Very old Blog posts about our search for a farm (2007)

Some old blog entries from Selfsuccicientish.com, copied here for continuity:

—— August 28th, 2007 ——

Hi,

I’m Kevin and I live around St. Louis, Missouri, USA. As of this post, in August of 2007, I’m 47 years old, have (2) daughters from a previous marriage, and an infant daughter and step-daughter from my current marriage. For the past 16 months, I’ve been blessed with having Evgenia (she’s from Omsk, Russia) as my wife and partner.

Part of my blessing has been being exposed to life in other cultures. Beyond any doubt, I have seen happiness as MUCH lower levels of consumption than the typical American family.

When I was young, like at age 18, I had purchased 20 acres of land with the intention of growing walnut trees for my retirement fund. Spent a fair amount of time watching the solar and wind power world be born and develop. Unfortunately, those acres were sacrificed to my divorce. Fortunately, both my new wife and I like the concept of having a “country place”, and maybe a retirement home there, so the watching and planning has started anew.

Currently we are looking at ~40 acres parcels in north-east Missouri. Often we find such places have Amish neighbors. Much to my surprise, given my mostly “loner” existence, I find the concept of living in an area where people are about as self sufficient as possible in todays world rather attractive.

Such a place will be complicated, since I require a day job for now (thank you court system for awarding my ex lifetime alimony) – but it will be a start: a place to plant fruit and nut trees, grow watermelons and berries, bees, etc. I just won’t be able to do anything that requires daily attention, since we will likely only be there for weekends and holidays. Thus, I consider myself “ish” in that we can’t leave our “civilized” life behind – at least not yet.

The wife and I are already looking at highly efficient homes, currently focused on timber-frame & SIP designs.

I’m starting to refresh my knowledge on PV and Wind systems.

Its silly for us to be “off-grid” from a short-term economic stance – we have power lines running alongside every property we look at; and the local power company will runs lines free to any home greater than 800 sq. ft.

That said, I’d like to minimize my use of coal/gas powered electricity and am willing to buck up the dollars to do so.

Because we are looking in a marginal wind area, class 2 except in the summer, when it degrades to class 1, I’m thinking a combination solar/wind system would be best.

For those who have looked into this, power storage is a big piece of the cost – for that I’ve contacted VRB Power. They claim they will be looking into the rural home/farm market space within the next 18 months – a time frame that works for us.

Curious if three-way systems are doable with commercially available parts: Wind, Solar, and Grid. In my ideal world, I’d have a small, say 24 hour, battery subsystem that would be primarily charged by wind and solar. When that became depleted, I’d switch over to grid, and/or use the grid to charge when there was neither wind or sunlight and the batteries were low. On the other side of that equation, once the batteries were at full charge, excess power would be fed back into the grid. A 2007 Missouri state law requires power companies to accept such input, although my reading is that I would pay retail and be credited something less (that however, is unclear).

Total budget, including a 5KW Pacwind Aeolian wind turbine and a few KW 16-panel tracking solar system is about $50K. Totally not cost-justifiable today (the interest on $50K would pay for any power usage I save), but an acceptable amount to pay for peace of mind.

Cheers,

Kevin

—– August 28th, 2007 —–

Shirlz wrote:
Hello Kevin – and welcome to the site.

I can’t offer any info on the power side of things but I’m sure someone will be along that can.

Best of luck finding your 40 acres – and I do hope that you’ll keep us up to date with progress Mr. Green

Well… we have our eye on 35 acres. I need to sell my stock options to pay for it, and I got greedy. I had a sell order in, the stock jumped $5, and I “pigged out” and canceled the order waiting to see what it toped out at. Next day it hit my sell price, went up another $0.25, and has been well below that ever since. We tried putting an offer in with a sole contingency on stock price, but that didn’t fly. Once things bounce back, and I have faith they will, we will make a cash offer.

Thinking about starting with a Post & Beam garage with an 40 sqm apartment on top. It would suffice for weekend stays, and give us some experience building with Post & Beam and SIPs for a fraction of the cost of the main house. We will need a garage anyhow, and septic systems, cisterns (rain and greywater), etc. so much of the cost will eventually need to be expended anyhow.

Cheers,

Kevin

—– August 29th, 2007 —–

Thomzo wrote:
Hi Kevin

Good luck with your project. How exciting. Do let us know how you get on. Starting small with something that you are going to need anyway sounds like a great idea.

