Photo by Stephanie Staton
It’s so easy to fall in love with a farmhouse and get wrapped up in its aesthetics, but when you are ready to buy a piece of land with a farm business in mind, it’s necessary to set aside your adoration for the living room’s vaulted ceiling and the bedrooms’ built-in window seats to focus on the practical, business-related and functional sides of your purchase.
According to Terra Brockman, executive director of The Land Connection, a nonprofit that supports beginning-farmer training through outreach and education, there are three pieces of infrastructure you should prioritize, regardless of your business endeavors.
"A good supply of potable water is crucial, as this is needed for irrigation, drinking water for animals, washing produce and processing food,” Brockman says. "The water source should include a good pump and solid quantity of flow in all seasons with a minimal capacity of 60 gallons per minute. Additionally, water infrastructure is key, such as multiple hydrants in convenient locations with all the pipes well below the frost line. Bonus points if the farm also comes with irrigation equipment.”
The most common water-source systems are wells with submersible electric pumps. Be sure to perform a water test—you can typically order testing kits through your state’s health department—to avoid pesticides, coliform bacteria or other contaminants.
In addition to pumping water, electricity is the primary source of energy for stationary farm equipment. Ensure all wiring is up to code to prevent a potential fire hazard.
"In most locations, tying into the power grid and paying conventional rates is the most immediate and economical source of electricity; however, the costs of wind and solar power systems are getting much closer to the costs of buying power from the local utility, especially with the help of grants,” Brockman says. "In Central Illinois where I live, the solar season corresponds well with peak electricity farm use.”
"At a minimum, any farm operation will need a permanent structure to house the electric, water and other systems that are essential to the farm’s functioning,” Brockman says. "Focus on basic, flexible space that has multiple uses and can be changed, moved or expanded easily and economically.”
Evaluate the overall integrity of the foundation; large cracks in a concrete foundation might be a sign of a larger structural issue.
Regardless of your assessment of the outbuildings’ condition, stash some cash for farm-infrastructure maintenance, which is an ongoing expense—it will forever need to be a part of your farm budget. Our farm property has a large dairy barn that’s more than 100 years old. While we, like many, fell in love with this historic barn structure, we knew we would need to continually invest in general maintenance in order to keep the building functional. Over the years, we put on a steel roof and continue to slowly add steel siding to the barn as our budget allows. The steel is expensive, but we see it as a long-term investment in the integrity of the barn structure, which we primarily use for farm storage.
Additionally, remember that multiple outbuildings can be a potential liability if you are not using them, as they still require time and resources to maintain. What good is a chicken coop if you’re not planning to use it for anything?
About the Author: Lisa Kivirist runs Inn Serendipity farm and bed-and-breakfast in Wisconsin with her family. She and her husband, John Ivanko, are co-authors of Farmstead Chef (New Society Publishers, 2011), Rural Renaissance (New Society Publishers, 2009), and ECOpreneuring (New Society Publishers, 2008).