Engineer -> Farmer, CA -> TN, thoughts welcome (Knoxville: for sale, real estate)
Kingsport - Johnson City - BristolThe Tri-Cities area
Please register to participate in our discussions with 1.5 million other members - it's free and quick! Some forums can only be seen by registered members. After you create your account, you'll be able to customize options and access all our 15,000 new posts/day with fewer ads.
Hi! I'm exploring a big change for our family - I've been a software engineer here in the bay area since college at stanford (though originally from a smallish town in colorado), and I'm tired of making shiny gadgets. For more than a year I've been learning more about farming, reading a lot of Joel Salatin, and taking baby steps like raising chickens in our backyard. I don't need advice about this aspect - I'm pretty excited about my personal passion to jump off this kind of cliff. On the framework of a potential plan I've pieced together, however, I'd really appreciate any thoughts you'd have to give.
First the "easy," local question, since I've never been out there. I'm wondering about impressions of a particular property - what the area is like, and whether the asking price is reasonable. There are a lot of variables that go into $ per acre - proximity to population center, resources, topography, etc, so I'm just looking for a local impression, not a full assessment. It's a piece of land at 124 Bailey Rd, Elizabethton... On Trulia - and here's a google map I made with the approximate boundary, that displays one of my concerns, how hilly it is: Google map
"Too expensive to farm - priced for a housing developer" would be my guess at a local perspective, but that's just a guess. And that may always be true with the parameters I'm looking for - my wife is not sold on a rural life just yet (though she does love to garden when there's time between managing the 4.75 kids). So I'm looking for the most farmable acres we can get, as close to city amenities as possible. And if it backs up to public land, a bonus for me personally. So this property seemed intriguing.
My plan is to have a cushion such that I can have a small scale diversified farm that doesn't seek to make any money for a few years (just supplies us with food and experience), while I explore what works well together and in that location, what we enjoy, and what can find a local market. Polyface farm is a rough model of what I'm looking for, but the specifics may be quite different (probably less "intense", as I'm not the extroverted salesman Joel Salatin is, and I'm interested in small-scale dairying).
My biggest challenge is getting my wife on board with the idea. The lifestyle change, the move away from family.. Her biggest fear is isolation, thus why I'm highly prioritizing being pretty close to a city. She's even said she'd be sad if the kids couldn't trick or treat in the "neighborhood" (most farms aren't really in a neighborhood) - this place seemed to be kind of in a neighborhood, so yet another way it seemed to uniquely match my search. We'd also really miss our church, which is an amazing teaching church originally founded by Ray Stedman (sermons are scripturally expository, not topical) with a great kids' program.
Reasons I'm looking at the tri-city area? The intersection of a somewhat metropolitan area with countryside, the beauty, the cost (100 acres near a metro area here might be $10 million), and finally, the weather. With that one, looking for a balance - 4 seasons, enough rain to make irrigation less of a primary concern.. the northeast seemed too frigid and buried in snow in the winter, and the deep south seemed too hot and humid in the summer. The heat/humidity may be my biggest concern - this is at about 2000' though, so I'm thinking it might not be too bad? It's tough when you're coming from here, which year-round doesn't vary much beyond the 40-85 range, with low humidity.
Sorry for the long-winded post, but I'm hoping one or another of my lines of thinking will resonate with someone positively or negatively and you can share some insights that will help me - I've been feeling pretty stuck trying to make more progress lately given what a big change--and therefore big justification--this whole plan requires.
I looked at the map, and my initial impression is "wow, that's pretty far out." I'd say you'll be 20-30 minutes outside of Johnson City. Elizabethton is a fairly dumpy little town. (Not trying to offend anyone: I'm from a dumpy little Appalachian town myself.)
It might be priced for a developer - I'm not that familiar with that *exact* area. But I'd say out in the Gap Creek area like that, you're not getting too many developers looking at much of anything. However, you're right in that it does seem to be right on public land, which may be difficult to find if that's your thing.
Also, it's pretty close to some good amenities. Not too far from Erwin, which is about 45 minutes from Asheville. Also not too far from Roan Mountain and Big Ski country in western NC.
I think you'd do fine there, just make sure your wife knows what this property and location is all about. I'd say it's the real deal Appalachian and there are good and bad things about that.
As far as weather goes, upstate is mostly cooler than Knoxville or Chattanooga areas. 2000' isn't too bad; Elizabethton is around 1500' I'd say. If you were wanting to find something with nice, mild summer and slightly cooler winters, look around Shady Valley, Roan Mountain or Mountain City. Of course those areas are going to be more isolated. Western NC as a whole has higher elevations coupled with better culture and amenities but you pay a significantly premium price compared to, for example, Gap Creek
Thanks, that's a great set of impressions! That "feel" is another warning sign for that property in particular - my wife's wary of deep south or rural Appalachian culture based on her limited experience there, so if it's the real Appalacian deal that might be a deal breaker .. Just like in farming, monoculture can be unhealthy - we're in an almost liberal/progressive/politically correct monoculture here, so it's nice to have pockets of more conservative thought to balance it out... I'm hoping for the other way out there - assuming it's going to be generally conservative and hoping for some of the diversity and tolerance a bigger town has. I dislike politics in general, I'm referring more to the feel.. At some point I'll have to see for myself, but trying to explore and gain some insight remotely first.
