Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
The Aspiring Farmer Blog
Considerations in Choosing a Farm Location
Since we finally locked in a location and started telling friends and family about “the plans” we’ve been getting a lot of “Why Tennessee”. Not in a bad way, just in a “Wow, if I ever had to pick a farm location how would I ever choose” kind of way. If you have land in the family then you don’t even have to give it a second thought. You take what you’re given and make the best of it. However, not everyone is quite so lucky. If you have a blank slate to start with where do you begin?
Here’s the main variables we considered, but trust me, about a thousand others were taken into account as well.
Firstly, we love the sun, the stars and the moon. In NYC we’re surrounded by skyscrapers and so much light pollution that neither the sun nor the stars/moon are typically visible, but we moved here for jobs, not the view. Along those same lines, we’re not huge fans of overcast days and long, hard winters. Those two factors pretty much eliminated the Northeast, Northwest and a lot in between. On the other side of long, hard winters we didn’t want an unbelievably hot and humid setting. Landing near Nashville was a little bit of a compromise on that one, but it’s nothing compared to the summers in Louisiana or even Memphis. We've stayed with farmers on either end of the spectrum. Farmers in NY wouldn't have it any other way. Farmers in the deep South couldn't fathom farming in the snow. We came out somewhere in between and with that in mind we decided to focus on states in the middle of the country. Not too far South and not too far North.
Within those states of choice we originally thought the Southwest region would be perfect. It’s near at least one of our families and it’s a beautiful place to live. However, we spent a few weeks researching the Southwest and found that there are some very serious water issues facing the entire region. Dairy animals in the Southwest require enormous amounts of water. Cows will consume 30+ gallons of water per day. Plus, you’ll need a lot more land per cow out there (like 10x more), which can get quite expensive.
The Southwest in general depends heavily on water from the Colorado River Basin. Seven states in the Southwest pull water from the Colorado River Basin (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming). Cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Diego and many others are the biggest users. In addition to US states, two states in Mexico also have water rights. Needless to say, the situation is getting pretty hairy with the decades long drought that is potentially underway right now. In fact, the US Department of Interior conducted a study predicting a high likel...over water in the Southwest region by 2025.
On top of that, certain states in the Southwest consider water private property and it can sell for $25k per acre-foot or more if you want the “good rights”. Add that to the cost of land and you’re looking at some serious capital requirements.
Taking our new found consideration for water into account, we decided to stick to areas with heavier rainfall and more dependable water sources. Tennessee, while no rain forest, does get a fair amount of rainfall in a typical year. We will still have droughts though and I’m not looking forward to those times, but it’s the reality of farming. Can't win 'em all and you're lucky if you win a couple.
Proximity to End Markets
This is pretty straight-forward. How close do you want (or need) to be to a large metropolitan area? We wanted to limit our radius to 1.5 hours. We ended up at 40 mins from Nashville and about 2 hrs away from Chattanooga and Knoxville, which I consider just about perfect for us. I’ve spoken with other beginning farmers that refused to be any farther than 30 minutes from their main market. That contrasts with many of NYC’s “local farmers” that live 5 hours away and sell at the “greenmarkets” on the weekends. Leaving at 1am to get to market on time doesn’t sound ideal to me. I can’t fathom the gas bills, but I guess there’s no better place to be a market vendor than NYC.
Distance from markets is highly personal and the pros and cons are self-evident, so you can run the numbers on that one.
The cost of land and the cost of living in whatever location you choose is obviously critical. In our case we originally started looking at land in North Carolina. Maybe we just didn’t dig hard enough, but for the size and type of place we were looking for North Carolina just didn’t seem affordable. We had a firm budget and had to stick to it. Tennessee was always a top contender, so it was easy for us to focus our efforts there.
If you’re looking at buying right now I have a couple suggestions. 1.) set a firm budget, 2.) go find places that are priced well above what you can afford and negotiate down. Why do I say this? Because it’s a buyer’s market and there are many properties on the brink of heading into foreclosure. If you can find a place that’s been on the market for a year or two (or longer) then you’ll stand a good chance at negotiating the price lower. Potentially much lower. There's nothing to lose, so don't be afraid to give it a shot.
Distance from family
This is the one area where I feel like we compromised more than we had hoped. I have family in TN, but the majority of my family is on the West coast. One good aspect is that I went to school in Tennessee, so I have a good base of friends nearby. Sweetbreads has some family in North Carolina, but the majority of hers is on the East coast. Because of everything we listed above this consideration was the one that took the biggest haircut. The good thing is that we have a lot of family already talking about moving closer to us one day! My sister may even be at Vanderbilt come next fall, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. For some people this may be the top priority. We’ve both kind of been nomads our whole lives, so it was a little easier to stomach. With Skype and the internet these days it made it much more possible. I don’t think we would’ve come to the same conclusion 30 years ago.
Which factors do you think are most important? What majors ones did I miss that you would definitely put near the top of the list?