I never imagined finding land would prove as difficult as it has. For the last 4 months, I have been actively searching for a new farm, but haven't found the right opportunity yet. Part of my challenge is that while I am intellectually and physically ready to enter the next phase of my farming career, my financial readiness lags behind. Land in California is expensive, and I don't have the money to buy a farm just yet. I anticipate being financially ready to buy farmland in the next 1-2 years, but what am I supposed to do in the meantime? I see my 2 main short-term options as follows: 1) Work on somebody else's farm or 2) Lease land for my own farm.
Option 1, Work on somebody else's farm: This option definitely has some benefits. I would get an opportunity to further develop my farming skills, be exposed to new farming practices, earn a paycheck, and take no financial risk of my own. The downside? I'd be working for somebody else. After pretty much working as my own boss for a year, I am not thrilled at the prospect of having somebody else make all the farming decisions while I just do what I am told. Perhaps a farm manager position for an absentee/uninvolved owner would give me the best of both worlds, but I haven't found any such arrangement within a reasonable commute distance from my home.
Option 2, Lease land for my own farm: Going into the farming off-season, this was my first choice, and I spent hours scouring California Farmlink and Craigslist postings for suitable land, talking to land owners interested in leasing, and visiting potential lease sites. What I have come to realize is that most people interested in leasing have unimproved land to offer. They've been sitting on their land for a while, and would like to have it be used, but it will take and investment of time and money make it usable. If there is water, there isn't an irrigation system in place to deliver that water to crops. There may or may not be fencing. If I were buying farmland, I would have no problem investing the time and money needed to start a new farm. But as a short-term lessee, it's hard to justify spending lots of money and time to install an irrigation system on a piece of land that I know I will leave in 1-2 years, for example.
So I have two options, and I don't like either of them. What now? Is there another option? There a probably several other options, one of which is to not farm this season. There is a drought, after all, so bringing new farmland into production may not be prudent. And while I wouldn't be farming, I could still grow produce, albeit on a much smaller scale, in my backyard garden. With my family's help, I've been resurrecting the garden I've neglected since beginning my farmer training, starting by removing the chicken coop from the garden area so as to reclaim it for actual garden use. I did my "crop planning" last weekend, inventorying leftover seeds, mapping out the garden space, and deciding what to grow where. I started a few seeds in the "greenhouse," our guest bedroom with great afternoon sun, and once it stops raining, I will start cool-weather, direct-seeded crops like lettuce, beets, chard, kale, and potatoes outdoors. The chicken coop, relocated to an unused patio area, has been enlarged through the addition of an enclosed run, and two new hens, Winona and Wilhemina, now call it home.
I'm enjoying my part-time doctor job, especially its income, so I'm leaning towards keeping it for a while this time around. Its part-time nature leaves me with time to continue my land search, or even to volunteer my farming services at a local farm. I recently discovered a relatively new farm within a few miles drive of my house that is growing organically and selling at an on-site farmstand. None of the farmers have formal training and would welcome my help, in exchange for produce.
|Winona and Wilhelmina explore their expanded living space.|
|My backyard "farm," ready for planting.|
In the meantime, if any of you see or hear about farming opportunities in the greater Sacramento area, please let me know. I have a few more ideas I'm exploring, like starting a community garden/farm on a vacant lot in urban Sacramento or West Sacramento. And for you big picture thinkers out there, I'm always open to ideas for how to use my doctor and farmer skill sets at the same time so that I don't have to keep alternating hats (and jobs).