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Quest for Land - my advice for permies and homesteaders  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22179
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I spent three and a half years looking for this piece of land. Yesterday, Tony and Emily were here and talking about their ongoing quest for land. I wanted to write some of our discussion down before I forgot. Since this topic is so massive, I should probably start with the disclaimer that this is all my own crazy, lunatic rant and is probably of no value to anybody but me and the voices in my head.


How many acres?

Decades ago I was obsessed with gardening and outgrew my urban lot. I needed more space. Not only for my horticultural endeavors, but I needed to expand into all sorts of animals. I was sure I would never need more than 20 acres, but 10 acres would be fine. I even had thoughts that if this amount wasn't enough, then someday I might be able to buy a piece of property next door.

I was wrong about lots of things. Or, maybe I should say, I changed my mind about lots of things.

I eat beef. Tony eats beef. Emily was a vegetarian for 17 years and when she came here she started to eat our meat (my impression was that the root of being a vegetarian had to do with respecting the animal). By the standards of all three of us, beef might possibly be one of the healthiest things to eat.

Plus, one of the greatest tools for improving land is pulsing ruminants through the land. So even if a person is vegan, it would be wise to be a healer of the land with cattle.

And, let's not forget the deliciousness of milk, butter and cheese.

Cattle are herd animals. So the smallest herd would be about five. And if you worked your magic on a piece of land, you could get it to the point that it could grow enough food to 100% feed five cattle on ... about 80 acres. Therefore, the bare minimum for beef/dairy is 80 acres.

One very painful thing is that 80 acres costs about twice as much as 40 acres. Which costs twice as much as 20 acres. And once you are on the raw land, you need some funds to build your home and all the infrastructure for everything you want to do.

Last night, Emily and Tony pointed out that their math came to the same conclusion. And as they have been visiting a lot of properties, shopping for their perfect piece of land, they are considering properties that are 40 acres with the idea that the smaller size will probably make it so they don't raise cattle. Of course, when you have everything you ever wanted except for the one thing, then it sorta eats away at you to move to someplace bigger.

Another issue is that most lots that are for sale are surrounded by sprayers. One of the reasons that a permie seeks out their own land is that they want to KNOW the full story of their food. For sure. Utterly and completely. The three of us swapped stories of the people we met that are passionate about organic and yet they still use all sorts of toxic gick in their stuff - it's as if they don't know what organic means, let alone the much higher standard of permaculture.

The sprayers think that if their stuff drifts over to your property, you don't mind because you got a little free help. It's good for you.

So if you have 40 acres and you are surrounded by sprayers, then you want a lot of trees to act as a buffer between you and the sprayers. You end up creating a sacrifice area. It isn't a 100% solution, but .... what else are you gonna do? And you left the city to try this in order to KNOW the story of your food, but now your food is tainted. The purity is no longer pure. It's tainted. So you tell yourself "well, it was just a little. Maybe rather than "better than organic" I'll be okay with "organic". But then you might as well have stayed in town and bought the food labeled "organic".

I've met about 30 people that bought land like this - surrounded by sprayers. Or a sprayer on just one border. And about half of them ended up moving.

Plus, if you have to make a sacrifice area, how much of your 40 acres do you give up? There isn't a clear line about how far the spray comes over. So in your quest to KNOW the story of your food, how much are you willing to have your food tainted.


Wander Lust

Emily has itchy feet. I think one time she told me that the time she spent here was the longest she ever stayed in one spot. And even then, there were big trips in the middle of the stay.

If you have animals, and you are going to spend a week or a month on a trip - somebody else will need to care for the animals. In fact, it could be wise to have not just a "plan B", but a "plan C" and "plan D" as well.

Emily and Tony have a lot of first hand experience with this. While they were here, Tim's family went on a trip and a guy .... let's call him "Emmet" promised to care for Tim's critters for five days. On day 2, Emmet decided to leave. No emergency - he just felt like a change of scenery. Poof! He's gone! Emily and Tony, being awesome, stepped in and cared for the critters.

I have lots of stories, but the one that really sticks in my mind was leaving for a three day trip and having to return on the first day because the two people, "plan B" and "plan C" both botched everything.

So, clearly you need "plan B", "plan C" and "plan D" - and you need them to REALLY know your stuff. And you need extreme confidence that they will do well. You need those people to understand your values. If anything goes sideways, you want these people to KNOW what to do to take GOOD care of the animals.

Your first thought is to develop good relationships with your neighbors. You'll help them and they'll help you. It will take some trial and error to find somebody trustworthy *IF* you have a pool of good neighbors.

My experience was not so good in this space. And I have visited with dozens of people that have long tales of woe - most of whom just embraced never travelling.

A lot of permies consider the idea of community. Bring a collection of people together with the same values and work ethic. And maybe the animals can even be owned collectively so anybody can travel whenever they want. This idea lasts no more than a fraction of a second because life has taught them that people are fucking nuts and this can NEVER work. At the same time, there are some people out there that appear to be not crazy. In fact they seem kinda cool. It would be great to get together with those people. And it would be great to have the freedom to leave. But this problem is just way too huge. Okay, more on that later ....


The Price of 80 Acres

80 acres with a creek, southern exposure, deep soil, forest, close to a lovely town and not all that far from a lovely city, nestled into forest service land at the end of a road, ... no improvements (house, barn, power, well, roads, fences): a million bucks.

Most people that want to travel this path don't happen to have a million bucks.

