Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Leatherstocking tails

One of the areas of the country that seems the most likely for an aspiring farmer is in Western New York. Really. One can buy 100 acres of more or less flat arable land with a 3 bedroom house and a barn for under $300,000. Many places even come with free natural gas for heating and cooking!

So, what's the downside? For me in particular, it's so far away. How can we inspect properties, check out houses, talk to the neighbors, when it's 1500 miles away. That means a trip. Actually, we were all set to go there last year, and visit my wife's uncle and cousins (her parents are from the area). I had the time off, we were just about to start making hotel reservations for the drive, when the van broke down. Two weeks, $3500 and a new transmission later, we gave up on that trip. Right now, our money is likely going into a pair of work horses and paying off bills, so it'll be next year before we could actually get out there.

There are 4 dioceses in the area we're talking about, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Ogdensberg. The Ogdensberg diocese is north of the Adirondacks, bordering Vermont. While it's a beautiful area, it's not got a lot of available farm land. The Syracuse diocese consists of the uplands between the Hudson river valley and the Allegheney and Appalachian plateaux. It includes most of the Finger Lakes region. While there's lots of good land here, it's close enough to NYC to drive prices up through the roof, particularly in the eastern areas. Some of the western cities, such as Syracuse and Binghamton do have tech industries, which means I could get a well-paying job there, if need be.

The Rochester diocese runs in a strip from Rochester on Lake Ontario south to include most of the Genesee river valley. The problem here is the bishop, specifically Matthew Clark, Bishop of Rochester. Clark is one of the most liberal bishops in the world, and has been actively driving away orthodox priests from his diocese for going on 30 years. He has 5 years left in his episcopate. My wife's uncle and his family live in Steuben county and are on the southwest corner of the Rochester Diocese (not that it would matter to them, as they're Presbyterians).

The Buffalo diocese occupies the western 1/4 of the state, from Wyoming county to Allegany. Bishop Kmiec is relatively new, but appears orthodox. Land, at least away from Buffalo, is fairly, often very cheap. This is where we're looking in NY. One good place I've found to search for properties is the Western Steuben-Allegany MLS.
With a little imagination, you can even figure out how long a parcel has been listed with them.

The other difficulty in buying land in Western NY is the taxes. Taxes are set individually by school districts, fire districts, water districts, towns, villages, cities, townships, and counties. there is no consistency from place to place, A parcel of 200,000 value will be taxed $1200 in one place, and $5000 only a few miles away. Add to that the state income tax, and you can see why farmers are being driven out of the state. In fact, taxes are the likely reason land prices are so low in NY state to begin with. It pays to be very careful to check everything out with the county auditor before you buy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

surfacing again

I started this blog as an attempt to sort out my thinking and the available options of where an agrarian, distributist, and anti-war Catholic of orthodox and traditionalist mind could set up a farm. That's still the purpose but I haven't actually done anything toward that end. A lot of my reluctance comes from the (till recently) subconscious awareness that if I really want to be a farmer I'm going to have to move from my native Washington state.

There was a time when it was possible for a man just starting out on the farming path to find a place in Washington and just get started. Some of my neighbors did just that in the '40s and '50s. The soil is in many places fertile. The rain is sufficient, albeit not well distributed through the year. The growing season is long enough, though not warm enough for melons and sweet potatoes.

The problem is that more than 75% of the land is Washington is owned by; the federal government, the state government, or one of the big timber/paper companies. What's left is marginal land, and far to expensive to be usable for farming. Same is true (to a less extreme degree) in Oregon. Ten acres of high quality farmland in Western Washington is sold as an estate, and with a rundown house would run to 1,350,000-6,000,000 dollars, depending on proximity to Seattle. Fifty acres of the more typical heavy acidic clay like we have here in Winlock would run 500,000-3,000,000. Large parcels are that rare. I simply can't afford to buy a farm here.

Where, then, to go? That was the the question I set up this blog to explore, and it's high time I got on it.