“For Sale”, “For Sale”, “For Sale” on each corner

We see so many “For Sale” signs as we drive around various parts of farm country. I have to admit that every time I see one I think half seriously about it. I look at the property, think about where it is and the kind of ecosystems, soil systems and farming systems it’s within/on, think about what I’d plant if I owned it.

It’s only half-serious, because we’re not exactly in a position to buy property. Both my husband and I have always been able to afford just a little less than what the market is currently asking – the joys of having started to earn a “real” income just after the housing bubble began to inflate. In my case, in sectors that don’t pay anything near enough to hit real estate values at the best of times. We’ll catch up one day, sooner if I can get into a good sector / get good hours when I return to work in a year or two, but probably not with enough working years left to pay off a mortgage. Of course, good hours / good sector is unlikely. I still have to be able to work around the kids’ school hours and the constant stream of things parents need to be available for when you have multiple children aged seven-and-under. So unless I can land a job better-paying than my husband’s (hello, wage gap) and let him become the houseparent, I’ll need something that’s only part time or flexible hours, preferably starting after 9:30 or finishing before 2:30 or both. I have no idea what kind of work I’m going to be able to find. My work future is highly uncertain.

The thing that intrigues me about farms though is that they’re house and livelihood mixed in. Working from home has always suited me, and I’ve always been quite happy to work the hours that something takes. And being your own business, if I put a task down for a morning to deal with a sick child or go to the school assembly, I’m the person who’ll be on my back about it. I’ve thought a bit about starting my own business as a way to deal with the next few years. There’s a price to start a business, true, but we can cover that more easily than we can buying a house. The problem with starting my own business has always been the ones that every would-be-businessperson faces, in particular the high risk – 80% of startups fail – and the need to reduce that risk so as to be in the 20%. Maybe it’s having grown up on a farm, even one that’s struggled along financially for decades, but I instinctively think of farming as lower risk in the long term. Short term there’s definitely risk and constant work to manage risk, but it’s not like, say, a stationery business where I’m buying stock in September that I expect to resell by Christmass. It’s really a long-term prospect. And I kind of like the idea of having home and livelihood both sorted out, decided, made less uncertain.

So “For Sale” signs on farms are probably going to keep being a temptation. Sadly, only a temptation. Most farms are out of our financial reach, or in places where we can’t get good enough Internet access for my husband to continue working, or both. And besides that, there’d be massive family politics if we bought a farm that wasn’t our family one – the logic of buying another farm is poor when we already have one Mum’d be happy to let us put the work into, and Mum is all about logic. I can already hear her long arguments about how anything we did somewhere else would be bound to fail because if we hadn’t done it before now then it wasn’t going to happen in the future either. (I hear this argument from her a lot whenever I discuss the future. It’s irritating, because it’s not at all the most likely reason for an enterprise of mine to fail, not even in the top ten.) She does have a point though – if I can come up with a farm-based enterprise I think is worthwhile and a plan I think is thorough enough, I do already have access to a place where I can try it out and start it up.

Which leads to leasing and agistment, subject of my next blog post.

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