Nobody wants the debt of mortgage, but some people are so passionate about this path that they will consider it. And most lenders won't touch bare land. In the country, a lot of folks are selling land and will do "owner financing". You need to put 20% to 35% down (I've seen it as low as 10%) and then you have mortgage payments. For a million dollar property, that's $200,000 down and about $4000 per month. So, for a lot of people, this is also a show stopper.

Okay, so you can find 80 acres for about $120,000 .... no creek, recently logged, some soil, maybe eastern exposure (smells almost like "southern exposure"), and maybe the town doesn't seem uber cool, but it probably has a kind of "character" that will grow on you ....

(and you can find 80 acres for $65,000: north facing slope, no way to access except by helicopter, and some serious problems you really don't want to know about)

Most people reading this are probably still thinking that $120,000 is still way out of their league. Suddenly the thought of five acres looks way better. The funny thing is that this property as a five acre plot will be $40,000.

One thing to keep in mind: most raw land does not have owner financing. You can either buy it outright or you don't buy it.


Selling Your Soul Into Slavery

So many people living in the city are coming to the conclusion that they hate their life. The work at a job they hate - mostly because they would hate other jobs even more. They take the money and pay for things they don't really want: car, house/apartment, work clothes, student loan so they can get a good job, stuff to dull the pain of their existence (toys, alcohol, hobbies, drugs ...).

They then start to get the idea of how cool it would be to walk away from it all and live in the woods. And then the mind wanders to other solutions. Universally, step 1 is "get out of debt." Naturally, thoughts turn to stuff covered in books like "mortgage free" or "early retirement extreme" (ERE). In time the solution appears to be permaculture and homesteading.

So, when you are shopping for property, I would like to make a strong suggestion to not get into a mortgage. It is an obvious suggestion. Nobody want's a mortgage. I just want to mention that for a lot of people, this is moving from "slavery to the system" to "slave to your dreams." There is a good chance that five years into the future, you might hate the five-years-ago-you.

Some people will do a lot of work to find a job that they can do out in the sticks. Or they will find land that is still really close to a town where they can continue to work. And with a 30 year mortgage, you might have to do that for 30 years. Your new life could turn out to be quite the burden.

Some people tell themselves that they will make major coin from their new property. I do think that is possible, but it almost always takes a big hunk of cash to get started. That's the cool thing about ERE, the root of the book is: the more humbly you are willing to live, the better your forward velocity.

I think a big part of permaculture is the opposite of credit card debt. With credit card debt, you sell your future self into slavery to pay for your whims of today (the whims are usually about anesthetizing your current existence). Permaculture is more about giving a gift to your future self.

I like to think that the thing to do is to explore how humble you can be (ERE style) combined with residual income streams. But, this is a story for another day.

There are hundreds of arguments for the infinite number of paths. I just wish to encourage everybody to have a strong preference to get out of debt and stay out of debt.


Attributes for a Property That Were of Interest to Me

80 acres minimum. 200 optimal.

Need deep soil. A lot of the property I looked at had no soil, or just a few patches of shallow soil. One property I saw was a 480 acre rock - beautiful, but not for me.

Need extreme privacy - I don't want a public road going through the property.

No building codes.

Sloped land makes it so you can control frost pockets. Plus flat land is usually a sign of flood plains - where other people's persistent herbicides get washed onto your land annually.

Need lots of weeds - this indicates that the soil is not poisoned with persistent herbicides that can take decades to get rid of. Probably 90% of the properties were dominantly grass - a strong indicator that persistent broad leaf herbicides were used.

Surrounded by properties that generally never spray. The forest service and timber companies will spray sometimes, but usually they don't bother. The nature conservancy sprays (which seems like an oxymoron, but it is true). Check the surrounding properties for lots of weeds.

Within an hour of missoula. For a while I looked at land that was within an hour and a half of missoula, but am glad that I found something within an hour.

- first, I have a powerful bias. I just love missoula. The carousel, freecycles, the saturday market, the events and people, the flavor of community ...

- second, I have a powerful desire to be someplace where it gets cold so I can build soil the way I want to build soil, plus, less bugs and less disease

- someday I want to be able to say that I grow a lemon tree, outdoors, in montana

- when showing off the power of the wofati or rocket mass heater, it has more weight when you say you are doing it in montana

- I just love to say that I'm a montanan. When people ask "where are you from?" I found I like to say "montana" about 20 times more than "idaho", "oregon", "washington state" or "colorado."


Seven Years Ago ...

I built up dozens of tiny residual income streams. I had about $1500 per month coming in from residual income streams. In other words, I could do utterly nothing and my bank account would gain $1500 per month. I could go sit on a boat, out in the ocean for ten months with no connection to the internet or anything and come back to find about $15,000 in my accounts.

I was debt free.

I would sometimes take a programming job and bring in a few more bucks here and there.

I was bonkers about permaculture.

I had about $5000 of buffer in the bank. Not enough to buy land. Not even enough to buy land with somebody.

For a bunch or personal reasons, I wanted to stay in the seattle area for about three more years and then move back to montana. During me three year stay, I wanted to "do" permaculture. I wanted to express my vision in seed and soil on a few acres. Chickens, pigs and gardens. Maybe four acres. I also wanted to be part of a community. I was willing to pay.

After four months of visiting dozens of places, I found a place. I lay down my money and got moved in. Then I found out that they told me whatever I wanted to hear because they just needed somebody to rent the place. I was not allowed to do my permaculture stuff. I was only allowed to do landscaping according to their limited, fucked up ideas on landscaping. At first I tried "patient communication" to help them learn about what I was attempting to do. That was working, but it was sloooooooow. I then met sepp holzer and he asked me about my situation. When I told him, he said "Get out. Now." It then all clicked for me. I got out.

