I wrote a post about the farm we bought in August. I didn't like it, so I gutted it. The post, not the farm. Below is the cannibalized version that flows better. I split it into multiple installments, just to keep you in crazy suspense, and to keep you from being bored out of your minds. I use the auto-interview format that, according to my imagination, I invented. Many of the questions I ask myself are questions people have asked me. I named my imaginary interviewer Gini, which is short for Imagini, which comes from imaginary interviewer. Let’s go.
GINI: So you bought a farm?
GINI: How do you feel about that?
STEVE: Excited. Anxious. Inspired. Fortunate. Ignorant. Determined. Inadequate. Intrigued.
GINI: Mixed emotions?
STEVE: Yes. I don’t even know how to drive a tractor. Or where to drive it. It’s overwhelming at times--I wake up at night thinking about cover crops and tree planters. But I remind myself to appreciate the journey. The farm will never really be finished, so I guess it’s all a journey. Most days I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve.
GINI: You think comfort is overrated anyway, right?
STEVE: Yes. Even so, I realize I was too comfortable in my soon to be old life. It was a good life, but the comfort of routine won’t make me stronger. Venturing out into the unknown will. I remind myself that anxiety is necessary for growth. Speaking of growth, I get plants, so I know I can do this. That part doesn't scare me. Hard work doesn't scare me. Animals scare me a little. It will be OK.
GINI: What have you done so far?
STEVE: We closed on the property in August. My 30 x 32 farm building will be finished by next month. Once that is up, I can move a lot of my gardening stuff to that building so we can get the house ready to sell. Kelly is on a mission. One day she will tackle a closet. Another day, a bedroom or a set of storage cupboards. I can’t imagine how I could do this without her. She finds places to recycle or donate stuff. She is masterful researcher. She found our architects. She manages the Houzz site where our design ideas live. The preliminary house design is done. We hired a builder. I am working with the town board and county zoning agency for approval of the site of the new house. I have visited three farms, attended a four-day farmscale permaculture course in Iowa and have read some good books on news ways to farm. I am working with a farmer consultant on the farm design. I spend a lot of time reading .pdf files put out by the USDA.
GINI: Tell me about the house.
STEVE: I thought we would never build again, but we need a place to live out there. The old farmhouse--now razed--was uninhabitable, unless you were a mouse or raccoon. The new house is an opportunity to build better.
GINI: How better?
STEVE: Don’t get me wrong; I love our current house. It has a 1000-square foot gym for godsake. And a garden room above the garage. And a nice kitchen. And a huge organic garden that yielded 500 pounds of squash, 200 pounds of tomatoes, a year’s supply of garlic and more greens, herbs and roots than we could ever eat ourselves. It has lots of storage to keep all the crap we don’t need. Lots of memories in this house. It was a good place to raise our kids. For sure it has served us well, but we can do better.
GINI: How so?
STEVE: Foremost, our house is an energy hog. And it's too big, especially now that the kids are moved out.
GINI: Is it more an energy hog than other houses of that size?
STEVE: Not at all. It is very well constructed by conventional standards.
STEVE: Conventional standards are based on the building code, which is based on adequacy. The building code means your house is good enough. It’s probably an oversimplification, but it seems to me the industry goal is to build something that looks nice and passes inspection, as cheaply as possible. And cheaper means upfront costs without a lot of thought given to ongoing energy expenditures. Even the various green certifications, which are better than code, don’t come close to applying the best available science.
GINI: So what are you gonna build?
STEVE: An excellent house.
GINI: With geothermal?
STEVE: Ha! First question most people ask. Before we got educated I assumed we would have it, but it’s not part of the plan.
GINI: Why not?
STEVE: For one thing, we don’t need it. Our experts say geothermal is not sensible for residential construction. It’s very expensive to install, prone to mechanical problems and requires significant energy input to get the energy out of it.
GINI: Describe your house in a few sentences.
STEVE: Farmhouse. 2400 square feet. Super tight. Super insulated. High-quality windows and doors. High-efficiency energy recovery ventilation system. As many repurposed or recycled materials as possible. Metal roof. 1000-gallon cistern to collect rain water. Root cellar. Greenhouse. Solar panels.
GINI: None of those were sentences.
STEVE: Get over it. My blog. I can use clauses whenever I feel like it.
GINI: Your excellent house sounds expensive.
STEVE: We expect sticker shock in a couple weeks when the pricing comes back from the builder. I know we will have to scale back some things to get it back under a zillion dollars, but it’s still going to be really good. There is data showing a house like this has the same monthly costs as a similarly-sized conventional house when you add mortgage and energy costs together.
GINI: Could you go smaller?
STEVE: Sure, but we won’t because we want to share. We both envision a steady stream of family, friends and curious onlookers sitting around our long farm table for dinners or Friday night gatherings on the front screen porch. We might even have farm hands or interns or a parent living with us.
GINI: No gym, huh?
STEVE: Well, kinda no gym. The G-wing, which is the garage and greenhouse, also has a general purpose room, which is a bit under 500 square feet. Not a gym like we have now, but we could throw the ball to Clyde on a frigid day or hold a small exercise class or use it for a lecture on restoration agriculture.
GINI: Restoration agriculture?
STEVE: Long subject. Let’s talk about that next time.
GINI: G-wing. Clever.
STEVE: Kelly’s idea. She is clever.
GINI: What do you like best about your farm?
STEVE: It needs a lot of work, but it’s a beautiful place. It has a 6 acre pond, a forest and 12 acres of farm field. It’s history is rich. The Lalor family bought it in the mid-1800’s and the land has been in the family ever since.
GINI: What else?
STEVE: We are learning new things every day. The potential to teach others is important to us. I can’t tell you how many intelligent people we have met in the past year. These are the pioneers of common sense--innovative, passionate and generous with their ideas. They--and this community of outside-the-box thinkers--give me confidence that we can make our farm special. Most of all, I get to do this with Kelly. Best farm wife ever. How lucky is that? Did I mention buying a farm was her idea?