Buying the Farm

I’ve talked about dropping out of society and living off the land since high school when my beloved physics teacher Mr. Ross took a year-long sabbatical to farm with his family. In 2011, my sister beat me to the punch and bought a 120-acre farm northeast of Toronto (although she has not dropped out of society). Here are a few pics.


selfie and creek


barn hay

Michelle and her husband Glenn have taken their time becoming farmers (Michelle still works full-time), and they don’t run a commercial operation. Their farm is more of a gigantic homestead-in-progress. They learn about permaculture, make maple syrup, bail hay, tend a giant apocalypse garden (my niece’s phrasing) and raise chickens and, more recently, goats.

clearing the brambles

goldenrod goaties

A couple of months ago, I started working with a real-estate agent not far from my hometown in Eastern Ontario. I want a smaller piece of land than Michelle and found a few nice-looking properties online within my price range. In September, the agent took my my not-technically-ex-husband and his mum around to look at them (John lives down here but he went home for a visit). The first house (stunning online!) was a disaster and money-pit. The second farm was a commercial operation with a barn from hell. They liked the third property—a century home on seven acres. It also has a smattering of outbuildings. Last I checked, it’s still available.

Yes, I could buy a farm somewhere else in the US but if I decide to leave Northern California, I’d prefer to return to the Olde Country. I’ve been weighing the pros and cons.

First period: Food

No more Philz tea, to which I am highly addicted. Tea is my only vice (depending on whom you talk to). However, I have started brewing mead, and because I will work fewer hours in Canada at a real job, I will have time to perfect my mead, so I may in fact nurture a worse vice. So that’s really two strikes against Canada. Then again, I can keep bees on my farm and I will also have a drilled or dug well. All I need to make mead is raw honey and water, so I could become a self-sufficient alcoholic. Score: 0-0

In Canada, I will have goats, chickens and a large organic vegetable garden. Score 1-0 for Canada

I can buy raw milk in glass jugs where I live. Score 0-1 for California

I can raise goats and milk goats and drink raw goat milk in Canada. Score 1-0 for Canada

Think of the blog posts! Goat cheese, fermented vegetables from the garden, non-stop homesteading. Score 1-0 Canada

Second period: Politics

Prime Minister Harper versus President Obama. Obama did just strike a momentous climate deal with China. Harper? Thank him for the Alberta tar sands. Score 0-1 for California

Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau, leader of the Federal Liberal Party and son of former PM Pierre Trudeau

But…Justin Trudeau. Score 1-0 for Canada

For my American readers, you must understand this: Justin Trudeau is the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, one of the greatest prime ministers of Canada, in power from 1968 to 1979 and again from 1980 to 1984. My uncle was a liberal MP when Trudeau first came to power. At my grandmother’s house, two pictures hung prominently on her living room wall: one of Jesus next to one of my uncle shaking Trudeau’s hand.

Yes I realize you can’t vote for a politician based on smoking-hot good looks or primogeniture. But…mon dieu! If I move back, I might actually watch Question Period on CPAC (the Canadian equivalent of CSPAN).

Third period: Location

I will have little to no mortgage or rent to pay. I love living in Silicon Valley, especially in my intentional community, but it’s outrageously expensive to live here and I don’t work for Google. How expensive? Last summer, my friend rented out her modest apartment through Airbnb while she vacationed in London and Paris, where she rented similar flats. She turned a profit. Score: 1-0 for Canada

I have begun to teach fermentation workshops and love it. I have a huge market here. I won’t in the small town I’m looking at. Score 0-1 for California

I can wear flip flops most days in California. Score 0-1 for California

I will leave all my friends behind in California. Score 0-1 for California

I will be closer to my friends and my family in Canada. Even my daughter has returned there for university. I’m not sure she’ll ever come back to the US permanently. Score 1-0 for Canada

Farming takes hard work. I told my sister I feel I need a man on the farm to help. Score 0-1 California

Michelle says I can get a donkey instead. Score 1-0 Canada

Final score: 7-6 Canada

This past week Michelle and I visited our brother Paul outside of Seattle. I did some thinking up there about all of this. I decided that I need to get divorced before I can move. So, I’ll start with that and continue to weigh the pros and cons of leaving beautiful, balmy Northern California.

