Here’s the story of how we came to be be rural land owners. Hopefully it will be helpful to any of you thinking about taking a similar journey. The story begins four years ago, or was it five? Maybe it was even further back, something that was stirring in us when we visited our grandparent’s farm, or hiked in the Appalachians on our honeymoon. A stirring that gradually grew from an ember to a flame, the type of flame that is steady and constant. We decided to buy land. Over the past four years (or was it five?) we looked at a ski lodge near Wintergreen, we drove all around Blackwater in Pungo, we walked properties near Smithfield, and in Chesapeake and Suffolk. Now, we can finally say “Land, Ahoy!” … in Amelia County.
In 2007 we decided to try our hand at gardening. The 9′ square garden didn’t do very well. It was our first lesson in soil drainage. Two years later we built a raised bed, and planted blueberries and fruit trees. 2009 was also the year that Dad’s neighbors grew tired of the kamakaze bees dying in his pool. The beehives found a new home in our growing suburban garden. It didn’t take long for us to fill up our 1/4 acre lot. We devoured documentaries and books about agriculture, food, health, and business. We eventually came up with our ideal for the perfect property. It took two years, but we finally found it. Here were our parameters:
- We had to be able to pay with cash. Dave Ramsey would be proud. It is difficult to get a loan for rural property, plus we didn’t want to go further into debt for an endeavor that was not guaranteed to make money. Debt is killing the small family farm. It took some sacrifices on our part, but knowing that we own the property free and clear is worth every penny.
- The property needed to be at least 10 acres, and have at least 3 acres already cleared. It takes years to clear land with minimal environmental impact. A few acres of cleared land would enable us to get off to a quick start.
- We wanted at least some wooded land for access to wood and mulch, and to provide a natural barrier and ecosystem.
- We wanted to be within driving distance of our family in Virginia Beach, and within easy reach of large population centers. This is one of Joel Salatin’s tips.
- The property needed character. Some hills, and other unique features were preferred. This was both aesthetic and practical. Rolling hills are pretty, and they drain well, which is a must for fruit trees.
- Good soil. We didn’t want to have to supplement the soil, and we required good drainage, but also some organic matter.
- Some type of water source was a plus. In most cases you can build a well, but a pond or creek is even better.
That’s quite a list, and it took a long time to find. We started out with a circle that encompassed a one hours drive from Virginia Beach. Cost and topography worked against us. The land all around the Dismal Swamp is flat and doesn’t drain well. Smithfield and the Peninsula are expensive. Surry County has poor soil. We gradually expanded our search, and as we looked further West the properties were more and more to our liking. We finally found this property in Amelia County and fell in love. Here’s how it stacked up against our wish list.
- Good price. We were able to pay in cash.
- 30 acres, with about 1.5 acres cleared and another 2.5 acres overrun with thorny blackberry bushes. We’ll have a little bit of work to do, but there is enough cleared land for us to get started.
- 25+ acres of naturally wooded land. It’s a good mix of pines and hardwoods.
- It is 2.5 hours from Virginia Beach. That is further than we would have liked, but still easily doable. It is only 45 minutes from Chesterfield and Richmond.
- The property has rolling hills, drains well, and approved for a 4 bedroom septic. It has lots of character. It is unique, and fits us perfectly.
- We had the soil tested at Virginia Tech and it came back as a loamy clay, with a good balance of moisture retention and drainage. The blackberry brambles are out of control, so we know things will grow there.
- Stock Creek runs right through the middle of the property. It is beautiful.
Now the real work begins. Our initial plans are to put a couple of beehives on it, and to plant some berries and fruit trees this year. We like what Stefan Sobkowiak has done with Miracle Farms in Quebec. He’s integrated a permaculture approach with some success, going beyond organic and using the natural attributes of the flora and fauna to create a self sustaining ecosystem.
We’ll be setting up a web site to share our journey and to promote our ideal of environmentally friendly and sustainable agriculture. We’d love to hear any advice that folks have to offer, and we will do our best to give advice to any who need it.
Final thanks to Scott and Allison at Full Quiver Farm for sharing their story with us. They left the suburban, IT world and pursued their passion. Also thanks to Farmer John at New Earth Farm, and Menno at Fairview Fruit Farm, for being willing to pass on their experience and knowledge to a couple of uninformed newbies. Props to my brother Clay and sis-in-law Angie at The Little Red Farm, for being the first of our generation to take the farming plunge. We treasure their advice. Thank you Dad, for teaching us about honeybees, thank you for your love, your Godliness, your humor. You will live on in this new endeavor.
Lastly, thank you to all of our family and friends who patiently listened to our endless droning about health, food, and farming, and smiled like you were interested. 🙂 Thank you for all the work you’re going to do over the next few years to help us get going. 🙂
So, the journey begins. A new farm is born.