Ok so me and my wife have decided that we are going to go and return to the soil but we have a slight dilemma. We have had two different opportunities fall into our lap for locations that we could put down roots, but both of them in our eyes are weighted very closely. Our current situation puts us in an odd position for movement to the land. I will be retiring from the military in about 4 years(Currently in San Diego) I am an IT manager,and my wife home schools all of our children(5,6,11). We own our home here and I work on it as time and budget allows to move it into abundance before we leave this place. We have been given the opportunity to look into two different areas of the country and have made the decision that we are going to move to one of them(Maybe Both if budget allows).
The odd part about it is we can't possibly move for at least 2 years. I may be transferred in 2 years, and if given the choice moved closer to the property we choose. The last 2 years I "could" move the family out there to get settled in and I will fly/drive in on a monthly basis but that is not the best course family wise but would allow us to save a lot of money. There is a remote chance that I could be stationed over seas, but that is remote. We want to have a market productive permaculture farm and Pastured livestock, we would also like to have it a design site where we could teach if time allows. I will be working on getting my PDC and earthworks courses done this year(for credibility sake)as I am trying to start a small suburban permaculture consulting business to fund our future farm endeavors. I need your help to steer me in one direction or another or to point out any glaring issues I might not have seen.
- Can't permanently move there for at least 2 years. We will visit though as many times(at least 4 week long trips) throughout the year to do capitol improvement projects.
- Off Site employment would be nice to buffer the transition.
Site #1 Near Huntsville Arkansas NW Arkansas Zone 6a-7b ish. We would be buying land from a friends father that lives on site(total area available around 2-300 acres). There is about 75-100 acres of lowland pasture area and the rest is rolling hills with lots of hardwood forest. There is Gobs of water. Averages 2 inches of rain a month or more and has a 40 acre lake on site. There is a 9.5 acre plot adjacent to the main lowlands that I am eyeing as the land owner wants his land to be productive and I believe we can strike a deal for the land if I consult for him. In addition to that it would allow me to place hold some of the other acreage on site for future purchase. There is no buildings onsite at this time. We plan to tiny home/rv it for a while till we can build the home. I would also have access to a lot of the lumber on site for building materials. There is a lumber mill that does kiln drying 10 min down the road.
The closest main market would be the Fayetteville area(1hour) I have herd that is a great area to live and have a farm, but from my research there is an already bustling organic market place there(competition). Also farms from nearby OK/MO service the area. That being said the permaculture scene has been strangely quiet. They had a lot of info posted up until 2012 or so then went dead. Most if not all the sites(Permaculture Farms) for the area have been oddly quiet for a long time and some of the organic farms too.
The plan would be to improve the land(earthworks/plantings) over the next few years to get it prepped for our eventual arrival. We would also build a small nursery on site to start a lot of our own stock. There are a few industrious teens on site that would love to have a small income managing this and building compost for me while I am not there. Also there is a chance that my sister who will be going to school for holistic/Eco studies in Illinois will visit from time to time and stay there in the off school season. She has WOOF'ed two times now for a total of 1 year of woofing. She will also likely have like minded Eco Studies buddies that will come along to help with some of the projects. There is a longer term plan to have her live there as a farm manager if we plan to go with both land options.
-Great access to water and building materials.
-The land owner is a friend and can oversee some aspects of the site prep when we cant make it there.
-Ability to expand if it suits us down the road.
-Affordable land we can BUY some of the land NOW and start improving it well in advanced
-Only one main market(Fayettville)
-Competition(Is this a Con?)
-Smaller pool of jobs for off farm work
-Terrain(Maybe a Con?)
