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CHAPTER S sites Buying (or Not Buying) the Farm ‘e came very close to buying our farm. For a long time \ K ] ‘we assumed that we would; it seemed inconceivable that wwe would not eventually own it, and we had no examples of how it might work otherwise. The idea that to sueceed in taking something on, whether a farm or any other business, you must own it is baked into American culture. To do less than that is to fail. This, I am here to tell you, is a myth Still, doubt we would have taken over the Christmas trees had we not planned on one day owning them. Christmas trees are a long-term investment. Often the work you do today doesn’t pay off for seven to ten years, In such circumstances its best to just ignore the time frame and do what needs to be done. On properties where the primary crop is woodland for timber, the return on investment is forty years ‘or more from a seedling. We took over the trees in part because we fell in love with the house and the land and knew that to buy them would require taking over the trees. The house was in that early stage of falling apart where nothing is so far gone it isn't worth saving, but everything needs work. The land was a mix of pasture, woods, and Christmas trees, There were two large bars, both in need of some major repairs, and several smaller ones that could be safely ignored us Carving Out a Living on the Land for the time. South-facing slope, quiet road, ten minutes from a couple different towns... twas a wonderfal place. But one of the obstacles toward purchasing it was that Al Pieropan subdivided his ginal 25 acres when he built the other two houses, and while the lot divisions made sense in terms of road frontage and optimal house sites, they made absolutely no sense in terms of the Christmas trees. The 25 acres were divided into seven lots, with trees on at least part of every sin e lot. To make matters worse, the biggest grove of trees, the Yo tut grove, was divided evenly into three lots running side by side up from the road in long skinny strips, with the middle third belonging to the house at the very top of the slope. If we wanted to truly control all of the Christmas trees, we would need to buy not just one house, but two or even three. It would be a lifelong labor of love to pull that off, and one that might never make financial sense. It ‘would also mean we would have to be landlords, something neither of ‘us was keen on after hearing some of the stories Al had to tell. “The groves of Christmas trees sprawl across all seven lots that comprise the ‘original property, which includes three houses, making ian expensive and complicated proposition to buy just the farmland, 4 Buying (or Not Buying) the Farm Despite this, we really wanted to buy the house we were renting and the 12 acres it came with, This would have given us control of about half of the trees, and i€ was a nice contiguous block of land, with the pasture, some woods, Christmas trees, and the barns. For a number of years this was our pipe dream, We knew that no one would ive us a mortgage until we were better employed, or at least could show more years of income from the farm. Alwas also interested in us buying the farm, and our conversations ‘on the subject grew over the course of three years from guarded agreement based on mutual interest to more candid discussions of how sale might actually work. We realized early on that it would take several years to get our financial ducks in a row. I had just started an online scientific editing business with the help of my father, and I knew from talking with various banks that they wanted to see three years of taxes before they would consider income from any business when determining mortgage eligibility. We also leamed that we didn't have ‘enough streams of credit, as we had only one credit card (which we pay off in fall each month) and no car loan or student debt. Mortgage companies base much of their decision to lend or not lend on your credit score, which is a combination of both how much you borrow and how well you pay it back, as calculated in some arcane way by three credit-rating bureaus. We paid money back quite well, but, as it tums out, we were borrowing too little, or rather from not enough sources. Cecilia had cut up her credit card several years before, and we had ‘worked very hard not to go into debt, tightening our belts when money was scarce. But we discovered that to increase our chances of getting approved for a mortgage, we needed to get a second credit card and use it occasionally, to demonstrate with that second line of credit that we could handle borrowing money like adults We also discovered that our local banks, recommended to us for a simple, thirty-year fixed-rate mortgage, were tied up in knots about approving a loan for a farm. Or a property that had the ability to be a farm. Or a property that even had the appearance of a farm (no joke, one person told me they would even have problems if there ‘were too many fruit trees). The people I sat down with (a humiliating experience ifever there was one, to lay out your financials for someone and to be found lacking) had no idea what to do with a farm. Tt didn’t us