What do you think? City or country?

48 Replies to “Buying the Farm”

  1. Country:)…

    1. I know, I know. Thank you 🙂

  2. Country! This is awesome– can’t wait to see what unfolds!

    1. Thank you 🙂 Most people are leaning toward country (as am I). But it’s a big move. We’ll see…

  3. A few points to consider?
    1. Livestock is hard work, and you can’t skip days…ever. Even in freezing temperatures and snow over the door, animals have to be tended. Unless you’re ready for that commitment, I’d stay in balmy N. Cali.
    2. A man is not necessary, but it would be nice to have a partner (male or female, young or old) to provide some help and back-up. On the rare occasion that I am sick or want to get away from the house for more than a day, it’s nice to have someone to feed and water my animals.
    3. If I had the freedom to move anywhere, it would be closer to my son and his family. Nothing else trumps my granddaughters.

    I’m sure you’ll make a happy home wherever you land. You just seem to be that kind of person. Good luck!

    1. Thank you for pointing these things out.

      1. You’re right about the livestock. I told my sister this first winter with her goats will be a big test for them. The barn isn’t that close to the house and at some point, they’ll have to get to it during blizzards. Someone else pointed out that I’ll have to deal with injured animals too. My sister occasionally eats hers. I would likely become a vegetarian running a shelter for gimpy goats and chickens…
      2. I would have to find some sort of help. That’s a big consideration. What animals do you have, by the way?
      3. I would like to be closer to my family. And my younger daughter would be closer to both her grandmothers. They would love that.

      In the meantime, Northern California is pretty nice 🙂

      1. Hi! I have about thirty chickens. It’s hard to count actually! We also have three dogs.

        In fact, I just walked in from shoveling a path through the snow to the main coop. It’s still snowing, but I’ve found that it’s easier for me to do the shoveling in small chunks rather than wait. We don’t get a lot of snow but, if it doesn’t melt right away, it makes the chores quite tedious.

        While still wearing my snow boots, vegetarian sounds like a grand idea!

        Haha, but I would miss my eggs. They’re a good protein, a good vit D, and sooooo yummy. I can’t imagine buying eggs after all these years.

        The one thing I miss is good dairy. If I was going to do what you’re planning, I would also want a goat. If you’re going to have a couple animals to keep you on the homestead, you might as well have a lot of them!

        There are also the feelings of independence and self-sufficiency to consider. To my way of thinking, that’s a big deal. You would assume another dimension of control over your waste and what you choose to eat. It’s quite appealing.

        All quite exciting. I look forward to reading more. 🙂

      2. Wow, thirty chickens! Do they all lay eggs? That’s a lot of eggs! I bet they are delicious. I would still eat eggs and drink milk, but I don’t know if I could eat my animals (my sister occasionally eats hers). I think if you do eat meat, raising animals humanely is the way to go, but I wouldn’t be able to slaughter them myself. But I would happily take their eggs. The idea of increasing my self-sufficiency really appeals to me too. Thanks for all of your input. I have a lot to think about.

  4. Come home. All is forgiven. 😉

  5. That is a tough question. I’m not a good person to give advice on this sort of conundrum. Although I will say, making a change once in a while is good for the soul, even if that change is not all together for the better. Since moving to the country (reluctantly) I have learned so much and have no regrets. But I do get to the city often and for that reason have not committed to any livestock – or even pets.
    I made the mead as you directed, added a little of my last melon from the garden for the fun of it, and it is amazing. And not so high in alcohol. I consider it totally healthful!
    By the way, it is not so difficult to get raw milk here. You just have to develop the connections. On the down side, there is no raw horse or camel milk!

