Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dream Talking Out Loud

Last week my wife and I visited an acreage for sale that's 20 minutes west of Lincoln. It's 80 acres of rolling land, with two tree stands, some CRP restored prairie, some hay, some corn. I'm not saying I want to move there -- the massive power lines are a health concern and eyesore -- but I'm trying to imagine myself living in such a space. And if I imagine, perhaps the reality of it is that much closer.

I liked the land because of the CRP, because it has differing terrain, because it adjoins a wildlife management area and small lake. It felt private. In a lot of ways it's perfect. In a lot of ways it isn't -- like the half million dollar price tag with no structures; that's what you get for being close to a larger city in prime farming country.

My thinking has always been to have multiple incomes: our prairie plant nursery would be open on long weekends during the spring and summer, and the plants I grow would be winter sown in a hoop house, not coddled in a heated nursery. But it takes time to build stock in such a way. And I don't have a horticulture or business degree -- I have three English degrees. At least I've done some marketing in my life and know how to spell.

I imagine an enclosed learning space for workshops and presentations, perhaps it could be picturesque enough to host weddings inside, or host that outside in the open or under some sort of shelter. I imagine two artists residencies that are 300 square feet, have a kitchen and bath, are completely off grid. They'd be further out into the acreage to provide solitude and serenity for a two week period. We'd drive residents into town for supplies (or provide them before arrival), and let artists raid our vegetable garden.

I'd still be doing garden consulting -- hopefully more than I am now, since folks apparently stop thinking about plants after July 1. Ideally I could teach English classes at a nearby college to tide us over in the winter months.

I'd like our home and buildings to all be off the grid, or at least 50% so. We'd harvest rainwater, use grey water outside. We'd host prairie walking tours, educational events, immersion programs for kids and adults but with some sort of unique twist. Maybe we'd sell plants at farmer's markets and other events.

Where does one do this? Where are tax laws favorable? Where are incentives for renewable energy best? Where is a community that would be open and supportive of these business ideas? Where is there affordable land, with part of it preferably already in CRP? How does one raise capital without the weight of loans and mortgages?

And then I wonder about my mental health. I've long wanted to "be out there," away from suburbia, in a place I can wander and explore at will. I need copious amounts of solitude and silence to remain even moderately balanced and healthy. I crave diversity in what I put my hands to (as does my wife). Would I turn into a mountain man and vanish? Would I feel more centered and grounded? Would I feel lost? Would I feel whole?

Could the acreage have a writing shed for me? Could I write books that would mean something? Sell? Provide another source of income, from royalties and readings and conferences?

I know a few things -- if I had the money I'd move today (no brainer); if I don't do this, I might regret it my whole life; if I do it, and go bankrupt, I'll regret that, too. Anyone out there have experience with this sort of thing? Any specific or philosophical advice for a guy in his late thirties?

I feel like folks think I'm crazy when I talk like this -- they immediately come up with reasons not to do any of these things. It's all so big and dream-riddled. But isn't that what cool people do? Muir. Leopold. Carson. Thoreau. So many more. 


Ordinary Princess said...

You're not crazy at all. I am always looking for small acreages for sale. I want to have enough room to help the Humane Society when they need foster homes for larger animals and restore a small prairie, and start a herd of endangered goats, and, and, and...
I have started a 5 and 10 year plan to put us in a position to have the money to buy. I say go for it. Start taking small steps where you are now and build from there.

Gaia Gardener: said...

No, you are NOT crazy. My husband and I both need space, physical as well as psychological, too.

For the last several times we've moved, we've concentrated on finding a house with a small amount of acreage. Amazingly, especially in the Great Plains states, the home price doesn't seem to reflect acreage much, at least through about 5 - 10 acres. Maybe you could find a place with 10 acres and a house for about what you could get for your current home.... It wouldn't be 80 acres, but it would be a start.

Pamela Bateman said...

This is crazy that I just looked up your post! I just read your article on Houzz and commented that you were going to need more land now that you have caught the gardening 'bug'. You need to visit our valley. Lots of people are living your dream including me. I love living in the country and you need to do your research and make that move. Come visit the Capay Valley and see all of the things you are dreaming about. Contact me through my business profile on Houzz if you are interested.

Judith said...

I think it sounds GREAT, but I like creative people with nutty ideas. I'd like to send in my artist retreat application for a week long stay in the primitive cabin in 2016. Maybe you could have that as a donation option for kickstarter (or whatever crowdsourcing method you choose).

Mary Gray said...

These are lovely dreams. Don't give up. Btw, I recently read that Thoreau would leave Walden periodically to take his laundry to his mother's house. Just keeps things in perspective, I think.

doggirl said...

None of it sounds crazy at all and I really understand the need for space and peace to keep one in good mental health. I thought the suggestion above about starting a bit smaller (than 80 acres) as a good one--I live on 2 acres in a small town and it's not the same as being in the country but even 2 acres is a kind of respite. I hope you can follow those dreams but also stay pragmatic and realistic about what you can afford and what you can take on.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Thanks for the encouragement and kind words, all! It's so good to hear. We're trying to read and learn as much as we can before next spring. As for starting small, no way. A few acres is not enough to have a greenhouse, event space, or an artist residency. In everything in my life I've gone big and it's paid off. I would not go less than 50 acres for personal and ecological reasons -- I'm going to make a difference on my land, as big as I can! No one else will (corn corn corn spray spray spray). And maybe that land will turn into a conservation easement or something larger I could never have imagined, Leopold style! :) What I'd really like is 10,000 acres -- enough to create a prairie chicken home range.

Unknown said...

A conservation easement takes time (3 years now for us) and Lawyer. The payoff is small per acres--about a quarter of what you would get commercially. How about looing for a historical property and make it into a non-profit? (also expensive short therm)-or work with a college or a prison (believe it or not, they grow stuff, too). Just ideas. lease your land to local farmers to herd on , hay or grow. Keep dreaming!

Zev said...

Are you willing to move north? Minnesota lands outside of the corn belt and sugar beet valley are still quite affordable. And this state has a Prairie Bank program.