Becoming a landowner at last

A new farmer feels the responsibility of signing the papers on his first land purchase

Imagine a boulder. Imagine that boulder is perfectly and delicately balanced on the lip of a large, downward run.

The thing that frightens me the most about buying the 80 acres has little to do with the specifics. No. It’s different than that. It frightens me because when I sign those papers later on today I am effectively walking up to that boulder and giving it the ol’ “This is Sparta” kick, setting in motion a long run of debt and tighter margins as I work towards taking over the farm. This is what terrifies me. I want to put off the transaction. I want to spend a few more moments relishing what I currently have.

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There was a time not that long ago when I announced my official status as a farmer. I did this when I started renting land, first from my parents then from someone outside the family.

This feels different. It feels like adult business. I’m 38 years old, but “adult” seems far away and, to be honest, uninteresting. It’s a word that, to me, means I have stripped value from the things that really matter and placed it in things that don’t. Almost as if going “full adult” is not something one can shake until the twilight years, when you suddenly realize that the things that caused you to lose your temper; the things that kept you up at night; the things that got under your skin didn’t actually matter. But I may have it all wrong.

The exploratory years — our 20s and early 30s. We moved around a lot. I went through a few different jobs in a few different cities. We were having fun. I worked at a bookstore, wrote out of my home, worked for a few newspapers and a couple of publishing houses. The decision to farm was anchored on the hope that the trajectory my writing career was on wouldn’t be affected.

In many ways the farm seemed secondary. But that has been changing. Renting land was a step in that direction. Moving into my childhood home — the farmhouse — was, as well. Buying land is a leap and it gives teeth to this whole farming thing, graduating it from secondary to something jockeying for the coveted primary spot.

I am an adult and it looks as though Jamie and I are in it for the long haul. I’ve said this to you before, but it continually shocks me that we’re still here on the farm, that we’re still enjoying it and that it’s still working. I shouldn’t be surprised, but at some point, I think each one of us is shocked that at some point the decisions we made in our youth worked out.

I am overthinking this. I know. And I am being too hard on adults. They are good people, too. But buying land is a big decision. It further galvanizes my commitment to the farm. And while an outsider would think that our commitment should have long been set in stone, it still feels new to me. Not fragile. Just new. It may always feel this way.

The numbers surrounding the purchase and repayment of these 80 acres of land are staggering. For that land to pay for itself, there’s barely room for an average crop. There is no room for new equipment. There is also — on paper, anyway — no room to grow anything but a cash crop on it. The margins are tight and it will require money from elsewhere. Once the papers are signed, our bookkeeping practices will change. How Jamie and I make decisions on the farm will change. And, immediately, our gaze will fix on the 120 acres we’re scheduled to buy in the fall of 2019.

It’s exciting. I’m continually grateful for the opportunity to live on a farm and work with my family to eventually take it over. Change is afoot for us. But you farmers are used to that. No two growing seasons are exactly the same. No two days are exactly the same. I’m just learning to roll with this and develop the mental tools to navigate the uncertainties, tight margins and big decisions along the way.

Whatever. We’re happy. And really shouldn’t that always be the goal? It’s time for me give that boulder the “This is Sparta” kick and get this thing rolling.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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