    1. Thank you Hilda. Change is good, but difficult. I keep asking my friends what it will take to finally nudge me to buy the farm. I could slowly ease into country living and not get animals right away. I’m glad to hear the mead turned out so well. I think I’ll make a big batch for the holidays. I found I can backslop some finished mead into a new batch to kickstart the fermentation, so there’s still time before Thanksgiving down here. Good to know about the raw milk! I would really miss that. I take it for granted here. Are raw horse and camel milk good? We can now get raw sheep milk down here and I thought that was exotic(!).

  6. I’m not sure what is the best thing to do, but you sure made me giggle this morning 🙂

    1. Oh good. I’m glad you found the post funny. If my post achieves nothing else than that as I think about is, I’m happy 🙂

  7. Truly you really know the answer, but this is a fun way to get some back up 🙂
    We will visit your farm when you relocate. I am originally from Ontario and have reason to visit on occasion. You would have built in apprentices knocking at your door. Dot and I would come to learn from you.
    10 year old Dot angles daily for us to move to the country where she can live on a farm – she is a country girl through and through. I think my mothers’ spirit jumped into my daughter as she was exiting this world while my daughter was just arriving – uncanny similarities in character.
    She spends her free time volunteering at a local farm. She does clean up, tends to chickens, sheep, goats, ducks, learning about agriculture and rides horses.

    1. Yes, I absolutely do know the right answer but I have difficulty with change…

      If I buy it, I hope you will visit 🙂 It’s near Picton. And you’re right, I would find help. People want to learn all they can about farming and permaculture. I visited an organic farm in Dominica a few years ago and the owner had two student interns working for her, so that’s an option. My older daughter attends Guelph and I could probably recruit kids in the ag program there! (I get so excited when I start thinking about it!) My younger daughter, like your Dot, says she wants to live in the country on a farm. What a great program your daughter is in. She must be learning so much. That’s just awesome.

      I will keep you posted 🙂

  8. My one requirement for buying property for my future homestead was, I cannot hear traffic (and especially the freeway) from the land. I found that, and went for it, even though it was in the middle of nowhere.

    1. Oh, that’s a really good point. Where I live now the train rattles my apartment as it barrels down the tracks (the train not my apartment…). The first time it happened, I thought it was another earthquake. I’m used to it now, but I would love the quiet of zero traffic. Thank for pointing that out.

  9. I think it will probably come down to a toss of a coin… We are mulling over a similar move – maybe not quite as extreme – and I think you just work out which set of positives you want more and live with the ‘perceived drawbacks’. The reality is that no matter where you live or what you do you find more amazing things (and niggles) than you can come up with during a SWOT analysis… Have fun mulling over the decision!

    PS – Working a homestead/form is a “real job”, arguably more real than many jobs than many in the ‘knowledge economy’!

    1. Thank you, it’s fun to think about. You’re probably right about the coin toss. But should I use an American quarter or a Canadian one ;p Oh and you’re spot on about the “real job.” Homesteading would be more authentic than any paying job I’ve ever had. Let me know what you decide about your move.

  10. good question and because you know a little of how I live you will know that I weigh in heavily on the countryside. so many things you cannot know now about how it will pan out – I could say good or bad but bad is not really computable for me . I guess you would enter into a real weather situation which I don’t have to contend with, but consider the dawn chorus and the distance from sound/light pollution and that without close neighbours you can dance naked in the rain – oh well maybe that is going toooo far. also remember there is a lot of helpers that will come along- like joining the Wwoofers scheme for instance.
    thirty years in the bush and it keeps getting better and better … for me …..but hey we are all a little different…

    1. Thanks, Sandra. Your little castle in the woods sounds ideal. I am also weighing on the country side but I need a big nudge…You have a good attitude. That certainly helps with any unknown adversity that will pop up with a move like this. I think I have a pretty good attitude…I could dance naked in the snow but I might freeze :p But I could do it May to September. I hadn’t heard of Wwoofers. Thanks for mentioning that. It looks great! I’ll tell my sister. There are so many great resources out there.

  11. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you. I’m happy you liked it 🙂

      1. M E Cheshier says:

        You are welcome!

  12. hmmmmm….interesting quandary. I’m kinda jealous of the country life, but I don’t know if i’m made for it either. Lots of thinking you have to do. Pretty exciting!

