P1080808

Our Big News: We Bought a Farm!

It’s been months in the making, but Ian and I finally found a new way to be different than most millennials and bought our first house.

Except it’s not just a house, it’s a real, honest to goodness, fulfills-every-childhood-dream-I’ve-ever-had farmhouse.

P1080762

We own this barn now. Is this real life?!

As of last Wednesday, we are the proud owners of 33.5 acres in Allegan County, Michigan. Half of the land is wooded, a quarter is fenced pasture land, and the last quarter is open fields where corn and other crops were grown in decades past. The land was once a forty-acre parcel, but the northeastern corner was carved out for a small cemetery.

Traversing the wooded half of the lot are two small streams, and the property comes with a big red barn, four horse stalls, and a smattering of small outbuildings without an immediately apparent purpose. Goat barns? Future chicken coops? Everything seems possible at this stage.

P1080766

Horses are neat, but in a year I envision this pasture with a few dairy goats or alpaca instead.

P1080810

The view from one of the six (!!!) horse pastures.

P1080797

Inside the main barn.

P1080813

One of the two small streams on the property.

Centered near the road is the 1930s Victorian-style farmhouse, a home that won me over with its sturdy construction and ample natural light. Walking inside makes it clear that the house was likely self-built by the first owners, possibly with trees timbered right from the surrounding woodlot. Much of the internal structure is not ‘standardized’ in any way, meaning that modern essentials like bedroom closets and second bathrooms are currently nonexistent.

In other words, after living in the Knob house for a full two years, it feels familiar in all the right ways.

P1080776

All those windows were a major selling factor for me and a big bonus at our price point.

P1080777

Cute, functional dining room that could be enhanced with hardwood flooring someday.

P1080787

This kitchen needs….work. But how often do you get to justify a major kitchen renovation? (Maybe the chicken wallpaper will stay haha.)

The Process of Buying a Farm

Buying property like this is a BIG decision both financially and lifestyle-wise, and it’s not one that we’ve taken lightly. In fact, looking at rural listings has been a theme of Ian and my relationship since before we were engaged. My dad has always found looking at available land to be one of the better ways to spend a free weekend, and Ian and I joined him on several occasions while we were dating simply to see what was out there.

However, the farm conversations began to build in earnestness about a year ago. We absolutely love the lifestyle we have here in West Virginia, but living nine hours from family in both directions isn’t something we want to do long-term. Likewise, the pull to move back to the region where I grew up became stronger each season.

When I found that freelancing writing fulfilled me creatively and allowed me to make a (relatively) stable salary from any location with internet access, the idea of buying our own farm suddenly felt far more feasible. Moving to a new place without jobs is scary, but it’s only half as scary if one job is already secured.

P1080814

See the red in the center of the picture? That’s our barn, IN A PICTURE TAKEN WHILE STILL ON OUR PROPERTY. It blows my mind.

And so, we started scouring listings to learn what we wanted in our future farmhouse. We first met with our real estate agent last Thanksgiving, and my dad and I have kept a near-constant stream of emails with listing specs traveling across the internet ever since. In those months of searching, we started to narrow down what we were looking for and got an understanding of what region of Michigan we could most see ourselves settling in.

But, in the interest of mixing things up, I also applied to a North Carolina farm contest and promptly got my money back when it was canceled last month. While my dream of decades of mortgage-free living was dashed forever, I think my mother cried tears of happiness, so it all worked out in the end.

P1080774

Having a wood stove was on my wishlist, and this exterior burner perfectly fits the bill.

Buying property, especially rural property is never a quick process, but a general lack of selection does make it easier to finally commit. In a full year of looking at listings multiple times a day, I think there were possibly five properties within a 50-mile radius that we seriously considered making a move on.

Real estate in West Michigan is hot right now, so we knew our ideal property probably wouldn’t stay on the market long enough for us to visit it on one of our infrequent trips back home. For that reason, we gave my parents full proxy power to scope out listings and report back if anything was worth pursuing.

