I have recently moved to Minnesota and I am falling in love with the land here. I really want to set roots down and start a beautiful and abundant permaculture homestead. Does anyone want to share land in Minnesota or Wisconsin and allow my partner and I to rent part of the land--say 3 to 5 acres--to eventually purchase?
Here's why I ask:
1) I am going back to school to become a Nurse in order to buy land. Although I love the idea of nursing, I would rather cut to the chase as that will likely take 3-4 years.
2) I don't want to start a farm in order to buy land. There are many schemes--FSA grants and what not--to get help for buying land, but only for an agricultural farm. (You start a farm for three years and then they give you a bunch of money to buy land to keep farming.) I don't want to do that. I want to start restoring all of the ripped up corn fields out here with food forests, not tear them up more with more annuals. The FSA doesn't have grants for that.
3) As much as I am cynical about community, I do need to share with people and be around people. Even if I did eventually get my own homestead on my own I would likely get lonely real quick.
4) I want to start planting perennials and having perennial relationships. I have lived and worked hard at many rural communities, usually with a benevolent dictator. Each time I end up doing a lot of work for their land and then get burned out because there's no option for sharing ownership.
5) I am intrigued by Paul's community model, but don't want to move to Montana.
If this sounds at all interesting, let me know. I can explain more about myself and what I bring to the table.
I strongly urge people who have lots of land to share with those who aren't so fortunate.
I don't currently own much land but because of my rural equivalent of the corporate whore bit, which is corn and soybean farming, I do have the potential to own some larger pieces of ground in the future. However there are six acres that I am currently renting and doing a poor job of developing an alternative to typical southern MN annual agriculture on. I don't know if the owner would be willing to ever sell it.
My point is I live just down I90 from you and have machinery and resources I could share with someone who has similar goals as mine and there are opportunities to buy land in the area. It's not as pretty here as SE MN and there are many challenges here that make it hard to do anything but conventional ag.
It sounds like you're serious about starting a homestead and I wish you the best of luck. I'd love to talk to you more about your plans and if you have any interest in moving a bit farther west I could fill you in more about the particular pros and cons of setting up in this area. I've been trying to figure out ways to get out of the corn and soybean biz for several years now since my family and I moved back here (my home town) and I'm building a whole-tree passive solar house.
Where's the town you're living at? I'm living in Hastings, MN for now. I'd like to stay within an hour of Hastings if possible. Eventually I'll get around to starting a family and I'm going to need the older folks in the family (who live in and around Hastings) to help out. I wish you well with the whole tree house. Are you working with Whole Tree, or doing it on your own?
What are my plans for land? My ideas are similar to Mark Shepard's and Sepp Holzer's land use ideas, but with a more low tech and beautiful aesthetic focus. I like utility and modern tools, but beauty and earth based skills are probably more important to me ultimately. For example, I would have animals integrated into the land for weeding and food, but I would use every part of the animal once it was butchered, including some for beautiful clothing. If people visit where I live I want them to be as stunned by the landscape as they are by what everyone is wearing, how they are speaking, and the grace in which they live and breathe. I don't want them to see a bunch of aluminum sided pole barns with various modern equipment in them and people who are frustrated by such modern equipment. I'm not for purity, but I want to create a holistic culture and use modern tools (like I use this borrowed computer) as a means to that beautiful end, not an end in itself. If I were on land I would ask, but wouldn't require, if we could live without: greenhouses, tractors, modern pole barns, electricity...I would want to transition to a way of living my children could foresee teaching their children, rather than remaining wholly dependent on skills I can't pass on.
But would I borrow a modern John Deere tractor to move some thinned out trees rather than learn how to use fell ponies? Hell yes I would. I'm not a luddite, just realistic I think.
An example, I would plant willows, sumacs, and oaks immediately. These are beautiful and useful trees to many fauna, including humans. I would raise sheep and cows (maybe some goats if I felt like driving myself crazy). When I slaughtered the cows and sheep I wouldn't throw away their skins. I would tan their hides with either their brains and/or willow, sumac leaves, and oak bark (vegetable tanning using tannins, hence the term). I would teach my kids how to use steel tools to scrape the hides, but also how to use wood, stone, and bone tools. I would then teach them how to make sheep hide blankets, clothing, and shoes. All from sustainable materials from the land. Not "sustainable", where the embodied energy from various inputs are fudged and forgotten (like solar panels). Actually something that's been done for thousands of years and can continue for thousands more.