    1. The grass is always greener…maybe I have romantic notions of country life and I don’t know if I’m cut out for it either. But you sure grow a lot of stuff in your garden. Yes, lots of thinking to do. Thanks for the comment.

  13. It is a tough decision to make for sure! I have always dreamed of owning a farm, and still plan to one day, but made the choice to move to the city for the first time because of the variety of life and convenience it offers. I’ve joined my local transition town and am involved with other community groups that just don’t exist in my previous semi-rural community.
    I heard David Holmgren (permaculture founder) speak recently about planning for the future, and he said that both rural and city environments have the potential to create sustainable communities- it’s the suburbs that lack the ability to do so. Good luck with the decision making 🙂

    1. The city certainly is convenient. I can ride my bike most places I need to go, my daughter can walk to school and in this climate, I can buy farmer’s market produce year round (mostly root vegetables in the winter, but I’m not complaining). I do enjoy living here and the weather is incredible. But then I start to think about having bees and chickens and goats and I want to pack my bags. I almost wish I would be deported so I don’t have to decide 😉 I will look up David Holmgren in the meantime. Thanks 🙂

  14. I too have long threatened to pack it up and move to the country. We’ve even looked at country houses. My husband however, always gently reminds me how much of a city girl I am at heart. And it’s true. I like having neighbors, I like being able to walk to most of my destinations, whether it be the library, the grocery store or work. From our little spot in the city, we can have bees (we just need to do it!), we share chickens with the neighbors and we’ve considered goats (it’s legal and we have enough space) and I have a garden. For now, we stay in town.

    1. Well, I do like living in the city too. But I can’t have chickens where I am. That’s great you can have chickens AND goats. I learned last week that my brother’s neighbor has two goats in his yard (my brother lives in a small town in Washington and the lots in his neighborhood are about an acre). I was surprised people are allowed to have them. That’s great. They keep everything trimmed and they are so cute! A friend of mine used to keep bees in San Francisco when she lived in a condo. So, a lot is doable in the city 🙂

  15. Mon Dieu indeed! There’s a lot of thinking going on here. (Although, must say, had no idea Canadian politicians looked like *that*. 😉 Eh bien, whichever you choose, here’s one more thing to consider on your farm…ducks. 🙂 (PS, have you read “The New North: The World in 2050” by Laurence C. Smith? He’s at UCLA. Might be worth a peek while you’re mulling a more Northern future. )

    1. Most Canadian politicians don’t! Ohhh, I could have ducks too. My sister used to have ducks. I remember her saying she thought the male was trying to kill the female one day, but it turns out they were just mating. Thanks for the book recommendation. I looked him up and added it to my wish list. The world will certainly look different in 2050.

  16. As much as I would love to have chicken’s, which will NOT happen in the suburban neighborhood filled with condos I live in here in Orane County. I will have to get my fix of country living visitng farms and going for nature hikes.

    I absolutley love being able to pick what beach to visit, which museums to go to and which of the 5 local markets I want to shop at for groceries. I have finally given in to the fact that I AM a city/suburbia kind-of girl. For me, my dream of owning a three story chicken coop will have to wait.

    What ever you decide, make sure you have internet connection – you can’t leave us here without your posts to look forward to.

    1. I too like so many things about living in the city. It’s convenient, I have a wonderful farmer’s market, several stores close by have great bulk bins (makes zero-waste shopping possible), not to mention friends and incredible weather. It’s a tough call. And yes, an Internet connection is a must! Think of the posts! Thanks for the comment 🙂