Maybe in the long term you can rent the apartment out once the house is built. Or you might find someone who is willing to work the land and keep an eye on the place while you are away in exchange for free accommodation.

Zoe

Now THATS an excellent idea. Only kicker on the second part is that the place wouldn’t be available for us to use on weekends. It will only be a small studio apartment (say 40 sqm or 400 sq ft), but it would suffice for us after the house was built until we moved out there permanently. I could rent the house. Its country, the income would be small, but having someone live there is of value.

—– August 30th, 2007 —–

Regarding the project: We are off to visit a Timber Frame manufacturer/builder (frame only) this Saturday. Turns out we have one about 50 miles from the property we are looking at, which would be very convenient. If we don’t like them (and I almost scratched them off my list until they agreed to use a different SIP maker), my top two companies are in Kansas – about 200-300 miles away. Still not bad. Many in the USA use Canadian companies or companies from either coast of the USA (1000+ miles away from my location). In any case, the visit should prove educational.

I have started asking public aquarium friends if they are interested in the contents of my aquarium. So far, I’ve received some interest. I really need to shut that energy intensive project down. Last month we averaged 238kwh/day in power consumption. Fortunately, power is cheap here, about 4.7 cents/kwh, but I’m trying to develop a lifestyle that will only consume about 10% of that (what a good size hybrid solar/wind unit could provide). At LEAST half of that is the aquarium and related equipment. Figure cutting the house size in half and having a better insulated one should get me down another half, so 238base-120aquarium-60house size gets me to 60kwh/day. Getting that down to 20kwh’ish should be possible by reducing the numbers of computers to one or two from 7+ today, unplugging their UPSes and using more energy efficient lighting and appliances. At least that is the hope. If the aquarium ends up being more than half, it just becomes all the easier.

Kevin

—– September 11th, 2007 —–

Well… our bid on a 35 acre parcel was rejected – the owners simply want more than we feel its worth.

We bid on an 80 acre horse farm last Friday and were today yesterday that the owners rejected that offer because they decided not to sell!

Oddly, this is not the first time this has happened to us. I think some land sellers are expecting to make small fortunes on their property, and when real bids come in they are disappointed. At least here in the mid-west part of the USA, large track (> 10 acres) land values are way down – they tend to be cash deals (financing unimproved (no building) ground is hard), and money is tight right now.

There was a new 80 acre parcel that come onto the market last Friday. A Google Earth look shows it being heavy in fields and light in woods, but we will at least go look at it this weekend. Suppose we can always plant trees, indeed, I have been planning on restoring some native short-needle pine trees on whatever we buy. These trees were the predominate species pre-1800s in the area. Post railroads and mining (mostly fuel for smelting), oaks and hickories have become the predominate species.

More later!

—– September 11th, 2007 —–

Thomzo wrote:
That’s a shame that your bids were rejected. Good luck in your hunt.

Zoe

We are feeling “OK”, somewhat disappointment of course. Reality was that neither parcel was ideal. The 35 acre lot felt a little small (we ideally want 60-80 acres), and had no natural water. We did like the neighborhood, and it was half-dozen miles from anything calling itself a town (e.g. it was REALLY quiet there). The 80 acre parcel had a VERY small spring (it produced water about as fast as you could pour it out of a coffee cup, but ran year round), was a little heavy in woods – but nice woods, complete with an old graveyard and lots of horse trails. Alas, it was but a half mile from the major Interstate Highway and about that far from the local town on that highway. e.g. It wasn’t as quiet as we liked.

The good news is that we are getting better at understanding what we really want in a piece of property – so should recognize it if it exists and comes on the market. The bad news is that we have looked at everything that is close that is for sale in literally several thousand square miles of land (about 1/8th of the state of Missouri). So now we wait… and are likely to miss this falls planting season.

Cheers!

Kevin

—– September 17th, 2007 —–

We looked at (3) more properties this weekend, two 60 acres parcels and one 80 acre parcel.

The first 60 acres shared a fence with a neighboring 60 acres we have nick named the “Dead Cow Farm” – while touring that land a month or so ago we found about 9 dead cattle carcases. This new 60 acres was used for cattle and pigs and had a variety of buildings on it – none of which particularly attracted us. It was pricey too.

The next 60 acres was only about a quarter mile down the road. Nothing special and about half in row crops (corn this season). I’ve sharecropped land before and don’t want to do so again. You don’t make much money, and your land is tied up preventing you from doing anything with it.

