Location, Location, Location. So much goes into finding the perfect location because let’s face it… for most people (like us) this is a permanent move. This is the place we want to raise our kids, grow old in, and one day watch our great grandkids enjoy. In a less utopian view, we also need our farm to be profitable. Therefore, choosing our location required us to find a happy medium between planning out the homestead as a business and as a lifestyle. While everyone will come to these decisions differently, this is how we figured out our location.
Step 1: Choose how you will make money
We started with working backwards to determine what we wanted to sell (a whole other topic of conversation for another day) and then what was required of the land to grow/raise/produce it. For example, let’s pretend that after lots of market research, we decided that selling grass-fed buffalo milk would be our niche. We then calculated how many buffalo we would need to milk, how much land they would require, and what other buildings (like milking parlors, shelters, etc.) would be needed. Then we also looked at what type of climates can grass-fed buffalo live in and if there were any specifics that they couldn’t live with (like rocky terrain). This alone can knock out some climates and terrains. Now for us, we had several niches that we were interested in pursuing, which can only help to narrow down your options.
Step 2: Personal Preference
Everyone has their likes and dislikes, what is important is to be honest and think through what yours are! Here are some things we considered:
- Climate- you will be outside MOST of the time… is there any type of climate that you just could not handle?
- Do you long to be out in the “sticks” or would you prefer to be more of a city dweller?
- Terrain- There is a difference between enjoying a visit to the mountains and being the one to climb up and down those steep hills all day. You have to decide what type of terrains you would want to deal with and what would drive you crazy.
There is no right or wrong answer here by the way, it is simply the type of life you want to live. For example, I cannot handle being cold. I swear that when I get chilled it takes me HOURS to finally warm up- therefore a climate that had harsh long winters was off the table. At the same time I wanted a place where I could enjoy the change of seasons and still enjoy the fun of a few snow days. Just be honest and I think this step should move quickly for you.
Now at this point we combined the results of the first 2 steps and had narrowed down our locations to several states/areas which all held our climate zones and terrain preferences. This next step was the most important and took a bit of time and research (but we believe it is well worth it in the end).
Step 3. Pin point your market (buyers) within the areas you have narrowed down.
Now in order to do this, you must know HOW you plan to sell your products or services. Some ideas are farmers markets, restaurants, farm stand, or internet sales. If you plan to only sell by internet sales, then you may read no further and just choose a spot! But for many of us, this is only one way we plan to sell our products and therefore the distance from our market really matters. So how on earth do I figure that out?!? Well here is what we did… or shall I say what my genius husband did:
- Population: We agreed with Joel Salatin who suggested finding a population of at least 30,000 people within a 60 mile radius of your farm. We decided that we actually wanted at least 2, but preferably 3 markets that were within that distance. So we got out our map (we printed some off Google Maps then wrote all over them) and then used a few different online population trackers to find these markets. Here are some links to help you find populations in most cities in America: http://www.citypopulation.de/USA.html or http://www.city-data.com/ . You could also simply search Google “population of (insert city name and state)”.
- Average Household Income: Let’s just be honest, if you find a highly populated area of people but they have no money, no one will be interested in your specialty cheese that is worth $15 a lb. So you have to take a hard look at what type of person can actually afford to purchase your product. If you have a high priced niche product (like escargot for example), than the household income in that area must be fairly high. For an Average niche product (like grass-fed beef for example) you want to look for an average household income of above $50,000. You can find the average household income of a city by using http://www.city-data.com/ and changing the drop down menu labeled “Data Type” to “Median Household Income”. You could also Google “average household income of (insert city name and state)”.
Step 4. Price of land
Once you have narrowed down your niche markets above you are ready for the final step, the price of land. What we did was take a new map, pin point our niche markets and then draw a 60 mile circumference around it. This will show you the areas you can consider buying land for your farm/homestead. Assuming that you have figured out at least an estimate of how much land you need, you can now research how much the surrounding areas cost per acre. There are lots of places to find this out, but the quickest way we did it was by looking at www.landandfarm.com or www.farmlandsearch.com . This is a great way to just get a quick glance at what’s out there. At this point, only you can look at your finances and determine what areas are affordable and what areas to mark off the list.
After completing this process, we were able to narrow it down to 2 areas. These spots both looked perfect on paper, but there is only so much research a person can do before needing to actually experience a place for themselves to make such an important decision! At this point we decided to load up the kiddos and take a road trip. By the time we came back, we had narrowed down our decision to one location. I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally have an idea of where we would be living one day. This is where the real fun began, as we started the search for land!If you are looking for the perfect location for your homestead/farm, I hope this was helpful. If you have already gone thru this experience yourself, we would love to hear any other tips, thoughts or ideas on how you came up with your location! Please feel free to share in the comments below!