Things changed and I started my search for land in Montana. At first I tried to arrange a 15 year lease. I talked to lots of land owners about such a lease. My ideas were too different. I did find somebody that was cool with my ideas and I drove from seattle to montana and spent a few days talking and working things out .... only the land owner couldn't decide whether to keep the land and have me do my thing, or sell the land (80 acres for $900,000). I made lots of contacts. I moved to missoula and intensified my search. I would do lots of speaking gigs so that in the middle of the presentation I could tell the audience that I was looking for land to lease.


The Fall of 2012

I lived frugally, beefed up my residual income streams, plus did some work, plus .... all of my giving stuff away for years and years resulted in some very lucky oppportunities .... In the fall of 2012 I had saved up about $70,000. I figured that if I could put $40,000 down on an owner carry plot of at least 80 acres, that would leave me with $30,000 to make improvements.

Something clicked within me and I realized my innards NEEDED me to get some fucking land right fucking now. Yes, my passion is in putting out free stuff, but now I want to be a bulldozer and bring in funds asap. I'm sick and tired of dancing around all this stupid shit of owner financing. If I work hard for a short time i can come up with enough money to buy SOMETHING and get STARTED!

A lot of hard work and a lot of help and a lot of luck .... In May of 2013 I closed on 200 acres. It has issues, but it has crazy deep soil, lots of weeds, privacy, slope, no building codes, surrounded by forest service and timber company land and within an hour of missoula. Bonus of thick forests - the heavy tree growth is indicative of the deep soils.


Re-Husp

While I was in Montana searching for land, my brain stumbled into this idea that I now call "rehusp" (or "re-husp"). In a feeble attempt to summarize: I want to grow the future of permaculture. Not just with my ideas, but with 20 different artisans in seed and soil. Each permie would have their own vision for what is "best" and as they demonstrate their vision and talk about how the other 19 are "wrong", the cross pollination accelerates discovery.

This discovery came as I pitched an idea to a local tribe in an attempt to lease land from them. While it didn't work out with them, the idea became clearer and bigger in my head.

Part of me remembered seven years ago with just $5000 and a residual income stream how I needed a few acres to do my thing. I paid a lot for that and didn't get what I wanted. I also met other people that were looking for a space to build a cob home. They just needed to try. And they were willing to pay thousands of dollars just to have a space to try.

And I've met hundreds of people on their quest to find a place where they can do their permaculture thing. To get out of the rat race and stop being a wage slave. To build a magnificent gift to their future self. To someday pursue art, beauty and delicious instead of pursuing the dollar to just barely pay the bills.

Yes, I have my own crazy stuff that I must do because my innards demand it. And my innards now demand that I do re-husp even more.


Crazy is Relative and Subjective

About 95% of the population looks crazy to me. I expect that nearly all of those people will look at me and think that I am crazy. Crazy is relative and subjective. Well, most "crazy" is relative and subjective.

Of the remaining 5%, I think they are not crazy. And I am comfortable with most of them thinking I am crazy.

This bit about "crazy" is the foundation for my next few points.

When trying to get a million dollar property, one idea that comes up is "if I go in on this with nine other people, then I only need to pay $100,000 instead of a million dollars." The math can run for all sorts of properties for all sorts of different number of partners. You get the idea. The key is that if this works out, you can leave the rat race a LOT earlier. But people are crazy. And even if they are not crazy, people change. And even if they are not crazy and they stay not crazy for life, there are still all sorts of things that can go wonky.

Consider for a moment: marriage. Two people come together and judge each other to be not crazy. They are even certain that the other party is so super awesome that they decided to inform the authorities of their marriage. And half of them get divorced. But more importantly: before they even try to get married, look at all the relationships they had that didn't work out. A pretty high failure rate.

Thousands of properties have been purchased jointly. Some do work out. The concept of people coming together on a common piece of land is called "intentional community". Some smell a lot like an HOA. Some smell a lot like a hippie love-in. Right now you can pop out to http://ic.org and look at the hundreds of intentional communities that are currently open to new members. And hundreds more that are in the stage of "forming" (a group of people searching for the perfect piece of land). This doesn't include land that was purchased by married couples, or business partners or the hundreds of other potential arrangements. The point is that there are a lot of ways that this idea can be attempted. And a few do stand the test of time.

Permaculture is a very long term thing. What is the point of giving a gift to your future self if your future self moves away in two years to get away from all the crazy?

So we need a solution.

Seven years ago I dropped a lot of money and moved all my stuff to a place that sounded like a fit. Only they lied because they needed my money. It turns out that they knew nothing about permaculture. My permaculture ideas seemed not just crazy to them, but fucking insane. When they prevented me from building hugelkultur, they couldn't even allow raised beds. Naturally, as expected, they looked crazy to me.

And I wasn't even looking for 30 or 40 years - I was looking for something for three or four years.

So how could I have prevented that? How could I have found a better match? And all of the other people that are looking for a place to get out of the rat race and start with permaculture and homesteading.

The book "Mortgage Free" offers a dozen different strategies. Typically, you live frugally, build a grubstake, buy land that is near a town where you can continue to work and then build a tiny house in your spare time. And in the coming years, you add on to the house in your spare time.

In the book "early retirement extreme", you live frugally, invest your money and the more frugally you live, the earlier you can retire. It sorta leaves open the idea of forever renting or buying your own place.


An Experimental Path For a Few

I have given some general advice for people seeking land to purchase, but my brain is screaming about my own devious plots and ideas.