That decision was almost disastrous, as my parents had a bad impression of this farm the first time they saw it. Their excuse was that the weather was dreary, so they drove by it without a second thought. However, we checked it out together when I visited a few weeks later, and within minutes I knew that this was a place where I could settle down. We put an offer on the property a few days later, and after navigating the circuitous path that is modern home-buying, officially finalized the sale three days ago. So now I can finally say it. We own a farm!

Well, technically… my parents do. Self-employment is a scary thing for banks, so they require at least two years of taxable income before even considering you for a mortgage, no matter the size of your down payment. After taking stock of the ruthless West Michigan property market, my parents offered to give us the ultimate vote of confidence by securing this property until I hit my two-year freelance writing mark in May and can officially qualify for the mortgage to buy it from them.

We are forever indebted to their generosity, and we’re hoping to begin making it up to my dad by letting him store as many tractors on the property as he wants. I think this arrangement will work out well for all of us.

Your Questions: Answered

If you’ve made it this far, you are probably confused about the intent behind this change in location. These questions might clear things up.

When are We Leaving West Virginia?

Though this house is ours, we won’t be living in it for at least a year, maybe longer. Ian’s contract with Big Laurel extends through August 1, and I expect we’ll stay through the middle of the month. A big factor for buying this property now is that the timing lets us rent it out for a full year before we move in. Buying any later in the year would leave too little time for renting, and waiting to make a purchase until we officially moved back to the state might leave us with higher listing prices and no promising options to pursue.

Are We Going to be Real Farmers?

That’s definitely the dream. Working on organic farms were some of the most profound experiences I had in college, and I would love to emulate the lifestyle for the long-term. In an ideal world, I’d pay the bills with my writing while Ian ran a vegetable market garden and homeschooled our tanned and barefoot children in the open air. Realistically though, getting this property to pay for even a third of our living expenses would be thrilling.

Maintaining a family farm has long been my dream, but I’m under no illusion that it’s an easy or profitable life. For this reason, we won’t be putting all our eggs in one basket (farm metaphor- ha!) and will still keep full-time jobs, at least for the first few years.

Ideally, I want to intensively cultivate a small piece of the property, no more than 3-4 acres, for vegetable production. The rest of the land will likely be used for pasture space, hay production, and cover crops. In my experience, this allows the farm to stay manageable for a family while still being worth the effort from a profit standpoint.

Hiring interns or WWOOFers might also be an option someday and would be a good way for me to give back for all the farm experience I’ve received over the years. If we get to the point where I can spend most Saturdays in the summer at a farmer’s market, I’ll be a very happy person.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These farm books are so multifunctional. Not only are they aiding my education, but they also make for an inspiring laptop stand!

Why THIS Property?

In our opinion, there’s a lot to like about our new farm.

Great Location: We wanted to live as close to my parents as we could, and at just forty minutes away, this property is about the best we can do at our price point for the acreage. It’s also conveniently centered between several large cities in West Michigan that have potential for selling farm products, providing a full-time job for Ian, and even the allowing us to indulge in the occasional date night.

Multi-Purpose Land: Most of the properties we looked at with acreage weren’t set up for farming nearly as well as this one. Not only does it come with a sturdy barn, acres of fenced-in pasture space and a woodlot, it also has a big open field and plenty of fruit trees. Adding extra character, it’s on a paved (but unbusy) road, and the home itself is surrounded by mature trees.

A house we can make our own: For most of the listings we looked at, a great house was paired with terrible property and vice versa. In contrast, this home was willing to meet us in the middle. While it needs cosmetic updating, it’s functionally sound and move-in ready, meaning we can tackle the renovations because we want to, not because we have to.

Am I Going to Keep Blogging?

You better believe it.

I’ve spent the past 18 months creating compelling content for a variety of clients, and I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned and apply it to this blog. By the time we officially move in, I want to revamp this website to really dive into the hurdles we face in the process of becoming first-generation farmers. You should definitely stick around, at least for the animal sagas.

And, most importantly…

Does Our Farm Have a Name?

