Recently, I read where 40% of city folk surveyed were interested in moving to the country. I can’t blame them; I moved from Richmond more than 25 years ago and have never regretted it. Strictly speaking, I wasn’t new at the country lifestyle as I come from generations of homesteaders and spent every possible moment on the farms of my kith and kin. On Mater’s side there were sheep farmers who, probably, raised cows or cattle as well but all I remember are the sheep. On Pater’s side it was more of hardscrabble farms kept going by sheer determination, physical strength and prayer largely because those farmers were in the Appy Mountains of West By God Wild and Wonderful Virginia.
While I had an idea of what moving from a city to a valley tucked between the Appy Mountains of southwest VA would be like, Dave, poor lamb, hadn’t a single clue. He told me, “I’m moving for the view and you can do anything you want to on the farm except ask me to help. I’ll do anything but work with whatever animals you want to get.” Wow! I was all in and never regretted him farming from the warm side of the window while I was out daily no matter the weather. However, in recalling those first weeks, months, years there are some things I’d do differently.
Is it your dream to move out of the city or suburbs to the country or mountains? No sense in re-inventing the wheel so let me be your guide.
Why do you want to move? It might sound like a silly question but once you settle on the answer, the other questions and answer come more easily. Do you want a simpler lifestyle? Farm life is simpler in that there aren’t as many choices to distract you. and, depending upon area, you stay home a lot and focus on family and farm. I once told someone, “You can run the road or you can run the farm but you can’t do both.” Not efficiently anyway.
Have you heard of the television show Green Acres here? It was an amusing thirty minutes of a man who wanted to be a farmer and his wife who was pure 5th Avenue. Most of their shenanigans were amusing but I can tell you among country folk eyebrows were raised and snickers heard while watching the show.
Unless you move to a remote area, acreage is, according to the USDA, more than $3,000 an acre across the country but that depends upon where the land is located. It also depends on any improvements such as buildings, road frontage, easements, etc. The more buildings and in better shape means more cost to purchase but it’s better to have a house and/or a barn shelter ready unless you’re able to build yourself. You’ve got a lot to focus on when you first move, best to at least have a place to lay your head at night. While land prices might be a trifle lower, taxes certainly are lower and don’t forget to ask the tax folks at the courthouse if there’s tax advantages for farmland, buildings or house. In my current county, military veterans don’t pay taxes on their house and reduced taxes on their land while land zoned agriculture received reduced tax rates.
There aren’t as many opportunities to shop (clothes, electronics, toys, etc.) so you can save money there but, thanks to on-line ordering, specialized groceries are no longer difficult to obtain . At your local grocery store. you’ll find basics but not specialty items. Speaking of, a lot of hometowns offer smaller, family owned stores and I have fond memories of shopping at the IGA and, when back in WV, still shop there. My brother has a farm in WV and the entire community was over the moon excited when Dollar Store built in their valley. That meant he could drive from his farm, down the mountain (on a pig path of a state maintained road the USPS refuses to deliver mail) to buy staples and cut out an hour’s drive north to (you guessed it) an IGA or Walmart or smaller markets or south to yep, IGA or Foodland. A well stocked pantry, along with a freezer or two, is a must for country living.
A generator is handy, no matter if it’s a small one or a full house sized generator. When it’s below freezing and the power is out, you don’t want to break up bed slats to burn for heat. Yes, that’s what one woman did when we had the blizzard of 1996 and her husband couldn’t get home. At the very least a fireplace fired by propane gas will keep everyone from freezing when they make pallets on the floor and huddle together. Propane, or natural if you can get it, gas is handy as a pocket on a shirt in the country or mountains. It can mean the difference between going cold and hungry or being warm and fed.
Do you want to farm? If so, what…animals, crops, or both in which case you’ll need grazing pasture and crop land. If you buy a timbered tract, depending upon the trees, you’ll wait until they can be sold and cut and then you have to deal with the junk left behind. If you want animals, it’s been said sheep are a woman’s livestock and I found it was much easier to care for sheep than cattle or hogs. Depending upon the sheep breed, I could handle them by myself but it took specialized equipment and more brawn than I have to solo handle cattle or hogs. Horses as well but I’ve aged 25 years and still have horses with three drafts and two pony sized and four of them rescues.
You should look into tax advantages for farms and ranches. When I started out, the IRS said a farmer or rancher had to make a profit 2 years out of 7 if raising or breeding horses and 3 years out of 5 for any other animal or crops. Extensions were available but rules might have changed so that goes on your “to check” list.
For the most part, there is no public transportation in the country so a vehicle is a must. Again, depending upon where you live, a 4-wheel drive vehicle is a must if you want to be assured you can come and go no matter the weather. Back to that same blizzard of 1996, the snow drifts were so deep they covered fence posts and the only vehicles traveling our road were tractors.
How will you earn an income? It’s almost impossible to find broadband internet in a rural area and most people use satellite. Mobile phone coverage can be spotty as well. I’ve had to move and now live eight miles from town and mobile coverage was spotty until TMobile and Sprint merged. If there’s heavy cloud coverage, heavy rain or snow, satellite can be spotty or even non-existent and hughesnet was kicked to the curb once TMobile became available.
Health care is something else that can be “spotty”. Again, depending on the area a NP (Naturopathic Practitoner) might be not available or miles away and that goes for hospitals as well. If you have an on-going medical condition needing specialized treatment, check for reliability and ranking of any hospitals or clinics in your interested area.
Vet care is, in my experience, better available in a rural area. After all, farmers and ranchers have animals and depend upon those animals for their livelihood. Since moving to an area that’s not as rural, I’ve found vet care doesn’t extend to emergency care. For that I have an hour’s hard drive which boggles my mind. If a vet handling emergencies would move into southside VA, they’d make a generous livelihood.
In my experience, the two things that make it a tot easier when moving to a rural area are children and church. Children are involved in sports and sports knit the entire rural community. It’s a lot easier when one’s children are on the soccer or softball field to engage with other parents sitting on the sidelines but children are, sometimes, used against newcomers. By that I mean if children arent included, neither are the parents so it pays to be nice and fit in. Church is a good way to meet people, especially if you have an opportunity to visit several churches to find a good fit. It takes time to fit in and in some cases that time is measured in generations. You won’t be as anonymous in the country and everyone will know you’re the newcomer and even if they don’t know your business, will still spread rumors. While you’ll be tempted to gossip about people…don’t. Everyone is related or connected to everyone else and you could be talking about someone’s cousin or daddy or…you get the drift. No need to embarrass yourself and cause hard feelings; you want to live in peace as much as humanly possible.
I’ve found some of my best carpenters, fencers, hay growers, etc. at the feed or hardware store. Slow down, talk to people, ask questions and don’t be offended when they want to know all about you and yours as well but don’t give personal information. Trust me, you’ll regret it. Be friendly and if you wake up one morning and the neighbor’s cows are in your front yard, laugh it off, call the neighbor and offer to help round them up. Develop a reputation as an easy going person, willing to help out and others will be willing to help you and pay your bills on time.
These are my observations; I’m not a professional so if you have legal questions, best to call a lawyer. Same goes for a real estate buyer’s agent, etc. If you have questions, I’m happy to give a response and would like to hear your observations.
I’ve got a list of questions to ask when looking at homes/homesteads/farms. It’s coming directly, be patient.
Wishing you the cozy comfort of home and homestead!