I live just outside Blue Earth, it's right in the middle of the state (east to west) and about 10 miles north from Iowa. I make trips up towards your direction usually 3-4 times a year to visit my in-laws in Hudson, WI
The house I'm building was designed by Whole Trees but I'm doing the work myself with occasional help from local contractors. There are some fairly recent pics on their website.
You seem to have a marvelous vision of what a homestead should look like, I'm right there with you! Although as I get older (even though I'm not that old!) I realize more and more that all of the ideals I have probably won't come true, especially if I can't recruit some more help who shares them. So (I think) I'm getting better at prioritizing and focusing on the least amount of change for the greatest benefit. I'm probably a bit skewed in my perceptions right now because the house project has demanded so much of my time and energy for the last four years.
I find myself having to walk a line often because of my conventional farming career and because the dominant culture where I live is so conservative. There's not much money to make here selling organic produce because that's too fancy and everyone seems to think the best thing to do is spend as little on food as possible no matter what! Despite these headwinds and my desires to live in the way you described I haven't given up on doing my part to make positive changes in my community and fight back against the problems like de-population, poverty, and chronic health problems that plague this place. I won't get into the ecological problems because, as tragic as it is, no one here will do much about them until some progress is made with the people problems. Most don't even recognize them.
I have a very strong desire to eventually take at least some significant portion of the corn and soybean farm and transform it into a permaculture farm, that's more profitable I should add so that others can do it too! I just don't know how I'm going to do it yet. Mark Shepard's book should give me some more ideas, I just need to pick up a copy.
So for now in addition to building the house I'm trying to develop some good sound, and efficient methods on a small scale (here on my ten acre farm) that can provide some food and resources and eventually be expanded onto a broader scale. All while trying not to be too crazy so that no one wants to talk to me
My goal is to be well on my way to being truly self-employed, as opposed to monsanto's bitch or land pimp or whatever I am now, within ten years so my boys will have the opportunity to be "farmers" without having to just farm more acres of corn and soybeans. The fewer and fewer farmers model is having devastating effects.
I hope I don't sound too negative but sometimes I feel like it's me against the word here. Thanks for listening.
Your Whole Tree house is looking great. That's some amazing work you've done. Good luck on the rest of that project. How are you going to heat it? Have you considered a rocket mass heater? Coupled with a small field of basket willow--or other coppice trees--to feed it?
That's exciting you're willing to start in a place that's so resistant to change. That's exactly the place to begin, I would think. Again, especially if the area is experiencing droughts. That's the leverage point.
I'm not in your situation, but it seems like your in the perfect spot to provide a huge example of how to transition out of the soybean/corn treadmill. I think conventional farmers would snicker at herb spirals and high priced heirloom tomatoes, but I think they can understand the arguments that Badgersett and Mark Shepard set forth for woody agriculture.
I've been to Badgersett, able to stop by a for a couple hours during one of their field days and I've never been more impressed or excited about an alternative crop for the midwest. Phil really understands farmers and is making his system as easy as possible for them to adopt. Hazelnuts are definitely part of my plans and I'd really like to take a course there soon.
The new house will be heated with the conventional but new and more efficient wood stove that I'm heating my current home with. It's not as efficient as a rocket mass heater is supposed to be but it's pretty good. The house won't require much heat in the winter because right now I've only been firing an inefficient old wood stove in it once a week and it's holding around 45 F despite all the sub-zero temps I'm sure you're enjoying as well! It'll only get better with additional mass, thermal window shades, and a few insulation details that need to be finished. Once some other farm projects are complete/ established I might build a rocket mass heater in the shop building near the house. That building needs to be re-done whole trees style too, it's falling apart. In addition to supplying some heat to the shop I'd like to come up with a scheme to heat water there too for domestic use and in-floor radiant heat. I have some ideas in my head for parts of this already and can probably do something that relies mostly on gravity vs. pumps.