Suppose a person has saved up $30,000 and has built $300 per month in residual income streams. There might be a small property somewhere than can be purchased. There might be an IC somewhere to join. Maybe you can find a farm where you can rent a room and be allowed to do your permaculture stuff there.

Each of these things could work, but it just seems doomed for most people. The probability of success seems really low.

So I have created another path. This new path is also terrible for most people, but I think it might have a high probability of success for a few. For just the right people. Further still, I think that this idea could be a template for thousands of other properties, each with different values. It is a bit of a hybrid between all three of the above designs, plus one little thing that could take out 90% of the crazy (or crazy potential).

I confess that this idea is powerfully driven by two things:

1) My passion for re-husp

2) My frustration from seven years ago

There are a lot more things in the mix, but let's start there.

In 1989 I rented a room in a house in missoula. I lived there for nine years. The rent was cheap and the landlord didn't care about my gardening efforts. The landlord was very different from me. In nearly every way. Yet for nine years everything was okay. I could have kept living there, but ... I moved to get a better job.

I have met hundreds of people that have lived more than 20 years in the same place - renting. They are content. But, of course, for each of those people, there are probably a hundred people where they moved out or were evicted.

Why do these rental arrangements end? Usually due to a difference of opinion in how renting should happen. For example, the tenant builds a garden and the landlord thinks the garden will add maintenance work, or it will lower the value of the property.

Here is what I am currently trying: I now manage 300 acres. I like the idea of 20 people living here to do the re-husp thing. A person lays down some money to have "skin in the game" and then has an acre or two that is pretty much for their own use, plus access for projects (like raising cattle) to the full property.

A requirement is to listen to the first 240 podcasts that I have put out. I suspect that 99% of the people that try to listen to the podcasts will reject the idea of coming here. But I hope that this idea will end up being done, eventually, on thousands of properties. So anybody that likes this idea will find a place that is a fit for them.

The goal is to facilitate/incubate those that want to get out of the rat race. They want to stop being a wage slave to the system and give a gift to their future self. To get to the point that they are, for all practical purposes, retired at a very young age. They can then pursue their passions without having to get up every morning and go to a job they hate.

Rather than buying four acres riddled with problems, they might have a hybrid between 1 acre and 300 acres. They have their one acre plot for their home and gardens. They can arrange use of ten more acres for an overlayed use.

So when comparing this solution to land ownership: You don't have neighbors that spray. You get much better land for a much lower price. You are obfuscated from property taxes and the myriad of bits and bobs that come with ownership. You get some level of access to community resources.

When comparing to an IC: You don't have to attend weekly decision making meetings. The cost and benefits is about the same. The "crazy" is a significantly more predictable. Hopefully this solution has less than 1% of the drama in an IC.

When comparing to renting a room/house with land: Far more predictability. Permaculture is encouraged. The design is to have life long relationships as opposed to the idea of "flipping the property."


I like to think that for a few people that are bonkers about homesteading and permaculture, I have created the best path for them to get out of the rat race and TRY. The two dominant paths right now are:

Ant Village: rent a plot year to year. Currently priced at $800 through the end of 2016 (so 20 months if you start now). Plus we are currently offering something called "the ant village challenge" where one plot will be awarded a "deep roots package".

Deep Roots: rent a plot for "life". A sort of "rent a whole bunch of years and get a whole bunch of years free".

 
Bill Bradbury
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Hi Paul,

Great to hear about the history of the Labs!

One thing not mentioned is Forest Service, BLM and unused privately owned land can all be leased for grazing purposes. Most of the ranchers that I know only have enough land to grow feed for winter and use grazing allotments for the warm months. This means that you can have just 40 acres and still raise lots of critters. As an example, my friend Jay rotationally grazes 450 head of cattle on 2000 acres, but only owns 680 acres. The other 1200+ acres are leased from neighbors and Forest Service grazing allotment. Most of his acreage is in hay production for winter feed.

Also; thanks for providing this place for exchanging ideas and improving lives through permaculture, it is the only place on the web that I feel at home enough to share my thoughts and feelings.

All Blessings,
Bill
 
Ashley Reyson
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Paul, thank you for sharing your thinking process about acquiring land. Since I'm beginning this process with my family, it's timely and helpful.

I appreciate your approach to using your land as a tool to accelerate permaculture adoption and help others with compatible goals along their way. You've built a very compelling opportunity. Don't let the slow trickle of ants and deep roots people discourage you. Moving is a decision that takes most of us some time.

Although it's unlikely my wife will ever be excited about Montana, your approach at least got us talking about it. Perhaps we'll learn from your model and create a similar project in Texas. Or perhaps we'll take ice baths and begin acclimation to give Montana a try.

Either way, thank you!
 
Dan Boone
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Paul I just want to say how much I enjoy reading about your Montana projects, even though I'm not a candidate for participating in any of them. (Unless a massive slug of unforeseen resources falls in my lap, I'll never get the 40 acres we have here fully tuned up, so I'm untroubled by land restlessness.) Even if you are "crazy" in the sense of having hard-to-reach goals that aren't my own, you're doing interesting stuff that's educational to read about. And when I think about how very differently I view the world now as compared to three years ago, who is to say which of us now will look like the crazy one to me in three more year's time?
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Rather than buying four acres riddled with problems, they might have a hybrid between 1 acre and 300 acres. They have their one acre plot for their home and gardens. They can arrange use of ten more acres for an overlayed use.


This is feudalism; and that is not a bad thing! (Or at least, it is how land use worked in feudal societies. Paul can't force tenants to stay on his land if they want to go. Paul CAN kick tenants out, which, interestingly, was not allowed for a feudal lord.)

