Swinging Bridge Farm was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. We have decided to make an offer on the old place, in hopes of building the Runamuk Conservation Farm there.
On Friday as Paul and I made our way to 619 Middle Road to meet Leah, I couldn’t help feeling that I was being drawn there─like my spirit had been hooked right through my sternum and I was being reeled in like a trout on the end of a fishing line. Something inside me was answering the call of some invisible force and when I stepped out of the car and beheld the old farmhouse I felt a joyous connection of energies as Swinging Bridge Farm welcomed me.
Like something out of a storybook, the Swinging Bridge Farm is the epitome of the classic New England farmhouse. Simple clapboard siding, mercifully unadorned by vinyl siding (eew), with an attached barn and gnarly old apple trees.
My farm-friendly realtor
Not many realtors would take the time or make the effort to walk a property like this with their client, but mine came dressed in rubber boots, as eager as we were to explore the 100 acres the old house sits on. I’m beginning to think that hiring Leah Watkins was a good move─not only is she enthusiastic about my project, but she has taken it upon herself to meet with the finance specialist at the FSA to learn more about the lending process there, as well as meeting with Nina Young at the Maine Farmland Trust to get an information download on how farming affects a real estate transaction and how─if at all─MFT might be able to help us.
When I said I wanted to make an offer Leah didn’t bat an eye. She told me to write a love letter to the seller regarding the property. Well that much I can certainly manage!
Now Leah is spending her holiday weekend drafting this sale agreement to send to the seller immediately following the holiday. She’s certainly earning her commission!!!
How it works
Financing with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency isn’t the same process as that of a mainstream bank. You don’t go to the FSA for a pre-qualification and then go look for a property in that price range. A farmer has to have a sale agreement in place before the government will even consider financing your project. And believe you me, it’s tough to get a seller to agree to anything without verification that you’ll actually be able to pay for it in the end.
If I can get this sale agreement nailed down, I can then polish my business plan, line up my numbers on my financials, and apply for a loan with the FSA. I’ll be applying on my own as a female farmer.
I thought long and hard about whether or not to do joint-ownership with Paul, my partner now since June of 2016. Ultimately as a mom─and as a woman─having worked on this for so very long, I wanted this one thing for just me, and me alone.
There’s also the fact that there are funds for women as disadvantaged farmers that I wanted to tap into, a certain sense of feminist pride I suppose─that I wanted to do this for women everywhere and hopefully inspire other women to continue their own fight for the right to farm and have their own lands. What’s more, the FSA has a requirement that farmers applying for their programs have a minimum of 3 years experience; with just 1 year of farming under his belt, Paul does not meet their guidelines.
Here are my options:
Plan A (preferred)
Fund 100% through the FSA using their Direct Down Payment loan to pay 20% of the total cost (whatever that figure ends up being). Then finance the remainder with the FSA’s Guaranteed Farm Ownership program.
Finance the entire thing with the FSA under their Direct Farm Ownership program.
It really depends on what Janice at the FSA office says when we talk to her, which route she feels stands the best chance for success. It also depends on how much we are able to raise on our own with the FarmRaiser campaign.
Meeting the world halfway
It’s not mine yet, and it may never be; there are still so many hurdles to overcome. But this is the story of a beginning farmer. These are the trials beginning farmers like me are facing every day. I am not a singularity.
The fact that I have struggled along the way to farm ownership does not mean I am a poor business person, lacking skills or planning. On the contrary─I’ve managed to grow my business despite being landless. Beekeeping has done that for me. And so has my commitment to community, along with my own resourcefulness, hard work and determination. These are the traits of a new generation of farmers like me, who are forging their farms in spite of the obstacles.
I have accepted my station as such, and I feel my choice in farmland reflects my willingness to meet the world halfway. This is not prime farmland. The soil is wonderfully rocky, and the farm is all uphill. This is not even prime development land, with deep gorges and high ridges, and so so much rock. The house is in need of modern updates like windows and doors, and there had been a leak at one point that did some damage to the ceiling in the summer wing. By no standards is the place elegant or even comfortable.
Living there will still be rough. Farming there will not be easy. But thankfully I am not a veggie farmer (aside from producing my own food), so I do not require prime farmland. And I am well accustomed to living in rough conditions, so I do not shy away from the challenges this property poses. I’m going to give it my all and see if we can make it happen.
Stay tuned for more updates coming soon! And please consider sharing the link to our FarmRaiser campaign!!!
Best of luck. Sounds like something I would do if I were younger.