The last 80 acre parcel was about half row crops. Basically flat with a small house. Nothing striking.

We are considering offering a bit more on the 34.5 acre parcel. We have also asked our Realtor to approach the adjoining landowner and see if he/she would be willing to sell us a few acres. There is a wet-weather creek that crosses one corner of our property. I think it would be nice if we could make that creek the southern border instead of a line on the map. Not sure exactly how it runs – asked our agent to figure that out and base the request on the creek if practical (e.g. it added 5-15 acres or so).

Cheers!

—– September 17th, 2007 —–

Having conversations with home builders in parallel. We explored some “random log” homes and had concerns with their engineering. Then we set our sights on a “Timber Frame” home until we got back some cost estimates. Currently we are talking with Chris from biglogs.com about a custom log home. He claims the end cost is about the same as a conventional custom home, but we are pursuing that in more detail.

I’d really like to build something that would be good for generations. Most “stick homes” have an estimated lifetime of about 50 years – thats not good enough. The thermal mass associated with a log home tends to make them very energy efficient, and biglogs uses managed forest lumber without seams (they can provide 12-14″ round logs up to 60 feet long – so a wall layer can all be one log).

Oh, this ties into “sustainability” in terms of material – wood is a sustainable product. Having log walls implies no fiberglass, plastic wrap, or anything similar as well – although the roof may be of conventional material, we will probably go with metal coverings. I have brochures about aluminum roofing that comes with a lifetime warranty, and various coated steel roofs are good for up to 50 years. BTW, the aluminum roofs are made from something like 99% consumer recycled material.

Anyhow, just broached the concept of building the home in phases to biglogs (phase 1: Main house; phase 2: Porches; phase 3: Huge Sunroom for solar heating; phase 4: garage). It will be interesting to see how they respond, given the desire to stretch the phases out over a decade or so (possibly allowing me not to have to finance them).

Cheers!

—– September 20th, 2007 —–

Wife and I had a long talk, and decided to make another offer on the 34.76 acre lot. The last round ended with us offering about $2750/acre, they countered at $3250/acre, we declined. This time we have made a “Best & Final” offer of $3000/acre, no conditions, entire cost to be deposited with the title company upon acceptance. e.g. This will be a cash deal and we have the cash – they don’t need to worry about any financing falling though.

We like the remoteness (nice dark skies for Astronomy viewing, and VERY quiet), and not going into debt to buy it. Indeed, we suspect using the financing we had considered for the 80 acre place would allow us to build a nice log shell home – and we would end up with the house we wanted.

Hope they go for it. If so, it will become very busy – almost time to plant fall fruit & nut trees, and start shopping for bee-keeping supplies for spring! Many other projects will need immediately attention as well, like having county water run onto the property, building a fence around the fruit trees to deter deer, etc.

Cheers,

Kevin & Evia

—– October 1st, 2007 —–

Well.. things are a blur at the moment. We made the $3000/acre “Best and Final” offer, they countered, we rejected.

Happen to be reading the “Missouri Prairie Foundation (MPF)” journal, and caught a side bar article requesting that anyone interesting in buying land contact them. So I did!

By the next day I was chatting the the president of the foundation, and he put me in touch with a local landowner in the “Mystic Conservation Area”. This is a small (maybe 25 square mile?) area of North Central Missouri where there are a few remnants of native prairie left, and where there is a restoration project underway for the endangered “Prairie Chicken” (something like 50 males were findable in 1999).

The MPF asked if we would be willing to purchase land in the conservation area, which is about a 3 hour drive for us. We decided we would at least look at it and made plans for last Sunday to drive up and see (we took a side stop and visited a customer’s house of Biglogs.com and fell in love with the construction technique – at least we know what type of house we want to build someday). The visit went VERY well, with the local landowner showing us around his 600 acres of restored prairie (he now makes his living selling restoration seeds).

While we were making plans for Sundays visit, I got a call from my Realtor that the owners of the 35 acres wanted to negotiate some more. Told her I’d let her know if we were interested after our visit on Sunday. Sent her a note last night letting her know “No for now – we are going to spend more time in NE Missouri looking”. Ok, getting ahead of myself!

One nice thing about the conservation area is that land price is about half of what land near the 35 acres is. The bad thing is that its 3 hours away instead of 1, and will burn a lot more fuel visiting. The good thing is that we can get more land, and help an endangered species. Suppose nothing is every clear and easy!