This arrangement has existed for thousands of years, because it works.

In a few hundred years from now, Paul's heirs may become true feudal lords, as everything breaks down and they have become the default leaders. Just so did the owners of a Roman villa become lords of a medieval village, as emperors, kings, governors, and the whole fabric of society faded away. The slaves and freedmen became serfs, and eventually free peasants.

It is, I think, as successful a land use/ ownership pattern as can be found anywhere. It was only destroyed with great effort by the rich, who fought the tenants farmers and enclosed the commons.



 
John Wolfram
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I really like how Paul included the time scale of his land search in this thread. Starting out, I thought finding land would be like finding a house where can just pick your location/price/bedrooms and close on a property within two months. Land purchases certainly definitely seem to occur on a different pace. It took me a year of searching to find my first 5 acres, and another 3 years after that to put an offer on another 15 acres.
 
Ann Torrence
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paul wheaton wrote:Cattle are herd animals. So the smallest herd would be about five. And if you worked your magic on a piece of land, you could get it to the point that it could grow enough food to 100% feed five cattle on ... about 80 acres. Therefore, the bare minimum for beef/dairy is 80 acres.

I'm very curious about the origin of this number and cautious that it can be applied across the board. You might do much better, or much worse, depending on climate. 80 acres might not sustain two cows in Arizona. And it might be just perfect for 20 in a well-managed, longer season, higher rainfall, situation. And of course, just because you can pack them in doesn't mean you want that many cows. I like lamb and pork too! So do you see this as a western Montana specific number for illustration?
 
Curtis Budka
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I know Sheri Salatin (Joel salatin's daughter in law) has recently started a website thing that is designed to connect landowners who own unused land with people who want to farm, but lack the land or the means to get land.

But I forget what she called it and I'm not sure what kind of agreements are involved between the two parties. So I don't know a whole lot about it.
 
Dillon Nichols
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Ann, I wondered the same thing; I believe this is a Montana, or Missoula, number that Paul has derived.

A bit of googling turned up this method of arriving at a rough estimate using location/soil survey data: http://www.progressivecattle.com/topics/range-pasture/5357-estimating-carrying-capacity-how-many-cows-can-i-graze

Enough info there to illustrate that this is definitely on those questions best answered with 'It depends!'
 
Rhys Firth
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Ann Torrence wrote:
paul wheaton wrote:Cattle are herd animals. So the smallest herd would be about five. And if you worked your magic on a piece of land, you could get it to the point that it could grow enough food to 100% feed five cattle on ... about 80 acres. Therefore, the bare minimum for beef/dairy is 80 acres.

I'm very curious about the origin of this number and cautious that it can be applied across the board. You might do much better, or much worse, depending on climate. 80 acres might not sustain two cows in Arizona. And it might be just perfect for 20 in a well-managed, longer season, higher rainfall, situation. And of course, just because you can pack them in doesn't mean you want that many cows. I like lamb and pork too! So do you see this as a western Montana specific number for illustration?


I would have to say it is a snowy cold Montana number.

In the Waikato basin of NZ where I grew up, 6 cows would happily manage themselves on a well managed 12 acre block of fertile deep drained peat soil with winter lows never much below -5C.
 
Julia Winter
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For those who think this sounds great, but Montana is way too scary cold, I beg to differ.

I lived in Wisconsin from 2000 to 2013. Wisconsin is COLD, although it's not as cold as it used to be. Minnesota, North Dakota, these are frickin' cold places. Montana gets snow, but not like the upper midwest. It gets cold, but not even as cold as Chicago. The cold snaps don't last long.

Where Paul is in Montana is roughly 500 miles from the Pacific Ocean, which is far, but not as far as those other places I mentioned. There is still a moderating effect (you get more of a moderating effect on land to the east of a major body of water) from that massive cool body of water. Things get a lot harsher on the other side of the continental divide.

This page has the data and I lack the web skillz to have them show up here.

To a native Midwesterner, like myself, what strikes me is the lack of water. A decent amount falls from the sky, as rain (mostly) or as snow, but water retention landscaping would be pretty important, I think.
 
brad millar
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To a native Midwesterner, like myself, what strikes me is the lack of water. A decent amount falls from the sky, as rain (mostly) or as snow, but water retention landscaping would be pretty important, I think.

14" of rain isn't that much. Paul is on the leeward side of a mountain range. That range stops a lot of the storms that would normally bring more rain. I have property on the windward side of said range. We average 24" of rain only 150 miles away.
 
Laura Emil
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Curtis Budka wrote:... a website thing that is designed to connect landowners who own unused land with people who want to farm...


Many states have such websites, too - the trick is finding a good match. I've had my land listed on PA Farm Link for YEARS, but the only folks interested want me to teach them. I work off the land to cover the mortgage, etc, I want to SHARE the land and enable someone with similar dreams to plant their roots. But I don't have the knowledge, skill, time (or youth, anymore...) to do this. Land is NOT the only issue...
 
Glen Patterson
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I built up dozens of tiny residual income streams. I had about $1500 per month coming in from residual income streams. In other words, I could do utterly nothing and my bank account would gain $1500 per month. I could go sit on a boat, out in the ocean for ten months with no connection to the internet or anything and come back to find about $15,000 in my accounts.


I'm fairly new to the forums but I'd like to know about your setup here. To get info from someone who has actually done this is worth a bizillion times more than a google search on the subject. Do you go into detail about this anywhere else that I can review and catch up on?
 
kadence blevins
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Glen Patterson wrote:
I built up dozens of tiny residual income streams. I had about $1500 per month coming in from residual income streams. In other words, I could do utterly nothing and my bank account would gain $1500 per month. I could go sit on a boat, out in the ocean for ten months with no connection to the internet or anything and come back to find about $15,000 in my accounts.


