Create a Starting Point
If you’ve read the first part of this series you know that Step 1 in getting to a Farm Master Plan is to create a wish list of all the things you want. Step 1 is the time to bring back your inner child and pretend you are writing a list for Farm-Santa. So if you missed it, check it out here, Wish Big.
So now you have your ultimate, can’t wait for Christmas morning, Farm-Santa is coming, wish list. What do you do with it? How do you translate those big dreams to actionable steps? Well, hold that thought, save your list and get ready for steps 2 and 3.
In a perfect world, on my picture-perfect farm, our master plan might look something like this:
Can you see it?
A barn and a barnyard just the right distance behind the house, 5 mostly equal pastures all with the perfect shade tree that all have access to the barn. A long drive winding up between the flower garden and orchard and the house centered on a beautiful lawn overlooking pastures, orchards and gardens. Perfect!
I see these diagrams a lot in social media and ya’ll they really create a struggle for me. I love them. I love how perfectly organized and symmetrical they all look. But they frustrate me, because how often does this really happen? Sure, I want this ideal, don’t we all? But the reality is that most of us have farms that aren’t picture perfect. Our farms aren’t square, rectangular or even a perfect circle. They may have difficult slopes, bad soils, horrible neighbors, or prevailing winds. Most of our farms grow more organically, maybe the barn came first or perhaps you started with an acre and created a wonderful goat area that you really need to keep even though it’s where the garden should be in the picture-perfect farm. In the real world, most of us make do with what we have until we can make or afford better.
This picture perfect farm is great as an ideal.
But for me, and I’m guessing for most of you, it is too simple and easy a diagram to be particularly useful. Trying to use it as a reference point for my farm was a lot like trying to fit a square peg into an amoeba shaped hole. So, let’s talk about our farm reality and the steps I took to better understand our land and how I could integrate my wish list with the property I actually had. I hope it helps you with your own farm plan struggles.
Step 2 Understand your property.
I’m not talking about putting your ear to the ground and communing, although if it helps go for it. But understand what you have on your property.
Is there rough terrain through a portion of it that limits that area’s usefulness? Maybe there is one area that is nothing but rock or red clay. Maybe you have a pond or low area that you need to work around. What about existing structures? The point is, go out and walk or ride your property. Make a list of the trouble spots, take photographs, understand what direction your prevailing winds come from.
Do not skip this step. There is no point planning a ten-acre farm only to find that just half of it will work for your intended purpose. If you are living in a zoned area or within city limits, check your local ordinances. Make sure you can raise rabbits or chickens or whatever and understand what your setbacks and height requirements are.
Step 3 Map it out.
Have you ever used Google Earth?
Seriously, it’s awesome. Go download it and try it, you’ll be zooming all over the world. The human kid loves to use it to look at things like the pyramids of Egypt and her Pawpaw’s house. Once you finish your mini-vacation around the world go back to your property and zoom in. Yep, that is satellite aerial photography of your property. You can print that image to a PDF or on paper, whichever you prefer, and it is completely free. This is an amazing tool so take advantage of it.
Now take all those notes from step 2 and start drawing them on your map.
Don’t try to make it look pretty. This is a tool to help you see graphically what you already understand about your property. Don’t worry too much about scale. Just use a structure or property line that you know the measure of to scale the other items you sketch in. For example, if you know that one section of your existing fence is 30’ long in real world scale, you can divide the fence in the aerial into thirds and you know the approximate length of a 10’ section.
Why are we mapping out our property? Two reasons really.
- Because this is going to be a great reference for our next step. When you are working on steps 4 and 5 you won’t have to run back out to the back forty or find the municipal chicken code online to double-check yourself. You will have all your notes and a bird’s eye view of your property right at your fingertips.
- And because when you write it all down you really start to understand exactly what you have to work with. In order to write it down you have to think it through. Patterns and flows that you may only ever be subconsciously aware of become clear. For instance, we use the front gate into our pasture multiple times a day. I stack buckets there, park the wheel barrow, leave the water hose unrolled. You get the picture, it’s a mess. But as I mapped out the farm I noted that gate as the visitor entry. And it is. I just don’t normally think about it as the place visitors spend most of their time. Writing it down forced me to realize that my messy everyday work gate was also the main entry to the pasture for everyone that came to visit and it definitely wasn’t making a great first impression.
Maybe an attractive entry isn’t important to you but by mapping out your notes you may find that some simple shifts in your everyday work flow or a reconfigure of a pasture area could really save you time, labor and money.
So get out there and start understanding your land.