  17. What a funny post ! Good luck with the decision, whatever you decide will be right of course, very exciting time indeed. From what I have read of your many endeavours I can really imagine you thriving on your own land. I myself always wanted to live in the country and farm and I moved 15 years ago after being born and growing up in and around Paris and spending 10 years in Dublin. I moved with my then husband but I was always farming on my own anyway and as a child I had the idea of living in the country from seeing old widowed women there and the freedom they had to be themselves and to be strong on their own. I think it might indeed be easier to move as a single woman and let your country self unfold in-situ and the universe might well send you the partner you need if you need one then.
    I do miss walking or cycling everywhere as I did when I was living in cities, but I like to visit them as a tourist now (and when I am away, I thankfully have a good neighbour that checks that everybody is happy). Why country life ? The luxury of stepping outside the door and being alone with nature, the silence, the feeling of surrendering to the earth’s rhythms, hanging out with the goats and the wild birds, the joy of baby animals arriving and really treasuring company or that trip into town to do business because you have enough time on your own. I think my daily chores of having animals to look after keep me sane. I treasure having taught my children the common sense of making, building, fixing and growing things, I’m sure it makes them stronger and definitely more rooted, it makes me stronger and definitely more rooted into the person I am. Finding out what animals you get on with is a great process too, I really believe you have to love the animals you eat as well (I did not become a vegetarian obviously). Good luck ! really looking forward to follow the process.

    1. You make a strong argument for the farm. So strong, in fact, I just looked (and drooled) over the pictures in the online property listing. Of course, those were all taken in the summer. Now, the land is likely covered in a thin layer of snow. But even that appeals to me (and I have lived through Canadian winters before). I really, really want animals, not a pile of them, just a handful of goats and chickens, and I would love some bees too. Another blogger suggested ducks. I would love to take care of them all. And of course, a farm would be such a wholesome environment for my younger daughter. That’s wonderful you taught your kids those life skills. They are so important, especially with our changing climate. Thanks for your thoughtful comments 🙂

  18. Wow, I just have no idea. But I’ve read your post over a few times, as well as all of the comments and your replies and it seems that you are really tipped in favor of buying and going for it. If you get really excited about it when you think about it and filled with energy, that’s a good sign. For me, even though we will retire to a much much smaller town in a couple of years, it will not be on a farm . . . I am not a homesteader and just the thought fills me with fear and dread . . . even though I totally admire and look up to folks I’ve met who are homesteading. I just don’t have the drive or whatever it is . . . . we’re all different. But I do encourage you to go with your gut, look and ask for little signs and little coincidences, and remember nothing is permanent and change is good!

    1. Well, I certainly am filled with energy when I think about it, and my gut is screaming “move!” If it turns out it’s more work than I bargained for, I have blocked from my memory the reality of living through winter and can’t stand it, or I develop an allergy to goat fur, I could sell it and move back. It does sound like a lot of work, but I could ease into it slowly. Ugh! I know the answer! I think I’ll ask my sister to go look at it again…Thanks for your comment. I think you’re spot on 🙂

  19. Country! and in Canada… But as a homestedin’ Canadian, I’m biased. This post brought me bedtime chuckles… thanks 🙂

    1. I think most of the votes are for the homestead…Thanks for checking out my post. I’m happy I made you chuckle 🙂

  20. My vote – Justin, uh, I mean Canada. I’m already a Canadian homestead owner (but within a village) so I’m biased, but I LOVE your blog and will read each post with joy! Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much. I look forward to reading your posts too 🙂

      Lol, Justin will probably get a large chunk of the women’s vote. I have to figure out how to vote in a Canadian federal election from down here…

      Are you in Ontario? In one of your posts I noticed the sewing textbook from Ontario. (That’s where I’m from.)

  21. […] after all. Also, I refuse to give up butter and the paper does go in the trash. So, until I buy a farm and produce all my food myself, I will create some waste somewhere. Then again, if I live on a […]

  22. Is there an update on this post? 😀

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Gudny. Well we all know what happened with Justin Trudeau running for PM but I’m still in California, looking regularly online at farms and land near my mom’s or sister’s and torturing myself. I love living in California but both my brother and my dad died last year and I want to be closer to the rest of my family. It’s not so easy to up and move though! ~ Anne Marie

  23. Have you ever considered taking a bit of an extended vacation at your sister’s farm and helping her out around the farm to really get a feel for the farm life and see if you’re suited to it? Might take some of the fear/nerves out of the anticipation of the workload aspect of buying the farm at least!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      That’s a brilliant idea, Charleen. Thank you 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

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