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.
In many ways, this process has been a long time coming for us. When Ian and I got married and moved away from west Michigan just two weeks later to take AmeriCorps positions at an Appalachian homestead, we had no idea what direction our lives were going to take. In the year and half that we’ve called this mountain home, we’ve come to love the rural lifestyle and can’t imagine living any other. Working from home, deep in the woods and away from cell service is satisfying to my soul in so many ways, and the idea of moving back to a conventional lifestyle is too depressing to seriously consider.
Yet, while we’ve loved living in Appalachia, the pull towards family remains strong, and we have decided together that the next stage in our lives will take place somewhere else. And so, we recently went public with our intention to move off the mountain around the fall of 2018.
What will be do next? In recent months the answer has crystallized between us. We want a farm. Not an enormous one, 10-40 acres will do. We want a place to call our own, with fertile soil for garden beds and pasture space for home-raised pigs and dairy goats. A piece of land we can run as part of an agricultural business, in whatever form that takes. And thanks to my unexpected success at creating a location-independent career as a writer, this dream has quickly gone from idealistic to actually obtainable.
The scouring process of potential land has already begun, though at this point we are months away from pouncing on anything. Yet, when my farmland search pulled up an entirely different option, one with risk but possibly great reward, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
What if I could win us a farm by doing what I seem to do best… by writing?
It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
In fact, it’s become a trend in recent years for homeowners to host essay contests for selling their property. If the owner has a unique piece of property that is difficult to sell through regular means, she can sponsor an essay contest to give it away instead. People from around the country can enter, so long as they write an essay about why they are a good fit for the property and pay a nominal entrance fee (usually between $100-$200) dollars. If all goes well, the homeowner gets enough entrants to equal the value of the home and then can afford to award it to a lucky writer who becomes the owner of an incredible property for just a few hundred dollars- and the taxes that go with it.
It’s a beautiful idea and sometimes it even works out. More often though, not enough entries are submitted and the contest is canceled, meaning that instead of a farm, all the applicants get their money refunded instead. This makes entering these contests a gamble. Is your hard-earned money simply funding someone else’s dreams? Will the time spent writing your essay be wasted if the contest is called? There’s no way to know until the end.
Risk adverse people would never consider such a contest, but I’m enchanted by them. The farm contest that caught my attention is for Bluebird Hill Farm, a breathtakingly beautiful 13 acres of green North Carolina pastureland with an 19th century barn, half an acre of raised bed gardens and a lavender field overlooking the home from a nearby hillside. The farmhouse itself was fully renovated by the architect owner, meaning it’s a natural light filled space with expansive views of the surrounding land.
In short, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a property, and I’m willing to take a risk for the chance to make it mine.
Clearly, nothing in life is as easy as it first looks. Paying down the taxes of this prize would take every penny we’ve saved, and there’s a strong likelihood that if we won, Ian and I would need to live long distance for a few months before his contract at Big Laurel finished. Beyond these logistics, there’s also the uncomfortable truth that we’ve barely been to North Carolina and haven’t really considered whether we actually want to call that state home.
Nonetheless, our entire lives could change direction from an openness to pursue an opportunity like this. When I first caught sight of this contest, I quickly realized that my competitive nature wouldn’t let me live with myself if I didn’t at least enter. And so, after weeks of effort I crafted an essay I felt proud of enough to submit. (If we don’t win, I’ll be sure to post it here).
I’m not naïve about our prospects. The most likely scenario is that my check gets returned to me once the contest gets canceled. Second most likely is that my hard-earned money makes an agrarian lifestyle possible for someone else- which isn’t a terrible thing at all. If, against all odds, we find ourselves winning, it’s hard to predict how different our lives will look just six months from now.
The chances may be slim, but they’d be nonexistent if we didn’t enter. Life is too short to never take a risk. Besides, the idea of calling such a beautiful place home will fuel my procrastination daydreams for weeks on end.
And so, a few weeks ago, I quieted my queasy stomach and slipped my application into the post box.
And now we wait!