Down on the Farm / Up at the Cabin

Farming Adventures: Single, Middle-Aged, Female Suburbanite Wants to Start a Hobby Farm


For years, friends and acquaintances had encouraged Monica to write down the saga of starting a farm from scratch – with no experience or knowledge – just a love of learning and adventure. Well, here it goes.

Monica taught elementary school in Apple Valley for 28 years. Additionally, she worked as a Navy Reserve Analyst for 21 years – nearly five of those years deployed to Tampa, Norfolk, and Qatar. In 1999, after purchasing a Jeep Wrangler, Monica joined a 4WD club and – under their tutelage – explored off-road trails in several states (once disemboweling a shock on some rocks). She also owned several motorcycles and, taking advantage of the school summer vacations, explored 49 states on motorcycle (all but Alaska). Once, she even jumped out of a perfectly good airplane (once was enough). It was time to delve into an entirely new adventure.

Claudia, Monica’s sister, moved from Minnesota to Vermont, to Massachusetts, to northern New York, back to Minnesota, and finally now to Wisconsin. She has worked as a high school science / math teacher, a secretary, an analyst for pharmaceuticals, delivered newspapers, wrote articles for kids magazines, started a tutoring service, and – semi-retired – substitute taught at local middle and high schools. Claudia was up for a new adventure at any time.

Monica was a bit envious of her teacher colleagues who would go to the cabin on weekends. But maintaining a second residence several hours away from her Farmington home just didn’t appeal to her. What Monica really wanted was a “cabin” that she could live in full-time while continuing to work in Apple Valley. But what to do?

The options were endless! Monica motorcycled around that summer asking God, “Now what? Travel? Join a club? Come up with a new hobby?”

“Stay home and dork around…” was the only answer she got.

Yes, God talks to Monica in the vernacular, so she started thinking about what “staying at home and dorking around” might mean. Having several years before she could retire, to move and to commute was a issue.

There were a few things that were immediate, important considerations: a 45-minute commute to Apple Valley, a location east of 35W (Monica – a mosquito magnet – heard that the limestone geography east of 35W inhibited mosquito breeding), two miles off asphalt (keeps the riff-raff away), a four-bedroom split-entry house with a two-car attached garage. 20 acres (probably beyond the budget) with some open pastureland and some woods would be nice; interesting topography (not flat, but not crazy-steep either). And some kind of outbuilding. Quite the wish list to say the least!

Hunting for the perfect farm was an adventure in and of itself … a story for another day.

But there it was: 20 acres with a house and a 40’ x 90’ pole building, pasture and woods, in Wanamingo township. Once a hog farm, now completely overgrown. But the house and pole building had “good bones” and it was just within the budget. A year later, Claudia came to help on the farm. Quickly, we all learned some important lessons:

It is not a hobby farm. It is a small farm. (You cannot take tax write-offs for capital improvements if you call it a hobby farm.)

Goats are naughty. They will always find their way out of the fence and into the neighbor’s cornfield. Or your sister’s garden. Always.

Fence posts must be pounded in all going the same direction. Stringing the electric fencing will be so much easier that way.

Be prepared for numerous donations from the family cats: dead (or not) voles, mice, chipmunks, gophers, birds, an occasional rat, and (too frequently) vomit.

Even small Dexter cattle can hurt you if they all want to go through the same opening at the same time and you don’t jump out of the way fast enough.

Convincing the county that you are – indeed – going to farm the property (to pay $40 instead of $500 for a building permit) may require some convincing.

The disgusting smell from the corner of the barn is not a skunk. The chickens are hiding their eggs again.

Cheap, suburban cell phone service does not work well down on the farm. It would be far more convenient researching goat bloat in the dry, cozy barn than sitting on an ATV at the top of the hill in the rain.

Dirt is a color. No matter what color your car is, by the time you get home after the car wash it will be the color of dirt.

If you are going to have livestock, you need to accept the fact that you will have dead stock.

You don’t know what you don’t know. And we didn’t know much about anything.

But farmer neighbors are great – answering innumerable questions, herding livestock home with the ATV, winching the skid loader out of the spring mud, or simply sharing a cup of coffee and a piece of pie at their kitchen table. Thank you, my friends.

Next time: Buying a farm is a bit different than buying a suburban home in Farmington.