I'm fairly new to the forums but I'd like to know about your setup here. To get info from someone who has actually done this is worth a bizillion times more than a google search on the subject. Do you go into detail about this anywhere else that I can review and catch up on?


you're here. link back to the Labs main forum section: http://www.permies.com/forums/f-102/labs
 
paul wheaton
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Glen Patterson wrote:
I built up dozens of tiny residual income streams. I had about $1500 per month coming in from residual income streams. In other words, I could do utterly nothing and my bank account would gain $1500 per month. I could go sit on a boat, out in the ocean for ten months with no connection to the internet or anything and come back to find about $15,000 in my accounts.


I'm fairly new to the forums but I'd like to know about your setup here. To get info from someone who has actually done this is worth a bizillion times more than a google search on the subject. Do you go into detail about this anywhere else that I can review and catch up on?


http://www.permies.com/t/16439/financial-strategy/building-residual-income-streams

http://www.permies.com/t/27586/permaculture-podcast/Podcast-Residual-Income-Streams

 
Adam Klaus
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Good article Paul, being realistic and honest with young folks rather than selling the usual kook-aid that so many in the movement want to push. Land is expensive, good land especially so, and there is no way around that brutal reality.

I would say though that I manage to raise a herd of dairy cows on 12 acres. They get 80% of their annual feed off the land, so there is some purchased hay. I am able to raise 4 milk cows, a breeding bull, several yearling bulls for beef, and a couple of heifers on that acreage. This is fertile ground with ample irrigation, which highlights the reality that quality is way more important than quantity when it comes to farm land.

So the situation isn't 'quite' as hopeless as it may seem. But young folks do need to think realistically, and always value quality over quantity when establishing a homestead.

hope that helps!
 
Tim Nam
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Thank you Paul. You've summarized the situation for myself and I'm sure many others also, very well, in terms of wanting out of the dying civilization and toward a more regenerative system. Its really nice to witness that many of the same thoughts and situations were encountered by our predecessor(s). Currently I'm having personal issues of maintaining energy and passion...could be depression, or just too much bleakness coming from without...but I still wanted to say I appreciate what you've shared here and in your podcast about the realities of community living, keeping it really real.
I can't think of the quote at the moment but its a good one about being well-adjusted to a mal-adjusted society is true insanity...
we soldier on
 
Mary Wildfire
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What if you AREN'T desperately in love with the expensive West, and even $200,000 would take half your life to raise? Land in West Virginia can still be bought at a thousand dollars an acre. In rural areas, no building codes are enforced; we get forty inches of rain a year; the cost of living is low, as are property taxes. Of course, connected with this is the dearth of jobs, especially those that pay well. As for the "surrounded by spraying" issue, people here have no higher consciousness than elsewhere, but the steep wooded land means serious farming is not feasible; thus, between you and your neighbors are acres of trees, and nobody is spraying on a major scale.
I joined permies mostly in hopes of recruiting new people for my community, Hickory Ridge Land Trust, which you can find on ic.org. It's true what Paul said about communities rarely working out over the long haul, for the same reasons as marriages--but there are lots of styles of communities. I want to point out that in most of the world, through most of history, community was a key source of security and identity, something we Americans lack. Because our culture is so extreme on valuing individual freedom over community needs, living in community is very hard for us. Rather than developing the skills to work things out, we're gone as soon as our mate or in-law annoys us. But that being the reality, I see a looser community as easier and more likely to succeed for us Americans...and for anyone who doesn't like frequent long meetings, a better model. Our community has 76 acres with four leaseholds and some common land. Three leaseholds are taken; we'd like to find a compatible family for the fourth (and we now have another 70 acre piece at some distance that needs leaseholders--that one is bottomland with a decrepit house and a stream, badly infested with autumn olive). This land is already paid for. You pay a one-time $1000 join fee, and then annually, your share of the property taxes and the gravel for our mile long lane. We have ONE meeting per year. We also get together for a weekly movie night. Each household builds its own house, decides what projects it wants to get into, sets its own rules. We share some things, like my neighbors' washing machine and our old truck. Check us out if this sounds like your speed.
 
Pia Jensen
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Great point about differences in how communities manage - each of the Latin American countries I've lived in (3 so far and lots of visits to Mexico years ago) there is a natural social security network that has nothing to do with governments but which supports numerous families. Farming and workers are critical pieces to that security network.
 
Tim Nam
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Sounds like a great opportunity Mary. Thanks for sharing. I've seen some fairly cheap land even out here in the west. As low or even lower than 1k/acre. But these are either steep ravines or in remote drylands, as you might expect. I know very little about WV beyond occasional reports of mountaintop removal or coal mine disasters. Well, I do have some facebook friends from there and it seems very livable from their perspective.
 
