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.

 

Weather

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.

 

Water

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.

 

Affordability

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?

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Tags: Choosing farm location, Scrapple, The Aspiring Farmer Blog

Comment by Grammy Dot on January 16, 2012 at 6:36pm

A couple of other things you want to be sure of before you put your hard-earned money down:

Be sure the mineral rights, water rights and timber rights go with the property.

 

Comment by Pat Barr on January 16, 2012 at 8:42pm

I was lucky and had 1 pond on the property when I bought it.  I've since had 2 more pond built.  When you are looking... I'd also (as a pretty high priority if you plan on animals) look for at least a pond... better a brook or creek.  As Lirrle Seeds says about the Southwest about water... it's also true where ever you settle.  Not having natural water is another chore (and expense).  With out it, as she says, cows drink 30 gallons (and more) a day, so does every other animal you want to raise.

 

Pat

Comment by Karen Paro on January 16, 2012 at 11:46pm

Very good information from all of you! We're still at least 10 years out before we can have a farm with acreage of our own but we've already been looking into the area where we'd like to settle when the time comes.

Comment by Amy Dodson-Hatfield on January 17, 2012 at 8:58am
I have lived in Tn. It's beautiful out there and yes the summers are hot but the autumn and spring sure do make up for it. The flowering. Raddled pairs and mock cherry trees just breathtaking. I think it's a well thought out plan. Good luck
Comment by Daisy on January 17, 2012 at 11:05am

Weather is an interesting category to consider.  When we settled we researched the statistics to find out that there was an average of 52 inches of rain per year and average low and high temps of 22/88. Sounds perfect!  Except, we didn't realize that our particular land layout gives a microclimate where the temps are always 10 degrees colder in the winter and 10 degrees hotter in the summer.  Also, the rainfall may average 52 inches but absolutely none of it comes during July and August.  Put those together and you have two months of 98 degrees and no rain every day!  Nothing grows.  We would have been better off to ask around with the neighbors rather than read the statistics.  

Comment by Little Seed Farm on January 17, 2012 at 2:40pm

All great points, thanks for sharing!

Daisy, the micro-climate comment is very true. I'm curious to find out ours. Definitely can't rely on the statistical averages, but one can hope.

All of the land, water, timber, etc rights are extremely important and will vary by region in terms of what's the norm. Always best to have an attorney or do your own intensive research first. Great point.

Water is a huge concern and really dictated a lot of our decision-making. If it's not the most important factor on a farm it's surely very close.

Comment by Pat Barr on January 17, 2012 at 3:32pm

You can create (either on purpose or by mistake) micro climates also.  They can be useful especially gardens... but also for you home.

Pat

Comment by Kim Gates on January 17, 2012 at 6:58pm

We have looked all over the US. We have narrowed to North Georgia, Western NC, or Eastern Tennessee...Southern Appalachia. We are leaning towards Eastern Tn because the land prices are better and less land restrictions. I am from Georgia and have grown here for 25 years so I am comfortble with the climate. We are still growing on leased land here in Georgia and have a goal to move in 2 years. Anyone who has comments on this part of the world I would love to hear them.....especially about the markets in Chattanooga, and Knoxville. I would Love to be around Asheville but $$$$$$$!

Comment by Mike Cranston on January 27, 2012 at 2:23pm

Hi Scrapple

I am so glad I found this place. I gotta chime in here. My son moved to Kansas in 2003. The first time I set foot in that state I was in love for sure. I have lived 45 of my 51 years in upstate NY so seeing Kansas and all it had to offer was more than I could handle. Almost like a culture shock. I have been visiting every year since...now I married a lovely lady in 2009 and she sorta said she would do 6 monthes in the upstate NY and 6 monthes in Kansas. She is worried about the lack of rain in the NE Kansas area where my son lives. So now we are looking at possibly NW Missouri because it seems to have a little more rain to grow stuff and a little more rolling terrain and I would still only be 1 to 1 1/2 hours away from my son. The housing prices for out in the stick property appears to be a little bit cheaper in Missouri. We are planning a trip to visit my son in Feb and a day trip to Missouri is in the plan. I am anxious to see the differences. So why are the taxes so much less in the mid west than in upstate NY????

Comment by Little Seed Farm on January 30, 2012 at 10:57pm

That's great Mike! Sounds like a good plan. Rain and access to a reliable water source are paramount considerations. We had no idea until we started looking out west and then i spent at least a month trying to figure out a way to make it work. In the end it just didn't make sense.

We're excited about the lower taxes in Tennessee. The tax burden in New York is unbelievable. Keep us posted on your trip, hope you find a great place!

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