If you are a blogger who buys a farm, there is an unwritten rule--at least until I wrote it--that you have to post about it within 14 days. Being a stickler for deadlines, I am telling you now: Kelly and I bought farm 15.5 days ago. How much farm? 38 acres. That brings our total holdings to 38 ⅓ acres. That’s 114 times more land than we owned before we bought a farm. On the farm scale 38 acres is puny, but on the city dweller scale it is well into the holy sheet! range. I won’t have to worry about where I will put the extra tomato plants anymore.
Technically the bank bought this land for us and all we had to do was sign a bunch of papers promising to eventually pay for it. We are deeply grateful for our bank. In addition to monthly checks for the next 800 years, I will probably give the nice bank people some of my extra carrots, squash and kale.
Technically it’s not 38 acres of land. 6 acres is a pond, which looks a lot like a small lake, and that’s made up mostly of water. The pond is surrounded by several acres of old forest--magnificent oaks, towering walnuts, stately maples. Once, in a moment of doubt, I described these features to my friend Tim. He said, “So you’ll have your own state park.”
Technically it’s not a farm. The 13 acres of tillable land is leased to a neighboring farmer, so if you see corn there as you bike along rustic Lalor Road, it belongs to Farmer Bob, who will manage it until the end of the growing season. Our land was once a farm, but the farmhouse--now demolished--had been abandoned for several years and the few dilapidated buildings left are idle. We bought the property from the baby boomer grandchildren whose family owned it for five generations. Their grandparents farmed it well before the turn of the century. It will be a farm once again, but on this day it is land owned by two people who don’t even know how drive a tractor.
Those of you who know me for my ever-expanding garden won’t be surprised that we bought land. For years people have been telling me I need land, to which I have replied, “No, I don’t.” I was proud to have figured out how to grow more vegetables than we could ever use on what I called my suburban farm. This year’s productivity is no exception. With a month or more left, I have harvested more than 150 pounds of tomatoes from 37 plants. Barring calamity, I should easily surpass 300 pounds of winter squash, which I won’t try to carry all at once. There is enough kale and chard to feed a family of 12 imaginary children who would actually eat kale and chard. A year’s supply of garlic rests in our basement.
So what happened?
It started with a conversation, whose first words were uttered by Kelly, the person who knows me better than I know myself. “Well, it couldn’t hurt to look,” I agreed. So we looked. I was picky. I did not want nearby conventional agriculture, especially on the windward side because of concerns about herbicide drift. I did not want to be far from the city limits, because I intend to keep my real job and I have to get to it fast sometimes. And I did not want to give up commuter biking.
Had we shopped in Fantasy Land, we would have found a vacant lot insulated from toxins on two to six acres close to the city, but Fantasy Land was somewhere else. Lots that size were listed, but they had a huge houses with huge price tags. We learned that much of Dane County is of the anti-development ilk, also known as the farmland preservation movement, so there are many rules in many parts of the county that prevent parcels smaller than 35 acres from being sold.
The reasons to buy land revealed themselves as we journeyed through the countryside. We could finally have chickens, lots of bees to pollinate lots of plants, and maybe--someday--big animals like pigs or sheep or cows. We could build a smaller house, fit for two people and a small pack of dogs. Empty nesters downsizing, we joked. We wanted a truly energy efficient house, one that heats and cools itself. We could have a greenhouse for year-round growing that doesn’t require shelves in bedroom windows and fruit flies in the master bathroom. We could inspire others with innovation in a culture that otherwise cultivates and rewards conformity.
Our search ended close to where it started, about 6.3 miles and 13 minutes south of the hospital, as the crow drives. We had stopped to look at this parcel months earlier, when we first began our search. I quickly ruled it out. The vast expanse of cornfield dismayed me, and the pond made me nervous. I imagined it to be full of contaminated runoff--herbicides, nitrates from fertilizer (the area is known for high nitrate levels in well water) and who knows what else. For sure the pond is contaminated, but I realize that nature--if given a fair chance--can repair itself. I have seen that happen on a small scale in my own back yard.
Location, location, location brought us back. This location was right, almost to an absurd degree. As we walked the property with the realtor we began to feel its promise and potential. There were ducks and geese in the pond. Frogs croaked. I was not able to see if any of them had legs growing out of their heads, but at least they sounded normal. Like at second sight, I guess you could say. And then there was a whirlwind of offers, counter offers, deliberation, sleepless nights, faxes and signatures, emails and attachments, and many more trips to down Lalor Road to walk the land and ponder the possibilities. And suddenly it was ours. We are calling it One Seed Farm. We captured oneseedfarm.org but the web site has not yet been built, so if you visit, nothing will happen. Yet.
There is so much to learn. The opportunities are exciting. The task list is daunting. I find myself outside my comfort zone. But bring it on. It’s a chance to grow. And that will be our slogan: A Chance to Grow.
Someday I will tell the story of the evolving farm plan, about how we stumbled onto a modern day pioneer named Mark Shepard and a handful of his disciples. I will tell you about restoration agriculture and savannas and chestnuts and fruit trees and alley crops and fields that act like giant rain barrels. I will tell you about a type of sustainable, non-toxic farming that could be, if the earth remains habitable long enough, a model for the future of agriculture. Maybe I will tell you how Kelly milked a cow or sheared a sheep.
Someday, perhaps a decade or two from now, we might walk the fields and I will show you my work. Maybe it will turn out that I didn’t need the land after all. Maybe we will decide the land needed me.
Acknowledgements: I am grateful to so many people. A thousand pounds of thank you to my premium wife, Kelly, to the Lalor family, to Ellery Jensen of Stark Realty, to our attorney Greg Paradise, to my friend Dan for smiling so loudly when I told him, to Michael, Mike and Karen at Johnson Bank, to John Gaddo and Nancy North for sharing the super cool and super warm passive house, to Keefe Keeley of the Savanna Institute, to genius farmer Mark Shepard, to Chisti and Lou, our forward-thinking architects at Design Coalition, to Larry Seibert for giving us the article about Mark, to restoration agriculture experts Grant Schultz and Peter Allen, to Elizabeth Barnhill and her friend Monique, who linked us to so many contacts, and to countless friends and family who heard about this and said, "That is so cool!" It is.