Mary Wildfire
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There is certainly a downside to the social climate here, the political scene. I have been somewhat involved in the battle against MTR--fortunately, the area where I live is blessed by the absence of coal. Unfortunately, the Marcellus underlies the whole state. Local politicians are all enthused about the supposed economic boon of fracking. We own 2/5 of the mineral rights on our land, thus can prevent drilling on it--but a neighbor could decide to do it, or have no choice (most "surface owners" here don't have their mineral rights). I don't like the conservatism, the racism--the Bible-beating, child-beating mentality. On the other hand, there is an ethic of live-and-let-live--it would never occur to a West Virginian to dictate how their neighbors can decorate their homes. There is a fairly strong sense of community based on kinship. And there is general competence--my daughter was dismayed when she went to Amherst College that the boys didn't know how to change the oil on their cars, some of them didn't know how to check it--
 
M.R.J. Smith
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Great post. Very helpful for those of us looking. Few questions tough. I don't know hardly anything about herbicides so I was wondering what kind of species you were looking for beyond just grass. We're looking in northern Idaho/western Montana so it's a similar biome. Were you pretty much going for just really high biodiversity or particular species that are commonly sprayed for? 2nd and you don't have to answer this if you don't want (well you don't have to answer any of them but particularly this one) because it's somewhat personal, but if the dream 80 acres parcel is 1 mil and you found a 200 acre, I'm guessing it was not ideal or you dug up some treasure. What kind of shortcomings were you willing to accept, and maybe if you would be willing to disclose, how did you wind up funding this site? Lastly, is there a easy way to judge soil depth beyond the thick forests being an indicator or digging a hole until bedrock (probably not practical)? I'd be grateful if you could elaborate on any of these.
 
Julia Winter
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There are some particularly persistent (as in, "toxic compost" and "toxic manure" persistent) herbicides that kill all non-grass plants. Thus, all clover, all dandelions, all thistle, all plantain, all anything that isn't a grass. So, if you see a field, and there are nothing but grass plants growing there, that field has some ick factor. Even if you're not worried about eating stuff grown in land so toxic, you won't be able to get bean plants to grow much more than the first two leaves in that soil. For years.
 
paul wheaton
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What kind of shortcomings were you willing to accept


I have some south facing slope, but the property has more north facing slope than south facing.

The little town nearby doesn't have my idea of cool organic arts and funk stuff. So to get my town-community-groove on, I go a little farther into missoula.

I would like to be a little closer to missoula.

There are a few other things.


maybe if you would be willing to disclose, how did you wind up funding this site?


the answer here could fill a book. The foundation was residual income streams. And a lot of hard work and a LOT of luck. Kickstarters helped too. Adrien helped me focus on income streams. The support of my peeps with all of the different things I tried.

I suppose the foundation would be "try 100 things, 2 will work out, but you never know in advance which two." In a large part I guess I was giving stuff away for many years and then I shifted gears and attempted to monetize on that.



 
Bethany Dutch
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What a great writeup! And interesting to read your path, Paul. One thing that I noticed that you "get" and I think so many people don't consider it is - you have to accept and understand that getting land will have a path, and it will be long sometimes.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this - sometimes we look at the cost of what it will take to "get us to the land" (not just money, but time!! sacrificing our comforts and "stuff"!!) and become intimidated, thinking it will never happen. But - time passes, whether you want it to or not. More likely than not, the average Joe dreaming of owning his own land will look at the obstacles and just become intimidated or just try to pray/hope that it will happen somehow. But - if that average Joe decided to make a 5 year plan, or a 10 year plan... educate themselves on how to make passive income, start a business he can work from home, etc. and sock away all the money he can get, meanwhile doing as much studying and learning of new skills as his brain can handle, it can happen. IT CAN HAPPEN. But it takes time. And deliberate planning. And more time. And sacrifices. And more time.

But that time will pass, no matter what you do. And this is what I tell people who tell me how envious they are of my lifestyle - make a plan, and follow that plan. Don't just fly by the seat of your pants on this one - be deliberate about it. Create those income streams. Start that business from home. The money they make for you in the meantime - save it - but their real value is the fact that you'll be able to support yourself living anywhere. Get a new career if you need to. Figure out where you want to go. Learn those homesteading skills.

Because if you don't do these things, time is still going to pass but you will still be in the same place, 5-10 years from now, as you are today.

Personally - it took me 7 years from the time the decision to "go for it" was made, to the time that we built and moved into our home on 20 acres. No building permits, forest, deep rich untouched soil, no neighbors w/ chemicals, great community of likeminded folks, you name it. This house still has a couple years work on it before it's complete, but it's livable, and worth the sacrifices.
 
J Hampshire
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Am I the only one who is left really confused by this article? I feel like there is an enormous gap in the information.

Something clicked within me and I realized my innards NEEDED me to get some fucking land right fucking now. Yes, my passion is in putting out free stuff, but now I want to be a bulldozer and bring in funds asap. I'm sick and tired of dancing around all this stupid shit of owner financing. If I work hard for a short time i can come up with enough money to buy SOMETHING and get STARTED!

A lot of hard work and a lot of help and a lot of luck .... In May of 2013 I closed on 200 acres. It has issues, but it has crazy deep soil, lots of weeds, privacy, slope, no building codes, surrounded by forest service and timber company land and within an hour of missoula. Bonus of thick forests - the heavy tree growth is indicative of the deep soils.


In between those two paragraphs should be a much clearer outline of what the heck actually happened. I originally read this article about a week ago when it first went out in the Dailyish, and was left very perplexed. Just getting around to this post now. Paul, would it be possible to at least touch upon exactly what you did? You went from $70k, to closing on 200 acres in just a few sentences there. I also need much more information regarding your stance on cattle. Some quick references online as well as local know-how from farmers in my area, 80 acres for 5 head of cattle seems to be nothing short of astronomical.
 
paul wheaton
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Paul, would it be possible to at least touch upon exactly what you did? You went from $70k, to closing on 200 acres in just a few sentences there.


As I said:

A lot of hard work and a lot of help and a lot of luck ....


It was extremely multi faceted - not just one thing, but, more like, a hundred things. And, I think, to those that followed my story through that period, obvious. Kickstarters, monetizing my articles, focusing on ads on my sites, jet pack, deep roots, and exercising some of my skills from before being so bonkers about permaculture.

