Casaubon's Book

We’re Staying

We almost did it. We really did. We went so far as to get mortgage pre-approval, meet with a builder about the costs of repairing the barn and the house, and make an appointment to make a written offer. And we decided to stay here.

There were several reasons for doing so. The first was that our offer would be contingent, and we thought there was a better than 50-50 chance that the sellers might well sell the house out from under us – that is, since we didn’t per se want to sell the house, but rather to buy *this particular different house* the fact that we’re in no way ready to show (my comment was that the best way to make that happen would be to put the children in self-storage ;-)) meant that a contingent offer was pretty contingent. We know the realtor wasn’t making stuff up about the additional interest – two more people stopped by to look at the house while we were there.

The interior of the house needed about as much work as we’d expected – and the nature of the work was doable, but one factor made it more expensive than we’d hoped – raising what we’d have to get out of this house to do it without debt. Add to that the expensive fencing requirements (not for the livestock, for Eli, our autistic eldest who needs space to roam without being able to wander off – we’ve got that in place in our current space) and we began to wonder whether we could do this without taking on short term debt – which is the exact opposite of the point.

None of those things, however, was really the defining factor – it was simply that we sat down and talked about what we could do in our current place to lower costs and expenses and make the farm here more profitable. We decided we needed to have this conversation regardless, since there was a real chance we wouldn’t get the house even if we made an offer. And in the course of it, we decided we were more excited about going forward where we are than about the year of chaos and instability that moving would bring – that if we stay, we can make more progress on the farm and less on the marathon job of just bringing ourselves up to speed.

It was a tough decision, and one that we still have some regrets about. It took us until Saturday to finalize it, and for the last couple of days I’ve felt exhausted, as though I ran a marathon – my whole mind was in another place, then back again, and I’m tired. But I think we made, as Eric put it “a right choice.” I’m not sure about “the right choice” but maybe that’s too much to ask for.

Chief among our plans is to lower the property taxes by getting our farm exemption – which means we need to achieve 10K in gross sales averaged over two years. We did achieve that much in sales during two years during our CSA, but were not eligible because our agricultural production occurred on only 2 1/2 acres. Now that the livestock are a larger part of our farming production, we can definitely meet the 7 acre requirement, but because my attentions have been so divided between writing and agriculture, we haven’t sold enough to qualify. So that’s the next project – making the land pay.

We’ve also decided that we’re going to get serious about rebuilding our local community. For years, we were spoiled – we lived near several families with kids about our age, and we were totally intertwined in each others’ lives. We had shared ownership of vehicles, washing machines, traded childcare and carpooled everywhere. There were other members of our community, but three families sat at the center.

And then something unspooled. One family’s marriage broke up, and the remaining parent was too overwhelmed and busy to take part, another family had both partners take new, demanding jobs, and suddenly it didn’t work anymore. And we’ve spent more time and energy trying to recreate this than in moving on and making community with other folks. We decided in our conversation that we would work harder on other sources of mutual support, and look for other people who want to work in the barter economy. We also made a list of all the friends and neighbors we do barter or trade or share with – and it was surprisingly long. Perhaps some of the problem is our intentions.

Meanwhile, the house next door to us, complete with in-law apartment and rather nice open land is for sale, if anyone wants to live next door! And we’re talking about either renting out the apartment Eric’s grandparents once lived in to a nice family who would like to share community, or if we can’t find housemates, converting the apartment to an inspected kitchen for the production of food using our produce, and a space to hold classes in.

We’re also planning on changing the livestock around a bit – we’ve always planned to add sheep for meat and fiber to our upper pasture (we have sheep there now, along with a beloved guard donkey, Xote, but this is in a barter arrangement with a neighbor who actually owns the sheep – it has been a lovely agreement, but she’s got a closer pasture available now, so it will likely end this year), but lately we’ve been talking about fiber and meat goats – small ones, and about participating in the projects going on to breed triple purpose small goats – meat, milk and fiber.

We’ve been doing experiments with woody hay crops and silvopasturing that I’d like to continue. The wetland plants and herbs that we’re growing are doing well despite the unusually dry year, and we have already had inquiries about doing native plant restorations in areas cleared of invasives. We’ve been selling vegetable, herb and flower plants, but are planning to expand.

Moving would have required that we put in several thousand dollars of capital investment into making the farm ready to sell – we decided in the end we’d rather invest that money in projects that make the farm function better, rather than improve the aesthetics of our home (not that they couldn’t use improving in some spots). Our goal is to get the infrastructure of the farm solidified, and enter next spring (I can’t do much before then – I have to finish a book!) ready to achieve a number of new agricultural goals.

So we’re staying. Again, we don’t know if it is the right decision – but we’re hopeful that it is *a* right decision. There are good reasons we might be wrong – but all life is full of risk, and you can never know the best thing to do. This, at least, might be *a* best thing.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Gail
    August 2, 2010

    Sharon,

    I’m happy for you; making that decision had to be one of the hardest you’ve made. It sounds like in the end, the pressure of “thinking through” all the ramifications and details of what the move (and state of limbo while waiting for the contingencies to unfold) would require of you led to clarity. (Unlike my previous sentences!)

    One thing I am sure of…you will thrive. And we will continue to be inspired.

    Peace

    Gail

  2. #2 Eric Johnson
    August 2, 2010

    You have a donkey named Xote. That made my morning. Don’t know if you’ve mentioned it before – if so I must have missed it.