-No home on site
-No Father in law assistance(See Site 2)
Site #2 Bonham Texas(Fannin county) Area Zone 8a ish We have a friend that is getting out of the military soon and is heading back to his home town(Bonham). And is also looking to homestead like us. He was raised growing corn and soybeans, but knows the dangers of that now and is looking at a more sustainable future. He is onboard with permaculture but not to the point where he spends hours reading permies.com(who does that anyways?) He is going to be there to scout out for us and get back into the good ol boy network to get us a good deal if we plan to head there. The land is supposedly the most fertile in Texas, but gets less rain(on average) than the AR site. The land is mostly flat but some properties have some rolling to them. The area is 30-40 min from many small to medium markets and an hour or so from Dallas. There is competition but there is also many markets. Also the off farm job opportunities are greater there. One other thing is if we choose to go to Texas my father in law is planning on throwing down $30k so he can have a place to park his RV and stay with us. Close enough to be close but Pops can have his own space at the end of the day. He also plans to have a cabinet shop(he is a master woods craftsman) onsite to do work on the side in his retirement which will be the same time I retire from the military. We would have the same end state as the first property, just in a different area. IF we can swing it I will try to have both properties and be able to bring stuff to market that each site cant bring in one time of the year or the other. The only issue is there is no home on site and the property is considerably more expensive along with the cost of living. The rub with this one is we would not be able to buy the land for at least 2 years as we would have to sell our home in San Diego before we could get a loan for the new place.
-Larger market for goods and off farm jobs(Both me and the wife)
-Ag exemption lowers the land tax rate.
-6 hours closer than AR from where we are
-Already have friends that are like minded and can be trusted/leaned on for help
-Known fertile land.
-$$$$ Kicker from father in law
-Sister is still an option for assistance in the off school season.
-Water I have been told that the wells are sometimes 500' deep
-Culture of mono-cropping
-More expensive(Land/living expenses)
-Minimum of two years till we would be able to start improving the land
So in the end we have one area that we can get in now(AR), but has less apparent financial stability and an area that we cant get into for years(TX), but has more apparent opportunity financially but less water. I am open to doing both if I can keep my sister to manage the AR site. I don't know? Given the same set of situations what would some of you other homesteaders choose. Let me know your feeling on either or both. Thanks in advance.
The Bonham area has a good bit of parcels in the 20+ range, just looking for right now as we could not possibly get there for another 2+years. Our friend is taking a different approach. He is looking for under 10 acres to live in closer to town then when he gets the Good Ole' Boy hook up he will buy a bigger parcel and grow from there. I might do the same, but not sure at this point.
When I was looking in that area (near NW AR), I found out that the Arkansas home school laws were a pain, but Texas is more lax as is Missouri. You may want to look into those first if you haven't already. It all depends on what you are willing to adhere to for homeschooling. I realize that was not your questions, but that was the first thing that came to mind when I saw you homeschooled. Personally, I have been leaning toward AZ or NM lately.
if you're going to try to earn a living off of the farm, then marketingshould be a HUGE consideration. Possibly moreso than anything else within reason of course. Since you have some time, take your next vacation time and check out these places. REALLY check them out, go to the local markets and talk to the other small scale farmers. There may be things that you never thought of. Ask them what hardships they face and what does well there. SEND OFF SOIL TESTS from each site... wouldn't that be awful to jump all in like that and figure out your soil is so alkaline that you have constant issues keeping it balanced?
Start researching now what you can grow on these sites, its profitability and yield, THEN research for a market for those items. We found it helpful to have a large posterboard with the things we thought we wanted to grow, THEN listing pros and cons of each. When it's all laid out like that on one large poster, it is much easier to make a decision! Also, don't rely on one type of marketing strategy, what happens to your bumper crop of "X" if no one buys it at the market that week? That's why I say to grow something that can be turned into a value added product if needed...
Zoning laws and building laws would play a large factor with me.
For me if I had to decide between one or the other, it would be the property with water, hands down unless something heinous shows up in your research. Having to pump ground water for irrigation leads to salinization and will be a major issue in the future as well as possible legislation of water rights that I firmly believe are a real possibility in this country.
The competition thing is only a con if you let it be, we put in a large organic blueberry operation then an acquaintance did the same thing just a couple miles away... Rather than compete I went and spoke to them with olive branch in hand (proverbial haha) and discussed how competition would be no good for either of us and if we worked together we could have access to even larger markets than we could on our own. If marketing of fresh goods is an issue, think about value added products with a shelf life! oh, and speaking of... find out the state's legal requirements for doing this!!! Here in N.C. we are very lucky to have great laws on our side for making value added products without investing in super fancy facilities...
Ajila Ama Farm Western North Carolina
Companion Planting Guide by World Permaculture Association