“We’d never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started.”
– Pa Ingalls
Katrina here, taking a stab at the writing side of things.
WHEW! We bought a farm!
I honestly can’t comprehend it still. John and I have stood in our field of prairie grass (we have prairie grass!) looking at our woods (we have a woods!) and just gazed at the sky, the big sky where we can watch the dramatic clouds roll by and just can’t believe we finally did it. We bought a farm. EIGHTYSEVEN acres of woodlands, wetlands (we have a creek!), and tillable acres.
John and I have wanted to move to a property with land for many years now. We have slowly been making life choices that will hopefully line us up with moving onto a farm someday. We want wide open spaces and a smaller college town where we can raise the kids. Our research started years ago, asking people about what it is like owning land, figuring out what towns fit our needs, researching like crazy…in fact, this beginning research is what formed the foundation of Gatherhaus.
I am someone that sets up “5 Year Plan” strategies all the time. These 5 year plans don’t necessarily work out, but they are good guideposts for decisions we make and things we do. In general, having these plans has always been a good motivator, and since we are flexible within these plans, it often leads us to solutions we didn’t think of in the first place.
Moving to a farm is 5 Year Plan which I started about…well…5 years ago. But as time went on, John and I realized that to achieve our goal of raising our kids with land and peace and quiet we’d have to do things quickly, the kids were already growing up so fast. It wasn’t worth it to us to give up our jobs to move, and John having an hour commute each way defeated the goal of quality family time. We found many farms, fell in love with a few of them, got obsessed with one and dealt with heartache when it didn’t become a reality, and started to feel discouraged. But then Danielle and I started Gatherhaus, which opened up a new option…buying a place that was more like a cabin, where we could do Gatherhaus events, share the space with our friends and family, and have it be more of a communal property. That idea changed the mindset of what we were looking for since buying a property that wasn’t a primary residence lowered the price of what we could afford…dramatically.
So more research happened. Looking for where the least expensive land was located within easy driving distance of the Twin Cities led us north to hunting country. We started looking at 5 acres, then 10, then 20. The land we were finding started shaping what we saw this place becoming. We found a humble little place, really liked it, decided to try and buy it but didn’t get it. I was done with heartache of losing a place we had already started dreaming about. So John and I doubled down our efforts to get our credit score higher and pay off all our credit card debt, which we achieved after a lot of hard work!
Throughout our searching, we drove past this completely worn down derelict abandoned farm in Bruno, MN. It never even entered the realm of possibility that we would take on such a huge job, there were so many things wrong with the place. We wanted small acreage with an outdated house to fix up…but then I started having dreams about this farm. It kept popping up. I couldn’t get it out of my head. So we looked it up and saw it was a foreclosure, and though more expensive than what we were looking for, it wasn’t THAT far out of our budget.
We visited the farm with our friend and realtor Kris (who’s experience we relied on heavily throughout this journey), and his family. We hiked into the woods and found the most beautiful magical birch grove, I swear, the angels sang. We found out there was a nice creek and lots of woods. We emailed someone from the town who was so warm and welcoming and excited to have us potentially buy this farm, which had been sitting abandoned for twenty years. Oh, and a bald eagle soared overhead and circled us. And we just KNEW.
We knew that this would be the biggest undertaking we’ve ever done. We knew that by buying this property as a retreat and for Gatherhaus events we were pushing our own “move to the farm” five year plan back. We knew that there was no way we could predict the trajectory of this project. We knew we’d need to ask for a lot of help from friends and family. We knew it was a big risk. But we also knew that this was a way to get our kids into nature now rather than later. And we knew we were confident that this risk would have great rewards.
We bought the farm!
The buildings are sagging, rotting, completely derelict. Filled with critters, tires, and years old manure, with 18″ of standing water in the basement. We are taking something that was no where near our ideal and CREATING our ideal with what we have. Figuring out and listing our Gatherhaus Life Values a few months ago has helped John and I so much, this is how we try to live, and we are applying those values to creating this retreat. Even though we are out of our element, we already love this place!
The adventures our children have already experienced makes it so worth it! We have explored the creek, watched baby barn swallows in their nests, met a friendly barn cat, found animal bones, watched fireflies, walked the prairies, hiked the woods, started to build trails, salvaged items from the house, made s’mores, set up our RV for temporary shelter, discovered countless new bugs and flowers and trees…all with no screens, letting our kids help us problem solve and work and play and explore, exactly what we wanted for our children at the beginning of the farm dream.
We have two CSA farms within a mile of our place, La Finca Organic Farm and Bossy Acres, and the owners are fabulous. Acacia Architects and Worth Design Build love our vision so much they are helping us with the design and logistics of building a new farmhouse using earth friendly and energy efficient PassivHaus design. We are seeing such an outpouring of enthusiasm and support from everyone we talk to about this project and are pumped to get started!
We don’t know all that this farm will become. We have BIG plans. We know to start small, do it ourselves, and let it become what it is meant to become organically. We can’t wait to share it with all of you!
Our plans for this year include clearing the front fields (time to find an inexpensive riding lawn mower!), mapping out where we want to plant trees and build the outbuildings, get a new driveway in place (the new farmhouse will be in the field next to the old farmhouse), and build a trail to the birch grove so visitors have easy access. Next year we hope to secure a building loan and get the house built that summer. Then we can start renting it out and hosting events!
The current farmhouse needs to come down. It is a major safety hazard unfortunately. So this fall we will tackle that too. And document it all so you can follow us on this journey! We will also be having some times where we’ll be up at the farm and welcoming visitors to come camp and explore, if you want to be involved in that, be sure to follow Gatherhaus on facebook and subscribe to the Gatherhaus blog (click on the menu bar on the right side of the screen and add your email…we won’t spam you, we promise!) so you are always the first to know what our plans are! If you have experience in certain areas you feel will be beneficial and want to share you knowledge, we are eager to listen! If you have access to secret sources of inexpensive building equipment or materials, you are our new best friend!
I’ll leave you with a few more images of the farmhouse, I loved photographing this place!
I Am growing up on an acreage and every year we have planted a garden. It is great having fresh cheap vegetables although weeding is a chore. I Suggest planting Apple trees after a couple years you can get fresh fruit. We make ours into applesauce Apple juice and apple wine.
Hopefully your cat is a great mouser. Remember the dead ones are better than the live ones
Thanks for your articles