    I have to admit some relief that you are staying where you are. I’m sure that must sound strange coming from a person you don’t know – I’ve been a regular reader, but I haven’t commented until now – but I imagine I’m not alone in my vicarious enjoyment of your regular postings on a lifestyle I used to enjoy. I grew up on a small farm in SW Washington, and had every intention of raising my own children the same way. And yet, here I am living on a .25 acre lot in suburban Pennsylvania… Somewhere along the way, something went wrong.

    At any rate, thank you for your excellent blog and books (I have two of them). I only hope that the added work you described above won’t take too much time away from writing about it.

    Eric Johnson

  3. #3 brigindo
    August 2, 2010

    An impressive decision and one that was made with a lot of care and consideration. The arguments for moving were very compelling, especially (for me) the community. I’m impressed that you’ve decided to tackle all of these problems where you are instead of moving on. I don’t think either is easier than the other but from what I’ve read here you are all about commitment and permanence and that is something under-represented in our culture. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of creating what you need and it sounds like you will continue to do that right where you are.

  4. #4 DennisP
    August 2, 2010

    Sounds like you and Eric thought out the decision pretty well. And that’s about all you can do. I’m often bothered by the question “Is this really the right way to go?” But I keep in mind two important mantras:

    “The best is the enemy of the good.” And because we really can never know what is the best, seeking after it can really bedevil our decisionmaking.

    “Crooked is good.” This comes from Mike Madison in his little book Blithe Tomato (it’s a very good book). We really can’t have the ideal tomato (or whatever) that we see in the seed catalogs. We need to learn to be content with things that don’t shimmer with perfection; that, after all, is the normal experience of life.

  5. #5 (: Sunshine :)
    August 2, 2010

    Hi Sharon – thanks for letting us know. The * best * thing to do in your situation is to sit down and really, honestly, fully talk about what you what & why – and you’ve done that.

    No one knows what the future will bring; whether you should turn left or right. All you can do is make the best decision you can, at the time, with the information you have.

    Congratulations on your decision – and the peace that comes from that!

    (And your plans sound wonderful!)

  6. #6 Jen
    August 2, 2010

    I’m excited about the vision you have for your farm! I can attest that readying a house to move and moving~did this last year~are super stressful, making home improvements are super rewarding and often fun. Congrats! I wish I could be your neighbor, but I’ve yet to convince my husband to move back up North.

  7. #7 Jen
    August 2, 2010

    BTW that house next door is perfect for us! My dh works from home and we currently have a in-law apt he works out of as well. Gorgeous! I would love 30 acres. Although it is pricey, having you for a neighbor, plus we also home school and have kids the same age would be worth it!

  8. #8 Ed Straker
    August 2, 2010

    Well, that was unexpected. I can relate to such heart-wrenching decision-making, and I envy the fact that you’ve reached some closure on it, at least for now.

  9. #9 Heidi
    August 2, 2010

    Hi Sharon,
    Okay! So now we have to get the kids together again soon! And have husbands meet!
    Take a deep breath and enjoy the rest of your summer…
    Heidi

  10. #10 curiousalexa
    August 2, 2010

    While not the answer I expected, it sounds like a very good answer. And it was great motivation to look around you, assess your circumstances, and choose what you want to alter!

    If you convert the apt into kitchen/classroom space, would the money made from classes count towards your farm income requirement?

    I am amused at my reaction to the $10K gross requirement – great, they mandate you join the money economy! But really, for most families that’s not much money is it? Plus the requirement is gross, not net.

    -curious, who lives on maybe half that, but has no property tax bill.

  11. #11 Art
    August 2, 2010

    Hard decisions to make. Good luck.

  12. #12 Jennie
    August 2, 2010

    Whew!
    I love it when open honest communication yields exciting new directions for life to go in.
    It sounds like if you ever get tired of writing books about food you could write about how to communicate. :-D
    Glad you’ll be staying, I was kinda not looking forward to a year of you talking about the move and preparing for the move and moving… :-) Mostly because I hate moving. So much that I hate even hearing about other’s moves. :-D
    I’m hoping it all works out wonderfully for you.

  13. #13 Misi
    August 2, 2010

    Great decision making process… and great decision. I actually felt relieved when I heard you decided to stay… can’t really say why, it just feels right. Although I believe that change is often necessary, and comes knocking even when we don’t expect it… in this case it feels exactly right for you and your family to continue “Adapting in Place” – ya know? It’s funny, I’ve been reading your blog(s) for so long now… I often think about your boys in the winter time… a puddle of little boys, wrapped up in multiple layers of jammies, and even better, each other. It always warms my heart.

  14. #14 Diane
    August 2, 2010

    Native plant restoration: I worked on a project using grant money to purchase native plants and they were pricey as well as suspect, ie. not very well identified. If these projects are being funded near you can you raise some natives? If you have the right conditions they are easy to grow, I kept some in my yard that were being rescued from the construction site.
    Native nursery could be another arrow in the quiver. The Rhode Island Wild Plant Society has an annual sale with lots of (donated) plants but their people know how to do it.

  15. #15 Claire
    August 3, 2010

    Thanks for being so open about the whole process – considering the other house, the pros and cons, and the communication that helped you and Eric come to a decision. Taking your class last year precipitated something of a similar communication between my DH and me. In our case we needed to look at and scale down some of the activities we were doing in the light of his needing to help his mom stay in her house for however many more years she can do that. That conversation really helped us both and we feel less stressed and are driving less this year as a result. I can feel another need to drop certain of my remaining activities percolating into conscious form now.

    The phrase *a right decision* seems just right to me. You made the decision that made sense based on the present conditions. Whatever you learn from this decision will influence the next decision. It’s all any of us can do.

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