Winter Farm Dreaming

It might be time to go ahead and admit it has been a hard winter.  Not that it’s even close to over, but considering what we’ve got so far, I’d say it’s one for the record books–one that we’ll sit back in our chairs and recall to each other in years to come.

After several rounds of snow and ice, we managed to warm up a bit this past week.  The first three or four days of that were enrobed in dense fog that resulted in an ever-thickening layer of hoarfrost on everything–which the eventual two days’ worth of freezing rain found a good sticky base on which to cling.

Then Friday the wind came up, and it rained ice shards and small branches all day.  My street was informally designated a hard hat area by its residents.

Finally, yesterday was a lovely day.  Like the good Northern homeowner I am, I spent a couple of hours out chopping and removing the aforementioned ice and branches from my walkways along with the underlayer of compacted snow left by the last snowblower pass.

It was thirty-seven degrees, and I was in my shirtsleeves, trading off between two metal shovels and a prybar, hacking away with vigor, a fact my back muscles have not forgiven me for as yet despite last night’s long hot bath.

Once that task was accomplished, H and I set off heading north in his van–toward Centerville and their wonderful small-town bakery, and to check out a farm property I’d gotten word of near Volin.

At that point it had started raining, but University Road was clear, and if it hadn’t been for some unknown problem with the engine or carburetor, we might’ve actually made it.  As it was, we chugged along to about a mile short of the turn-off to our closest destination, at which point the van quit, and we had to call for a ride back to town.

Not to be dissuaded, I set off late this morning toward that farm place in my little light truck.  The temps had fallen back down below freezing, which was a good thing considering half the roads I was taking once I left University were gravel, and there were lots of frozen mud-ruts from the previous day’s melt-down.

The way I got in to that place was not the way I’d take out in an emergency weather situation, I can tell you that.

I found the farm, drove past it, turned around, and then pulled in the drive.  There was no “for sale” sign on it, but the address was clear and there was a truck in the drive.  I thought, “what the heck?” and got out and knocked on the back door (the front was obviously not in use, judging from the drifts and where the vehicle was parked).

The guy who owns the place is young.  I’d bet he’s younger than I am–though probably not by too much.  He has done an incredible amount of work on the house in the time he’s owned it–new roof, new siding, new wood floors, all new windows.  And yet the inside is almost completely devoid of furnishings or a lived-in feeling.

His kids were there–visiting him from Sioux Falls.  He’s been back and forth from this area to the Southwest, where he also sometimes finds work.  But work has dried up here, and he has to get back there, but there’s this farm–this dream–he can’t keep up if he’s gone.

When he has been here, he has poured money and sweat into that property, building up a dream that he can’t continue to sustain.  I think I heard him say, “I’d have liked to fix ___, but I ran out of money” at least half a dozen times or more.  But he’d done a lot already–much more than the previous several owners had from what I understood.

The property itself is about ten and a half acres–in some ways, it’s pretty ideal for my needs because most of it has been a hay field for years, and it has a not-huge barn that’s not in great shape, but could be repaired by scrapping out another building that hasn’t fared so well.

It has reasonably good windbreaks, and spray drift doesn’t look like it’d be a big problem.  It’s about sixteen miles out of Vermillion–closer to Wakonda and Volin, but certainly a do-able distance if I was able to get good internet service.

But, you know, it occurred to me, looking at this property, that I don’t know how responsible it is to be looking at a property that would put me out there alone with my dog and maybe my son (though the school district is a good one).

This whole farm dream just seems like it would be easier if I wasn’t a single-income household unto myself.  It’s not that I regret ending my marriage or living the way I choose to, but it does make some decisions harder and some hurdles higher and some work harder.

I’d have never chosen for myself to live right in town (I was much more in love with the farm places we looked at), but at the time we bought this place, I was busy making the money, not doing the house-searching.  So this is what I’ve ended up with, for better or worse–with neighbors close in on either side and very little ground I own on which to grow.

Still, it’s one thing to live as a single able-bodied person in a little house in town–it’s another to be that single able-bodied person in a four-bedroom house on ten acres over a mile from the pavement and five or six from the nearest town.  Sure, I’ve known people who’ve done it–are doing it–and I know women who are doing it, too, in case you’re wondering.

There’s a stereotype around here of the Norwegian bachelor farmer, true–but so far as I know there’s no accompanying Scots-English bachelorette farmer stereotype–maybe because your typical Norwegian stands quite a bit taller, so as to see over the tall grass and snow drifts.

Truth is, I don’t know what to do with this situation–to buy the farm or to keep it a dream–maybe until I’m too old to make the most of it (thanks for that reminder, back muscles).  I do have a decent place to grow, and I plan to keep growing there this year, filling CSA shares and selling at the farmers market.

But I don’t own that land, and I don’t live on it, and I don’t see how it makes sense to continue to expand and develop land that isn’t mine and isn’t going to be.  But the leap to my own farm–one that I live on and can develop and expand to my specifications, just seems so incredibly huge and daunting and maybe even a little dangerous.

So, I’ve been mulling this all over tonight as I type this and make dinner (turkey-roasted veggie-borlotto bean stew).  The wind has come up and we’ve got another inch or so of snow in the air and on the ground.  I made a grocery run and the roads were already getting more slippery–the visibility less.

The winter is still not over and it won’t be for another couple of months, and maybe part of my unease is not having my hands in the earth–not seeing the path in front of me–feeling buried in all the snow and the possibilities.

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4 responses

  1. wow, incredible post. to buy or to continue to rent…a very big decision. the farm sounds awesome and if it rocks your boat, you should go ahead and buy it. don’t worry about how you’re going to manage. you will…as long as you’re following your dream.

    • Thanks for the comments.

      I don’t actually rent; I grow on my partner’s land. I can’t say as I agree with not worrying how I’d manage though–it’s one thing to do it myself; it’s quite another to drag my child away from his friends in town to a lonesome farm on the prairie. I don’t see that as a responsible parental decision. It may be best to hold off until I can find a stretch of land that I can afford to pay on without selling my house in town–then work on developing that over time to meet my needs.

  2. I agree with Mary…go for it. My parents own about 80 acres of which we have about an acre of garden space. We also have space for an orchard, cows, chickens, and whatever else we’re interested. Working in the garden late into the summer night, hearing nothing but yourself working in the dirt…it will be worth more than words. Good luck.

  3. It is my guess that in Vermillion there is not much for rental property during the school year. Otherwise that might be a good option. In Milbank there are often some apartments above Main Street stores available, but Milbank is not a college town.
    Some things to consider; what are the neighbors like? Other kids around? Someone who your son could go home with in case you were stuck in town? A friendly neighbor with a snow blower attachment? Does your son like the idea of living on a farm? Do you like being in town during the winter where you can be sociable? Is it a real dream? Or a castle in the air?
    Such a big decision, such ramifications.

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