building, chicken care, and gardening. Create the reality you want to live in. Surround yourself with it. Take classes, attend workshops, surround yourself with like minds at local CSA, craft, and community events. It will be forced to happen to you as long as you believe it can.
Ask questions and never be ashamed to be totally honest. You might see some hackles raise when you tell folks you just got your first job out of college, have little savings, and four credit cards, but they will either say yes or no to you, and soon as they say no, ask why. The information will be invaluable to your process. Maybe that rejection is what you need to start paying off those credit cards and eating plain pasta with red sauce for a month (that was my case), or start that major yard sale and EBay jihad to get the nest egg to build your confidence. A rejection is a gift, it tells you what you need to start doing so the next time your try it can't be because of credit cards, or lack of savings, or loans. Accept these hard lessons and fight to repair them. The work will be hard, require changes in your current standards of living and frugality, but again, in five years wouldn't you rather be lighting a wood stove in New Hampshire than a cigarette outside your break room?
That whole rant's point is to explain this very basic point: start now. Do not put off your plans. Do not expect the world to be the same in ten years. Now is the time to take advantage of all the foreclosures, caretaking options, rural rent-to-owns and so forth. If you are sitting on an expensive home you already own in a subdivision, but desperately wish you could be on a farm...well. it might require you purge yourself of that mental disease that is the "addiction of prior investment". Just because you put everything into where you are not doesn't mean you have to stay there, but it will become a prison if you convince yourself you can't leave until the economy gets it back to it's 2007 home value. Walk away and start living.
Some of us simply will not qualify for a traditional 30-year mortgage. And for those that do not, you still shouldn't be vanquished. In this economy, do you have any idea how many second country homes are up for rent or foreclosure? Up for rent-to-buy options or seller note-holding? Thousands. You'll have to scurry a little, dig a little. Maybe ask the person who posted that place with the barn, stables, and brick house on Craigslist if they are the owner, and if they would consider a renting proposal that after a year would allow some conversations about taking over the mortgage? There are choices and chances out there for all of us, but they will only be presented to the people who are willing to chomp bits, paste their ears back against the sides of their heads, and run forward with blinders on. You need to sprint past who you were before, and past the other people letting life happen to them. Your dream is only as far away as you are willing to believe it is.
Find it. Fight for it. Believe in it. It's waiting for you.