Not yet, and I’m open to suggestions! While I’m sure that this something we can’t really finalize until we’ve moved onto the property, I’m still enjoying thinking through many (mostly terrible) name ideas. That said, if you get struck with inspiration, please pass your idea along to help us out.

P1080821

That ‘For Sale’ sign is GONE and I’m still giddy about it.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Love, Loss and a Pint-Sized Puppy

Hey everyone!

Did you think you’d never hear from me again?

It really hasn’t been too long since my last post. Just since…. May. Whoops.

I blame three things for my major blog absence these past three months:

  1.  Working so hard to bring my freelancing business to the next level that the idea of spending even more time in front of a computer screen made me want to puke.

2. Gorgeous weather, a jam-packed summer camp schedule, and enough traveling to keep me constantly out of a routine.

3. The anticipation of sharing some BIG news that’s still not quite ready. I’ve been sitting on this story for months, and it’s almost time to go public with it. So stay tuned.

Nonetheless, the cooler weather is getting me back into a contemplative mood, and I’m ready to start blogging again. But first, I need to share the kind of news I never wanted to write about.

We lost our dog, Aldo, this summer.

This is an ever-present risk of having our two dogs live a semi-wild life up here on the mountain, but it still completely blindsided me when it happened last month.

For our second anniversary, Ian and I decided to do a romantic couples thing and planned a backpacking trip through Shenandoah National Park. Because we also believe that spending time alone together is semi-overrated, we took Aldo along with us. He even wore his own backpack!

Wendell was left at home because his joint problems mean that extended hiking trips aren't his idea of fun.
Wendell was left at home because his joint problems mean that extended hiking trips aren’t his idea of fun.

We had the best week with our backpacking buddy, and Aldo proved how physically superior he was to us by sprinting around camp each evening while Ian and I essentially passed out from exhaustion.

Once we made it home and reunited our two puppies, Wendell and Aldo decided to celebrate by sprinting off into the woods together. This is entirely normal, as most of our mountain walks end with one or both dogs chasing a deer into the woods and returning home, sopping wet and utterly spent, several hours later.

Unfortunately, this time, they didn’t return.

We didn’t notice anything was wrong until the next morning, but by then a pit of dread had lodged itself so deep in my stomach I couldn’t focus on anything else. For days, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t do anything really, besides futilely roam the woods with a big bag of dog treats, calling their names as I went.

Every dog owner knows they will eventually lose their pets. But to lose two completely unexpectedly, as puppies, and on the same day? That was a level of injustice I couldn’t comprehend, especially after the chaos of caring for them this spring.

Four days after they ran off, Wendell limped back to us, thin, weak and missing the padding on one of his paws. As overjoyed and as we were to see him, his return in such a distressed state was almost conclusive proof that we’d never see Aldo again.

Was it a car? Coyote pack? Rattlesnake? We may never know, and that’s been hard to accept.

I don’t want to play up my grief and act like I’ve experienced some extreme hardship while hurricanes and wildfires are causing real devastation across the globe. Appalachian mountain dogs live dangerous lives, and I know we gave Aldo a happy home with us that had just one bad day. Nonetheless, losing him so mysteriously was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve personally experienced. As I cried and cried and cried over his loss, I knew I was mourning as much for myself and the loss of his much-valued companionship during my otherwise solitary workdays.

And so we moved on. Or, at least, tried to.

Unfortunately for Wendell, he’s kind of a poop on his own. We love him dearly, but he’s a little aloof with everyone not canine. Losing his buddy caused him to adopt a sedentary life, only waking up from his daylong snoozes to join us on short walks. This one-dog life could have become our new normal, but after having a taste of the daily joy that two dogs brought us instead, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back.

So when Ian mentioned the small puppy up for adoption at the local vet’s office, I gave him my permission to find out more.

She was just three months old, a survivor of parvo, and a mountain cur mix, so Ian told me. He speculated she would get bigger than Aldo, making her the perfect companion for Wendell someday.  And so, after way less talk than this kind of 15-year commitment usually necessitates, Ian arranged to pick her up the next morning.