Western NC looks nice, but there, with my leaning towards trying a small dairy operation, I'd have to sell any unprocessed milk with a wink as "pet food". in TN, herd/cow shares are legal, which I'm fine with. Here in CA, and in SC, actual retail sale of raw milk is legal, but I think it's probably healthier to have a shorter chain and more farmer/consumer interaction, knowledge, and transparency. Farm sales being legal would be ideal, but cow shares seem good for a small producer as well.
Oh, and reason I said 2000' was the terrain lines on the google map running through the place said 2000 ..
Again, thanks for your impression. With my limited perspective, mentally everything rolls up into either Johnson City, Kingsport, or Bristol until you get an hour outside of the area.
If you are looking at a ready made farm in Elizabethton, there is one for sale across the Watauga river. I don't know how many acreas it's on, but it's all flat land. I am not afiliated with them. It's been for sale for awhile now. I am sure any place you get, you can negotiate for a good price. That being said, there would be no trick or treating or real neighborhood feeling, but you would be closer to Johnson city and BLowing Rock and Ashville are not that far away. We are originally from up North and spent some years in Europe before moving here. However our kids are grown. As rccrain asked, if you are interested in home schooling that's fine. But if not, you may need to compare schools in the area. Johnson City and Kingsport are good schools and I'm sure you can find farm land over there. But Gray is being annexed somemore by Johnson city so some farmers are going to have to pay city taxes.
We are almost set on that route - my wife was homeschooled before it was legal here. We were about to begin, but a new baby coincided with when our oldest would start kindergarten, and my current work is busy and full-time, so we chose a small private school for now. But since we've got 4 and 1 on the way, doing all private school is not financially sustainable ... so homeschool is our primary future plan for now.
Interesting - a farm that isn't dilapidated would be a nice option - most of the places I've seen have ancient, falling apart barns... which I'm not opposed to, it would just be nice the more the place were set up to be a currently working small farm. I'll try and look that one up.
OK, that's good. You don't want anything to do with the county school systems.
To answer your original question: IMO they've left a lot of negotiating room in their asking price.
I suggest that you check out the area around Jonesborough. There is a lot of good farm land in that area. You may also want to make some contacts with the Jonesborough Farmers Market: Jbo Farmers Market — LocallyGrown.net
You really should make a trip out to the area to see if its someplace your entire family would enjoy. I would not really consider the Tri-Cities to be "metropolitan". There are about 500,000 in the area known as Northeast Tennessee (less commonly known as Upper East Tennessee) but it is very spread out. I would also look at areas around Boone and Asheville (North Carolina) and Greenville (South Carolina). Greenville is "Upstate South Carolina" so the mountains and cooler temperatures are close. Greenville has a much more metropolitan feel with a nice downtown, but turns to country fast.
rccrain: thanks for your thoughts, I'll check out the Jonesborough area. This place, though the acreage is a small for the price, is nice looking: 110 Lingo
md21722: Yes, definitely needed, but I'd like to get a feel first, since time off and travel is costly. Thanks for mentioning Greenville - it was originally #1 on my research list, but I had shifted to Tennessee for a variety of reasons. That kind of subjective "feel" is great to know - hard to tell from afar. I'll update my auto real estate search to include Greenville / Travelers Rest too!
If you were to seriously consider the 110 Lingo road property then you had better be a dedicated railroad fan. The house sits directly adjacent to the Norfolk-Southern main line (splits the property) and you will probably have 100 car freight trains passing every half hour 24 hours a day.
I am curious about what you consider a "small scale' milking operation. I knew a gentleman a few years back that was trying to start a dairy farm. He built a new milking parlor and was starting with seven cows and 200 acres (about 2/3 pasture). I think he figured about 20 cows would be capacity. Unfortunately he passed away before finishing his dream.
I think rccrain is a bit harsh in judgement on the county school systems but everyone's mileage varies.
I think you would be wise to look at western Washington County or Greene County (generally counties to the south and west of Tri-Cities) for serious agriculture. One exception might be Shady Valley- good for agriculture but very remote.
In the northeast counties try to stick with property that has a least some bottom land and access to a good year-round stream. We do get some extended dry spells in the summer.
Please register to post and access all features of our very popular forum. It is free and quick. Over $53,000 in prizes has already been given out to active posters on our forum. Additional giveaways are planned.
Detailed information about all U.S. cities, counties, and zip codes on our site: City-data.com.