PHOTO: Greg_Men/Flickr
Jesse Frost
April 4, 2019

When looking to buy or even rent some farmland, there are a few attributes that almost everyone looks for: water, flat land, decent growing soil, maybe some structures.

That said, there are a few less-than-obvious elements involved in farming that are not always at the top of the list for a potential buyer and farmer—and a few of these could have as large of an affect on your farm as any of the obvious elements you might check. So let’s look at what those are and talk about how to evaluate them.

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1. Proximity to Market

The word “market” does not have to mean the farmers market. Market can just as easily mean where you sell your food, even if that’s restaurants or a retail shop. The amount of time and fuel you use transporting your food can have a great cost. In my family’s most recent land search, we wanted to be, at most, within 40 minutes of a market. Much farther away and the travel expense would be hard for us to justify for our vegetable farm.

2. Good Neighbors

Neighbors are an important part of farm life. People who live in the country learn to manage the isolation with a great deal of community interaction, so you’ll probably see your neighbors more often than in some suburban or urban locales, and it matters that you get along with them. Community can be a powerful resource, but if you don’t get along with your neighbors it can be an exhausting frustration. Take the time before you buy a property to meet the neighbors. Just knock on a few doors and ask what they know about the place, about the land, any history. This is a great way to start things right with the people who’ll be your neighbors while also evaluating the neighborhood around you.

3. Proximity to Family

If you have kids or plan to have them, your proximity to family—assuming you get along with your family—can be an enormous benefit. For one, your family will probably want to be involved with your children, but that doesn’t mean they can easily move to a rural area on a whim. What’s more, you might also need family members to watch the children on big planting days, for example, or during market. If you’ve not considered it and believe it might mean something down the road, put family on your list.

4. Direction of Slope

North-facing slope might be great for apple trees, but not so much for vegetables, and also notably not so much for grass. If you plan to graze, north-facing slopes are always slower than flat or south-facing. This might seem like a small factor when you’re weighing a piece of property, but it can mean thousands of dollars over time in lost productivity.

5. Potential for Multiple Revenue Streams

Any farmland you buy should have a built-in second or third revenue stream potential. Perhaps that means there’s a barn for hosting weddings. Or maybe it’s a small building you could turn into a farm stand or a farm-stay. Anything that you could use as a second farm-related opportunity will (or at least should) reduce the pressure to make all of your income in the first few years from your vegetables, meat or whatever it is you produce.

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