So since we’ve been looking at farms recently, it would probably help if I go ahead and define exactly what we’re looking for in a new place. Sure would help put some context to all that real estate.
- 40 minute or less commute to Rochester. Callina (my lovely and very pregnant wife) got herself a job in Rochester at a little place called the Mayo Clinic. She starts in October and would really like to spend less than 90 minutes of her day commuting. Fortunately, Mayo and the city of Rochester have a bus system that runs to almost all of the outlying towns. Being near a town that has a bus-stop would be ideal.
- Proximity to local markets & processors. The biggest local farmers markets are Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Rochester, Lake City, Northfield and Chatfield. Most of these are North and East of Rochester. There are fewer markets and smaller towns to the South and West of Rochester. This NE and SW differential also corresponds to the land types. Land to the South and West tends to be flatter, larger parcels and row-cropped. To the North and West land is smaller, hillier and more likely to be in woods or pasture. The biggest cattle sale-barn is in Zumbrota, 30 miles North of Rochester. Most meat processors are to the North and East, in Winona, Millville, Lake City, Wanamingo (near Zumbrota) and Chatfield.
- Minimum of 50+ acres pasture/tillable and 5+ acres woods. 50 acres is the minimum for being able to carry 40 head of cattle in an intensive mob-grazing situation. 100 acres or more would be better, but with land in Minnesota fetching $5000-6000/acre, it can get too expensive very quickly. I would like enough woods to be able to heat with wood in the winter. If you figure on getting 1 cord/acre, then 5 acres of woods ought to more than cover it, plus it leaves more wildlife habitat for hunting.
- Possibility for On-Farm store and second buildable site. We really like the idea of an on-farm store, having seen a few other people who do it. This requires close proximity to a city, and preferably frontage on a paved road with electric and water access. The second buildable site is so that both my parents and myself can have our own homes on the property.
- Character of nearest town. The nearest town is going to be “home base” and we would really like to have a good one. It seems that the small towns (<2k population) don’t usually have enough going on, while the big ones (>10k population) have too much. We really don’t want to live in a dying small town, but would rather live in a place that has an active and engaged community.
- The Lay of the Land. This is the intangible of the lot, impossible to describe, but you know it when you see it. Desirable features include: Springs, creeks, rivers, ponds (especially ponds at relatively high elevations to gravity-feed water to stock-tanks). Renewable energy possibilities are also a consideration (solar, wind and hydro). Rolling hills and paved-road frontage are big pluses.
The vision for the farm:
- 30-50 head brood-herd of cattle. More finishing cattle in addition to the brood herd, numbers fluctuating as they’re finished and sold.
- Farrow-to-finish hog operation. Still undecided on numbers and breeds, but I love bacon, ham and sausage far to much to not make this a reality.
- Pastured laying hens. Following the cattle in rotation with cattle to distribute manure and eat fly larvae. Hopefully hatch our own Rhode Island Red x Delaware (Red Sex Link) Layers.
- Pastured Broilers. Add lots of fertility to pastures. If I have to buy fertilizer, I’d prefer to buy it in the form of chicken feed. The plan was to have our own Cornish x Delaware cross birds, but that’s looking doubtful (more on this later).
- Pastured Turkeys. Turkeys are a heck of a lot of fun, and the demand seems to be quite high. Raising them with chickens seems to eliminate a lot of the stupidity that turkeys are so famous for.
- Asparagus & Strawberries. These two crops are relatively easy to grow, and because the quality of fresh produce is so high, demand nearly always outstrips supply.
- Value-added products. It’s almost always more profitable to add value to your products rather than increase your output. Jams, jellies, BBQ pulled pork, breakfast burritos, bread and salsas are all ideas that are floating around for getting more money for the same amount of product.