It's not going to be easy to set a new business model here. Even the droughts haven't hurt the crop yields much. You can say what you will about modern hybrids but they are amazingly tolerant of tough conditions. That doesn't however make them any more fit for consumption. I'm afraid that climate and ecological problems, so far and at least in this region, are happening at pace too slow for the average person to notice. I just want to at least have something in place and ready to build upon if I ever have the opportunity.
I'll check out the article later, need to go work on the house for a while now.
It occurred to me Dennis that I've totally hi-jacked your thread, I apologize for that.
Now that we've ruled out moving a bit farther away and joining the secret network of sleeper farmers, what more specifically are you looking for in regards to relative location and type of land?
You've mentioned 3-5 acres within an hour of Hastings, MN and said that you'd like to reclaim a corn field.
What are your other priorities?
-distance from towns or cities, completely rural or more of a semi-suburban area
-terrain and features; rolling, flat, river/creek, wetlands
-ecology; just an empty field or partially wooded
-access roads, utilities
-adjacent land use deal breakers
Hopefully you can find some leads through this forum.
That's OK Scott. Hijack away! I just posted this out of frustration with my situation and on the lark that some Paul Wheaton/Mark Shepard type character lived in the area and would want to start a huge project, while allowing me to do my thing in the middle of it. It seems so daunting to go back to school, to get a real job, and then finally after--maybe 5 years?--all that I could maybe buy land?
Scott, it's nice to hear about your beautiful house and that looking into perennials like hazlenuts. You could probably even get NRCS or ATTRA grants to do that stuff for all I know.
Here's some more of what I was thinking.
A Homestead that would transition into a Living Folk School in the Middle (or near the outside) of Town.
My ultimate ideal would be to have at the very least 3-5 acres right in the middle (or just outside) of a small town like Hastings, Hudson WI, or Prescott, WI. (I love the St. Croix River). More land the better, of course. More messed up the better too, just for the challenge. But obviously farm land (good soil at least) and a clean strong well is ideal. No buildings is also ideal, as I'd like to present and work on a different aesthetic than the usual farm buildings and have more efficiency/longer lasting buildings as well (e.g. Whole Tree strawbale style?).
I would love a place that people could spontaneously end up at--walk or ride their bike to--like a park right in the middle of town. But instead of a John Muir look-at-nature-hands-off style county park with meaningless placards everywhere, the whole thing is an interactive ethnobotanical food, fiber, shelter, and cultural forest to interact with and learn from: if you know how to harvest in a sustainable fashion, please do so!
The few people who lived there would be full time weirdos, but not be pretentious assholes about it. The dwellers would have a duty to make everything they do explainable and teachable to everyone else. Yeah, they'd walk around with beautiful leather clothes they made, willow/black ash baskets they wove, eating food they cultivated/gathered....But so can you if you want and this is how! (My friends and I just happen to know how to do most of that stuff already...) Kinda like a full time living Folk School, like the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN, but more focused on transitioning to land based cultures/permaculture, living experiments in a modern context, and interactive ethnobotany.
To me this school/land could be legendary because it would live on through itself, cultivars, seeds, skills/methods, leather, tools, stories, and the people who descended from it...or decided they could do better and started another project...
I'm OK with living in super rural locations, but I'd prefer the challenge of interacting with lots of people.
In summary, Paul's Project but closer to a town, in a small town in MN or WI, and with a more ancestral skill agenda/attachment ("becoming ancestors worth descending from") from the beginning.
So, if someone just wants to give that to me that'd be great. Thanks.
Edit: I just realized this sounds like what maybe Colonial Williamsburg is like, which is funny to me. I imagine Williamsburg full of re-enactors in Victorian dress making beeswax candles and fixing shoes...Except it would be full time weirdos scraping hides and making baskets...and they wouldn't be acting.
Thanks Scott. That Kinstone Circle place looks pretty interesting! They definitely seem more interested in having a specific aesthetic...and even have a class on hunting/gathering...I might actually have to go to this place!
Another event and place that's somewhat similar to what I'm into: I know that Midwest Permaculture is doing a PDC in Prescott, WI at Borner Community Garden June 23-30. They are super nice folks and worth people's support!
Rocket Mass Heater Plans: Annex 6" L-shaped Bench by Ernie and Erica