Dang! We found the new “gold”… for California, Part 1

To bring our adventure up-to-date; after we were unable to renew our lease on the hundred year old homestead we were at, we search for another piece of land.

Looking for land

Looking for land, for grass-fed Lowline Angus (miniature beef)

Of course, the challenge in the North Bay Area (north of San Francisco) is buying anything that does not include “an arm & a leg” i.e. lots and lots of dollars.

We watched area sales (2 acres or more) for 3 years (seriously, 3 years) before we came across one possibility that met our criteria. We were looking between Petaluma & Santa Rosa, CA.

Critical criteria for a Land Purchase

  • WATER: It’s not even worth looking at a piece of land if you don’t have good water. Good water meaning, reliable & uncontaminated, and likely to stay that way.
  • CLIMATE: Amenable to growing things, & not likely to suffer too badly with the increasing heat issues.
  • SOIL:  Reasonable fertility without a history of chemical use, heavy traffic exposure (exhaust fumes from vehicles leaving their generous gifts), not downstream from nasty stuff that could come from rain run-off.
  • COMMUTE:  Realistically, we needed to be able to access the “paying job” fairly easy and/or mass transit
  • COMMUNITY:  A farm-friendly area with a community of like-minded folks, would be wonderful.
Morning brings cooling fogs

Morning brings cooling fogs

Our previous venture into farming, by leasing land in Cotati for three years, allowed us get a feel for the area and assess the suitability.  We fell in love with the ‘goldilocks’ climate ONE HOUR north of SF,  (not too hot, not too cold, but just right) with the added feature of minimal humidity. (I’ve lived in the south and dripped through those hot sticky summers already! Been there, done that.)

We learned to use hoophouses/greenhouse setups to extend the season/increase the heat for plants that did need it. Located just 30 min east of the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, provided climate air-conditioning.  (By the way, if you go to San Francisco, don’t leave home without a coat, even in the summer. It’s surrounded by ice-cold water on three sides.)

Seniors don’t tolerate heat well as they age, so we were thinking ahead. Plants need heat, seniors notso much.

COMMUNITY

Sonoma/Marin/Mendocino/Napa counties, in California, are on the forefront of interests in sustainable farming development.  Priceless. Incredibly well educated population with an interest in creating what will be needed for our future. Numerous small startup & ventures into relocalizing our

farm trails
foods with a view to “real” sustainable practices. Working with the soil & it’s microbial life, nurturing it, building it, not stripping it. A community which valued quality, healthy, local foods to support the small farms.

This area has several very active Grange Halls; community groups that work to protect and support the small farmer.

 

OK. we just needed to locate a piece of land, now that we had identified the area/community & climate. With that, we could then look at water & soil quality once we found something.

WOW, was that a challenge.

I scoured the real estate listing. Was on several email boards that would send me a link immediately if something with any land, was up for sale, & I watched Craigslist. Keep my ear to the ground for possible “future sales” coming up.  Those I did see:  98% were not even worth considering. If they passed muster on my criterial list, they were multiples of $100,000’s out of our price range.

Had to think of the future income… being able to live on a pension and make those payments.

EUREKA (california slag for “I found it”!)

Feb/March of 2014 we hit a possible property.  A craigslist post… a foreclosure. Called immediately.

Almost 5 acres, but basically raw land.  No house (or water, or septic/sewer, or power) but had wonderful ol’ oak trees and an old chicken barn that still had a roof and was standing (barely). It had some acres that were perfect for growing hay/forage. Rural, yet 10 min access to freeway.

NO water. When I researched …Hmmm, neighbors on both sides, poor water amount and poor quality (iron).  

We knew the area well enough to realize that this was an old river plain.  Talked with the county geologist/hydrologist who showed us maps of the water basins in the county.  Many areas had virtually no water.  But… the area we were looking at… housed one of the largest & deepest aquifers in the county because it used to be, thousands and thousands of years ago… a flood plain, river basin, swampy area.  We had a good shot at getting, at the least, decent water i.e. 3-5 gal/min for home and 7 gal/min to do some irrigation (crops). It would be uncontaminated water (no hormones, antibiotics, industrial chemicals).

We gritted our teeth and took the plunge.  Pulled together every penny we could, and working with a wonderful seller, made a deal that allowed us to purchase the land.

PRICED TO KILL THE DREAM   Farming ventures in this part of the northern California are

Re-Localizing Quality Foods

Re-Localizing Quality Foods

 

basically priced out of existence, unless you have family land or have hooked in to some special deal. But the average young farmer is significantly challenged if they are trying to start up. Why? If your mortgage is $5000/month that’s a heck of a lot of potatoes to have to sell, and that doesn’t even cover your living expenses.

We learned the hard way that just paying the taxes on land, can be more than you can make by farming. Why are the costs so high? ‘Cause we’re so close to SF & Silicon Valley… where their are still jobs that pay good wages. Those salaries push the prices for land/homes skyward.

Previously, on our first land purchase, a very expensive learning curve, we figured we would have to sell one cow a month just to pay the taxes… but the 65 acres of land that we had, could not support that many cows.

That was JUST to pay the taxes. Rocky hills, minimal pasture (great for a vineyard, not so great for raising crops or livestock). Talk about a conundrum when you are working to “relocalize” your food for community resilience!

We ended up taking a big hit when we sold that piece of land, loosing all of our investment and then some, but we recognized that it was a no-win situation (Crash of 2008-9). We were able to sell the acreage and ended up with a little cash in pocket.

More importantly, we did come out with an awesome education and awareness of things we needed to consider closely, when we did purchase again.

to be continued… “drilling for water” (or sweating bullets)

 

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