The MPF has been VERY helpful. Not only are they offering advice and support, they have restoration funds available to assist in restoring whatever property I might buy – so long as I buy within the conservation area. The local contact (Frank Aberle – a fairly well known nature photographer), besides spending several hours of his Sunday with us, put me in contact with a local Realtor, Mark. Mark is literally knocking on doors pulling a list of potential properties together. We in turn have committed to return next weekend, driving up Saturday morning, and looking at property Saturday and Sunday before returning (exhausted I’m sure – the wife and I get to swap carrying our 1 year old!).

Franks tour of his property helped in another critical way: My wife now understands what I’ve been trying to explain to her was our goal. She got to see it, and is now excited.

Alas, land prices have been jumping up about 20% a year in the area for a variety of reasons: Some Montana cattle ranchers discovered the area has land that cost twice what theirs does, but they can raise at least 4 times the cattle – they are buying up thousands of acres (6000 at last count). Apparently the Amish have also taken up a buying campaign – selling their property in the NE of the USA and moving to the mid-west where they can easily get 2-3 times as much land. Both of these mean that I really need to buy as much as I can possibly afford now – I won’t be able to save at a rate that would offset the land inflation. That in turn postpones any building plans.

The other kicker is simply the distance. For the 35 acre plot (or any of the other in that area), we could visit casually – round trip time was about 2 hours. This place has a round trip time of over 6 hours – overnight stays are required if I want to get any serious work done. Not sure how to deal with that.

In any case, I suspect we are now targeting 160-200 acres. I have told the Realtor that if we push past $230K, I’ll need something that is solid, warm, dry, and has a bathroom, shower, and a kitchen – someplace we can collapse in safely. Below that, I could (I think) afford to put something cheap on the property – perhaps a used trailer house or small cabin.

Choices are good, but this is getting insane!

Kevin

—– October 9th, 2007 —–

Spent the weekend looking at property in the Mystic Conservation Focus Area. The previous Sunday we looked at a 101 acre parcel and stumbled across a gentlemen associated with an adjoining property. This past weekend we walked their 136 acres, several times.

Frank Oberle (sorry, spelled it wrong in an earlier post) went out with a teraforming friend and gave it “Two Thumbs Up!”. We made a bid last night! The land is hilly and used for grazing, although a few neighbors row crop. The teraforming guy found several places we could put nice 5-7 acre lakes in. There is about 300 acres of watershed that drains into the property, so filling the lake wouldn’t be a problem (dealing with the overflow might though!).

It does have a single-wide trailer on it, so basic shelter is covered. Public water is also available.

Now we wait to hear back…

Kevin

—– November 10th, 2007 —–

Thought I’d post a status update:

We are now focusing our attention in the Mystic area. That said, about a month ago I got a call from my agent regarding the 34.76 acre parcel. The owners wanted to know if I would split the difference with then. We declined. Last Friday they called again – they would accept our last offer if we would extend it again. We have until Monday to let them know, but I don’t think we will. Had they accepted when we offered, we would have been planting fruit trees this weekend. Oh well.

The Mystic area is proving interesting. The first 101 acre parcel we looked at was trashed – grazed to the ground, trash in the gullies, gullies!, but fixable given lots of dozer time and a few years. While walking it we met the neighbors – and they indicated they might be willing to sell…

Their 136 acres is now in a “pending” state. They decided they didn’t want to list with any agent, but if they can find a place to move too, they will sell to me after January. It is a pretty place – with a large enough dam we could have a nice 7 acre lake without problems (there is about 300 acres of watershed that drains through this property into a nearby creek).

While we are waiting to see about the 136, we have looked at several others. Next weekend we are going up to see a 350 acre tract that is in two parcels – a 229 part and a 121 part. The 229 is adjoining a Missouri Heritage Land nominee – one of the few remaining tracks of native prairie in the state and has a population of endangered Prairie Chickens on it. The Missouri Prairie Foundation is very keen on my buying some of this property, although the 136 would be fine too.

I have played with Google Earth aerials and believe we could carve a 208 acre parcel out of the 229, be flat broke, but have the largest parcel we could possibly afford. Our agent is uncharacteristically upbeat about our chances. We shall see.

Cheers,

Kevin

– Nov 29, 2007 –

Too much to do, but the first thing is to determine what our house will cost.

We had considered putting a cabin in, for weekend use only, and later building a full-time residence. However I’m not comfortable making that type of short-term expense. Yeah, we MIGHT be able to rent it out, perhaps to one of my kids, but it more likely we would just let them stay there free. We think its better to just plan on building my late-life house – even if that takes us several years to be able to afford.

