Saturday, November 15, 2008

Planning for my long-term goals

Although I am on my way to converting the lawn on my suburban lot to growing food, my future plans include being able to keep animals, bees and vast numbers of fruit bushes and trees, something that my small lot cannot support nor is allowed by my city ordinances. As I look forward to my future farm in four years, what am I thinking about now to facilitate my plans?

Plans I had for my current home will need to be limited to keep more future capital for the farm. This means the minor bathroom remodel and potential kitchen remodel are shelved. However, I will finish the window replacement, will consider additional attic insulation and need to persuade my neighbor to paint the wood exterior next year. Keeping and enhancing the value of my home will help me get the best price I can when I sell. At least that is my hope.

I will also really need to focus on saving additional money. In looking at my numbers, the best way to reach at least 5% down payment and enough cash to purchase trees, equipment and animals is to save another $175/month. Since this money is hard to find in my current income, I will have to get a second job or determine what alternative streams of income I can set up. This will require more thinking on my part to figure out what I can do to increase my savings.

To be honest, earning more money is where I really get hung up. I have a few ideas for self-employment, but nothing that has been executed. A couple ideas would be in highly competitive venues and I do not want to fight hard to earn some money. A second job in an established business would be best, but my city has a small list of job openings with few for which I am able to qualify. In addition, the job market for retail jobs has become quite tight recently.

Deciding I will have a farm in spring 2012 and having one are two different things. Opportunity and ability to take said opportunity need to come together for me. I am certain my ideas and plans will be refined in the next 3.5 years. What is acceptable and important today will be modified by the time I truly implement my lifestyle change. I have just recently added beekeeping to my ideas for the farm and oddly enough, am debating myself about adding a dairy cow. This from a woman who made all sorts of excuses to get out of milking cows. What is the world coming to?

By the time I would like to purchase country property, the current economic issues will hopefully have eased. I do not want to find a place that will make me happy, but am unable to get a loan or cannot sell my house. I am in a better position to sell than some as housing values in my area have not declined much and my home is a starter home. However, where everything will be in four years is tough to say. I would like some equity from my home to help me in my new place.

I was raised on a dairy farm and am familiar with crop farming. However, my dad is a conventional family farmer while I want to have a small organic farm that will at least sustain me if not generate a small income stream. Instead of the 85 head of Holsteins my dad milked regularly until 18 years ago, I want 3-4 sheep, maybe a cow, a couple of beehives, 6-12 chickens (egg layers and meat), a couple of geese and some farm cats to keep down the rodents. Rather than farming 1,000 acres of alfalfa, wheat, soybeans and corn, I want to grow veggies and fruits on a few acres. While I might be familiar with farming, I do not have the knowledge to farm how I want to do it.

Therefore, I need to find mentors, take classes and educate myself on what I need to know to make things work. I have been reading books, but that can only take me so far. Talking with someone knowledgeable and willing to share his or her experience is important to understanding more issues involved in what I want to do. My first couple tries in this matter have given mixed results. I need to find the right people that will support me in the manner I want. That mentorship can be difficult to find and challenging to foster. Classes would be a formalized way to instill knowledge and there are programs at the local university on various farm topics including sheep. I may consider exploring that next year. If I can get the knowledge and mentorship I need, I will be better prepared for starting and running my own farm.

I desire to return to the country. This call to have my own small farm is a new twist on the idea, but one I am thoroughly embracing. While I am surprised at the intensity and interest I have in owning and running a small organic farm, I want to see this through. Yes, I worry that despite my plans, my preparation, skills and money will not be enough to get me to a break-even point, much less making money at a farming endeavor. I may even fail miserably.

However, I am taking steps to get me to a level I can tackle starting a garden bigger than 100 square feet. I am learning what I need to do to plant crops successively on depleted soil, how to amend it, how to expand a garden and how much time it takes to get started and support 210 square feet rather than 81 square feet. How much mulch, compost and other amendments do I need? How long do I have to wait until I can harvest a crop? Do I need to wait years, months or weeks? How do I deal with rodents? The experience on my small suburban lot can translate to a larger garden and converting lawn to garden space will also prove useful. Learning is not only classwork and reading, but doing. I may not be able to practice animal husbandry on my current property, but I can grow as many different fruits and vegetables as the land can support with correct sun exposure and between trees. Building knowledge and confidence is a good thing.

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