Was it too soon? Absolutely. But Ian and I tend to be impulsive people, and it rarely goes wrong for us. I spent the morning in giddy anticipation of meeting my new friend, eagerly running out to the car when he finally arrived with her.

And then I stopped dead because this wasn’t the puppy I was expecting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

She was TINY. Just seven pounds and already almost half grown, I could tell immediately. Where was my promised mountain cur?! She’d been replaced by a rat terrier, and I suddenly knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ian actually knows next to nothing about dog breeds.

I mean no disrespect to small dog lovers, but WOW. This threw me for a loop. My definition of the ideal dog is one I can take on runs, one that’s at least passably intimidating if an invader comes, and one that barks, not yips.

One that will never be confused for a cat…or a large rat.

In the interest of full disclosure, I got fairly mad at him. How could Ian have gotten the breed so wrong?! He’s forever grateful that his immediate family was visiting him at this time because the abundance of eyewitnesses surrounding us meant I couldn’t give him an unfiltered piece of my mind. Feeling trapped, I agreed to give the dog a trial run for a few days, fully expecting to tell Ian by the end to trade her out for something a little more dignified.

And like all dogs, she knew exactly who she needed to impress and devoted all her attention to the task at hand.

There were five of us in the house, and we all met her at the same time. Yet, who did this savvy pup attach herself to within the first few hours? Me. By that evening I couldn’t walk around without a small shadow trailing me, and even briefly leaving the house left her in such a tizzy that she’d frantically search for me and howl in dejection. This will probably be a problem someday, but it was pretty stickin’ cute in the moment.

Friends forever? We'll see.
Friends forever? We’ll see.

Sooner than absolutely no one expected but me, I was completely enamored with the scrappy puff and couldn’t envision life without her. She soothed my hurting heart, and today we are a two-dog family again.

I’ve even forgiven her for being small.

So without further ado, meet our little Annie (Dillard)! Let’s hope her legs at least grow long enough to jump on the couch because I still might refuse to lift her up on principle.

The new permanent fixture under my writing desk.
The new permanent fixture under my writing desk.

Your Freelance Writing Questions- (2)

Your Freelance Writing Questions, Answered

It came as a complete surprise to me that the month of May means I’ve been freelance writing for a full year.

What started off as an innocent google search of “how to make money writing” has turned into my full-time job. As great as it is to get paid to do something I love, I won’t pretend that the learning curve wasn’t steep. Becoming a freelance writer was less an artistic endeavor for me than a process of learning how to start my own business from the ground up.

Nonetheless, I’ve made a lot of progress in the past year. I have clients I can trust for consistent work and a bank account that’s growing in surprisingly steady increments. At this point, I feel like I have ample proof that not only is freelance writing NOT an internet scam, it’s a perfectly viable employment opportunity for anyone that wants to work from home- no matter their previous experience.

Continue reading “Your Freelance Writing Questions, Answered”

P1080554

Ian Was Right. Don’t Make Me Say it Again.

Trust me, I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.

Last year, our homestead garden was entirely my responsibility. While I relied on Ian to run the over-sized tiller to turn up the thick clay we were pretending was good garden soil, the planning, planting and maintenance of the space was completely up to me.

And it was a disaster.

Continue reading “Ian Was Right. Don’t Make Me Say it Again.”

P1080357

Stuffing Dreams In an Envelope

This might be the dumbest purchase I’ve ever made.

But maybe not.

I’m usually not one to throw money away… but I’m also a sucker for some risk.

Given the right upbringing, I could have easily become a professional poker player, or at least a lottery addict. I get a rush from taking chances, especially when the reward is tempting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the thrill of competition is partly responsible for my career in freelance writing.

I have big dreams, and I know what it will take to accomplish them. But I’m not against pursuing an alternative path if it presents itself.

And that’s why a few weeks ago, I stuffed a $300 check comprised of my earnings from articles into an envelope, along with two resumes and perhaps the most heavily edited 200 word essay in existence, and sent it all on its way to do miraculous things.

You see, I’ve entered a farm contest. And when I play, I play to win.

Continue reading “Stuffing Dreams In an Envelope”