I have written/podcasted oodles of things about income/money stuff. But that is not so much what this essay is about - hence the skipping over it.


80 acres for 5 head of cattle seems to be nothing short of astronomical.


Then I suggest you use the values that think are best. These are my numbers based on my standards for this climate. So it is of great influence to the choices I make.

 
elle sagenev
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Or you could shell out a bit more cash up front and get developed land. We bought our property fully fenced for large livestock, with a barn, with a 4 port lean-to and with a house that obviously had the electric, well and septic in place. We also had a tree line already set up. We haven't had to worry about the basics and could get right into the permaculture because we just spent a bit more for what you're having to build. Just something to consider as well.
 
Ross Raven
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Thanks, Everyone. I just reposted this conversation over at The International Preppers Network. I think they need to hear this conversation. Thanks Paul. It mirrors my experience to a much lesser(on my part) degree.
 
Ross Raven
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:
Rather than buying four acres riddled with problems, they might have a hybrid between 1 acre and 300 acres. They have their one acre plot for their home and gardens. They can arrange use of ten more acres for an overlayed use.


This is feudalism; and that is not a bad thing! (Or at least, it is how land use worked in feudal societies. Paul can't force tenants to stay on his land if they want to go. Paul CAN kick tenants out, which, interestingly, was not allowed for a feudal lord.)

This arrangement has existed for thousands of years, because it works.

In a few hundred years from now, Paul's heirs may become true feudal lords, as everything breaks down and they have become the default leaders. Just so did the owners of a Roman villa become lords of a medieval village, as emperors, kings, governors, and the whole fabric of society faded away. The slaves and freedmen became serfs, and eventually free peasants.

It is, I think, as successful a land use/ ownership pattern as can be found anywhere. It was only destroyed with great effort by the rich, who fought the tenants farmers and enclosed the commons.





As a person that saw a "Good Example" of Neo- Feudalism from the SCA...I'm not as creeped out by this idea. MrsC5...not so much...so I have adjusted to the idea of enduring committees. LOL
 
J Hampshire
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paul wheaton wrote:

But that is not so much what this essay is about - hence the skipping over it.

---

Then I suggest you use the values that think are best. These are my numbers based on my standards for this climate. So it is of great influence to the choices I make.



Fair points. I'm very satisfied with those answers, thank you Paul.
 
Jeff Wesolowski
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Thanks for posting Paul. Lots of good stuff. When you say crazy, I more than get it. In my own household of four, the other three don't get it. They don't care about high quality meats, food, veggies even though I've been demonstrating thru my own example for the last ten or twelve years. It seems like our western world only cares about the superficial and wasting their lives on media that just makes them dummer. I have just been kicked in the ass for the last time and I feel that the only way I will be happy is to do what I feel is fulfilling which is too leave the three adults in my household and pursue my passion of living a life that has purpose like you are creating there. I wish I lived closer cause I would definitely be more content being around people who value hard work and honest values. I am starting my pursuit here in Michigan to find like minded folks for land trust or feudal system. I have tons of varied skills and didn't realize how much till I visited Permaethos last year and realized how much I learned over the years. Wish me the best of luck in my search for a more satisfying life. Spud
 
Timothy Black
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Very enlightening Paul. Thanks so much for posting this

I have a few ideas as to how to cut costs in my life and live very cheaply, while working a job in a downtown financial district, but.. they would be considered crazy even by Permies!
 
Julie Horton
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Thank you, Paul! And other posters...

It was like reading Pascal's Penses-- someone has previously thought and recorded the thoughts I would eventually have! I just hadn't found them until now!

Yes, the crazy! We are the family kooks in every family we claim...

Yes, the ICs tend to creep me out a bit... or seem like a different version of HOA.

I am really intrigued by what you offer. I will be searching and will be in touch regarding current offerings.

I am offgrid homesteading now, but in an area with too many venomous creatures (the slithery, the crawly, and the 2 legged). We are looking for a place that is somewhat more habitable by humans-- the non-cray cray type-- and we've learned to appreciate the idea of community.

BTW, in this area, I keep 5 cows, 5 sheep (sometimes more), and other pastured critters (mostly birds) on 10 acres, & they cannot keep up with the growth (ie, we must still occasionally mow some areas to keep vermin populations in check & even to make some areas navigable on foot... did you consider MIG or MOB grazing to decrease your acreage needs for cattle and  to multiply the growth potential of the pastures? Just curious-- is it a water shortage, a growing season shortage, or other management principle that makes so many acres necessary for 5 cows? I like to learn from everyone's management ideas, thanks.
 
Libbie Hawker
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This is the first I'd seen of this post. An excellent consideration of land-buying, all around.

One thing that can make it much easier to achieve self-sufficiency is switching from cattle to sheep. Sheep require far less land and can finish beautifully on pasture that's of lesser quality than cattle require for decent health. I happen to think sheep's milk (and butter and cheese) taste even better than cow's milk. None of the gameyness of goat dairy products, twice the sweetness and creamy texture of cows'! If you select the right sheep breed, you get two to three births per ewe, so your herd increases faster than with cattle, and you can milk most sheep while they are still nursing their young (plenty for you and the lambs at the same time.) The right breeds of sheep also taste almost exactly like beef to me, especially when fully grass-finished without the use of any feedlots. In fact, I like Icelandic lamb better than even the best beef I've ever had. Not all lamb tastes "lambey."

Don't rule out sheep, guys! They're excellent permaculture critters.
 
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