Reality is that I’m 49, my wife is 35, we have a 14 month old daughter and another on the way (yes, thats an announcement!). If I retire around 65, I’ll still have kids in high-school, so we need a real house, not a bare-bones retirement place. Well, “Need” is a strong word, perhaps “Want” would be better…

If the house cost too much, we may settle on building something else we will need long term: A barn. I’m toying with something that could house 2-4 draft horse and a couple of milking cows, as well as some farm equipment. In the short term, I suspect we could fix up the animal stalls as rough bedrooms for weekend/holiday use. We have Amish in the area, and they are known for doing outstanding work on such things. Yet another thing to check out.

First real thing to do is to close on the property – in 48 hours that will have been accomplished, then give it a nice long walk and figure out options around where we would want a house. Once thats done, we can draw up the options and start planning gardens, orchards, and the like.

Alas, this Saturday/Sunday is suppose to be rainy and VERY cold, only slightly above freezing Saturday and below freezing Sunday, so I’m not sure how much walking we will do.

– Dec 2, 2007 –

We closed on Saturday, December the 1st. Compliments of learning that the difference between wet gravel roads and wet dirt roads being that little thing called traction, I also got an opportunity to become indebted to Sonny Darr and his tractor, and meet “bulldozer” Donnie.

Donnie and I spent a few minutes on the property eyeballing lake locations. He will get some elevations and come back with some ideas.

We went back on Sunday and shot a few dozen photos, but an hour+ in 33 degrees with a brisk breeze was about all the family could handle.

The goals remain pretty simple in concept (in no particular order):

1) Fescue eradication and the restoration of native forbs and grasses (yes, I’d like as bio-diverse an environment as we can create)
2) Removal of ALL non-native species of trees, brush, etc. (with a particularly strong prejudice against thorn trees and primrose)
3) Savanna restoration
4) Home site planning (in south facing hillside – I have several potential sites).
A) By spring, I’d at least like to know where it will be so that I can start planting a nearby orchard and put some bee hives out.
B) Establish a road to the site
C) (maybe) Have footings poured, a septic tank installed, a cistern (collect rain water for later watering of orchard and garden)
D) (if C) (1) Either have house build if funds permit (unlikely), or (2) have walk-out basement poured, put in sub-floor, and build a temporary roof over it and finish the basement as our weekend place
5) Build and stock a lake (5-7 acres?)
6) Burn plan for maintaining 1-3.
7) Build a livestock & equipment storage barn (downwind of house site) ) for future use. Any local Amish that like to do that type of work?
8) Either buy and learn to use whatever equipment is necessary for, or learn who to hire to, maintain the land.
9) Somewhere, carve out an acre or so for a small pine forest (do native short-needle pines grow that far north? If not, I’d violate my “native only” plan for these) – both the wife and I just LOVE the smell of walking through one. We know thats not prime Prairie Chicken cover – but they will just have to learn to share some of the land with us. :D Perhaps north of the house as a wind break from that direction if it doesn’t obscure some particularly nice view. Likewise, I’d like 25-50 sugar maples someplace and some nut trees, maybe lining the road to the home site.
10) Figuring out which of the above is a dream, and what is practical.

The next convenient time for us to go up would be between Christmas and New Year – if the weather cooperates (all I ask is mid-to-upper 30s and dry conditions – maybe we will get lucky).

We are planning on spending as much time over spring break (early March?) as we can working on the place. Ideally, by then, planting fruit trees and raising an solar powered (since I won’t have electrical power yet) MDC recommended offset electric fence around the resulting orchard to try and protect them from deer.

 

– Dec 20, 2007 –

Next Thursday (12/27/07), a bunch of people are going to get together to walk the 121 acres and try and come up with a prairie and savanna restoration plan. The trip includes:

Our Family (Kevin, Evia, Nastya, and our baby Gabby)
Chris Woodson: US Fish and Wildlife Biologist
Justin Johnson: Executive Director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation
John Murphy: Missouri Department of Conservation Private Land Conservationist
Grant Phillips: Missouri Department of Conservation Soil and Water Conservation District

and maybe…

Frank Oberle: Pure Air Seeds and overall really nice guy
“Sonny” Darr: Neighbor
Donnie Yantis: Bulldozer man

The next day we will be visting Dadant Bee Supply company in Hamilton, Il.

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