We Did It!
At approximately 10:23 Eastern Standard time Geoff and I became the proud owners of a 157 acre farm in south central Kentucky. I was beginning to doubt we would ever see this day, but we made it.
After school yesterday we flew to Houston and then on to Lexington. We rented a car, a very classy Hyundai, and then spent the night in Lexington. A brief six hours later we were up and at ‘em and ready to drive out to the country. As always, we rented a GPS. We didn’t have time to name this one, so I just called her “the lady”. The Lady guided us safely from Lexington to Liberty. On the way we drove through Danville, home of Centre College alma mater of my brother-in-law and member of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference—so most of you ex-Trinity athletes out their have probably visited. I really like Danville, and it is only about forty minutes from the farm which will make it a great place to sell our goods and potentially a good place for me to get a teaching job next year if nothing is available in the two counties close to the farm.
We arrived a little early so we drove past Liberty and out to the farm. It had not changed much since we saw it for the first time back in December. I am eager to see it in the spring , summer, and fall because it is beautiful even in the barrenness of the winter. On our previous trip we stayed in Campbellsville, a town to the west of the property. This was our first time to drive through Liberty the closest town to the east of the property. Liberty is smaller than Campbellsville but still has two banks, a Farm Bureau extension, a McDonald’s, a small grocery store, and an assortment of other amenities. The drive from Liberty to the farm is scenic and pleasant accentuated by rolling hills, small farms, views of the Green River, and a couple of Mom and Pop establishments.
When we drove back to the bank in Liberty the sellers were already there. The banker, Daniel, took us immediately back into his office and we began the process of signing our names to a million almost identical documents. After the exchanging of various types of funds in different forms between both parties, we were official. The sellers handed us the keys (although they will be leasing the place back from us for three months) and a copious list of local businesses including but not limited to: the best dentist, the best veterinarian, the department of fish and wildlife representative, two auto mechanics, the garbage collection service, the best neighbor to borrow a back hoe from, the best neighbor to trade vegetables with, the best neighbor to hire to spread manure over the fields (cow manure, not his own), the best place to go for fencing, the best place to go for lumber, the best hospital, the best Chinese food restaurant (where we have already eaten), the best Mexican restaurant, and a whole hosts of other bests. It was incredibly generous, and meticulous, of the sellers to compile this list for us, and it will surely save us some headaches down the road. After everything was official we all went back to the farm to get another look and to decide upon a series of items that the sellers were offering us the first right of refusal on including the farm truck, the zero-turn mower, a restaurant quality fryer, eight used telephone poles, two couches, some plexi-glass, and a gem known as “garage sale surprise palate #1”. All of which can be put to good use in our impending endeavor.
At the closing we also received a very small post-card-sized piece of paper from the U.S Department of Agriculture stating that our farm was part of the farm subsidy program disincentivising the growing of corn. I believe this is actually part of the farm subsidy program that pre-dates the current program in which farmers are given incentives to grow corn even though the market value of corn does not naturally make this enterprise profitable. (If you have not already seen the documentary “King Corn” I highly recommend it, and in particular I recommend the interview with the now elderly former USDA chair who introduced our current farm subsidy system. His motivations are genuine, and by his measurement the program was a complete success because it lowered drastically the percentage of the average American’s income dedicated to food costs. The documentarians, as well as many others, however, argue that food is cheaper at face value, but that the actual costs to the environment, our health, and America’s overall well being are staggering. It is a very interesting debate.) So, postcard in hand we attempted to find the USDA Farm Services Agency. Liberty is not that big, so we figured we would be able to find it just by looking for a building with USDA Farm Services Agency written on it. Not so. After two sweeps down Main Street I chose to hop into the Farm Bureau and ask for directions. We were also hoping to meet our insurance agent who works for the Farm Bureau and whom we have only dealt with over the phone. Sadly he was out to lunch, but happily the Farm Bureau employee we spoke to knew exactly where it was. She said, “Oh, yeah, it’s in this plaza. It’s just past the chiropractor. You can’t miss it.” Oh, but miss it you can. The chiropractor we found easily. It was in a large, free-standing brick building with a very clear sign. The Farm Services Agency the other hand makes its home in a strip center. It has a green sign written in faded 14 point font that reads “USDA” and then underneath, in an 11 point font, appear the faded beyond legibility words “Farm Services Agency”. You can definitely miss it.
We walked in, post card in hand, and proudly announced, “We’re farm owners.” Immediately, a young woman in a University of Kentucky sweatshirt came to our assistance. What I’ve noticed about the town of Liberty is that the term “Casual Friday” translates literally into “Sweatshirt Friday”. In what I am now almost certain is not a coincidence, our banker, the farm bureau employee, and this young woman at the Farm Services Agency were all wearing sweatshirts. Daniel the banker wore a striking Izod sweatshirt, the Farm Bureau woman wore something that kind of reminded me of bedazzled Christmas sweater, and the Farm Services lady was showing off her Wildcat pride. The good people at the Farm Services Agency helped us quickly and efficiently, and while we waited for them to enter our data, I got to explore the many informative pamphlets on display. Anyone who knows me knows I love pamphlets, so this was a real pleasure. They had an impressive selection ranging from information about conservancy programs, to farm safety, to ways to not get in trouble with the U.S government based on your farming practices. Ultimately, we are probably going to have a little trouble with that last pamphlet’s topic, but we will burn that bridge when we get to it. For now we relished our first few moments as true American farmers—we were about to be paid not to grow things. Hopefully by participating in and fully understanding our nation’s complex and absurd farm subsidy system, we can lobby more effectively for changes that will benefit farmers as well as average American consumers.
We lingered in town a little longer after our Farm Services Agency business was done. Then, we made our way back to Lexington in order to catch our 5:30 return flight home. Before we returned our rental car to the airport, we took a spin around downtown and stopped at one of the University of Kentucky book stores so I could by a t-shirt. I offered to buy Geoff one as a “Happy First Day of Farming Present” but he said, being a loyal fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks he could not stomach wearing the apparel of a rival SEC team. I am not a sports follower, and I am an avid fan of college paraphernalia, therefore I selected a sharp grey thermal long-sleeved shirt with blue letters spelling out Kentucky embroidered on the front. It was my first step in becoming a productive, supportive citizen of Kentucky. I know the LSU Fighting Tigers will forgive me.
Even though this was only our second visit to Kentucky, I was struck again by how kind and helpful all of the people we encountered have been. The man we rented our car from was genuine and charming, the woman at the hotel was helpful and courteous, the banker was a sweetheart who has lived in Liberty all his life and shared heartwarming stories about his wife and child, and everyone we enlisted in our attempt to enter the appropriate farm subsidy information was gracious and forgiving of our farming naiveté. Everyone asked us the same question, “Why again are you moving here?” not in a “Get the hell out of my town” kind of way but in the “ Wow isn’t that completely random and potentially psychotic of you” kind of way. We greatly appreciate their tolerance of our potential psychosis.
Now the adventure begins. As I told Geoff on the way back to Lexington, “ I really think I can do this.”
“You didn’t think so before?”
“Well I was fifty-one percent sure before and I figured the rest of the certainty would come once we got everything squared away.”
“You were only fifty-one percent sure?” Look of panic streaking across his face.
“Yeah, but that is about all the certainty I need when deep down something sounds like a good idea.”
“But what if you hadn’t liked it.” Mild heart attack setting in.
“I was mostly sure I was probably going to like it.” Smile.
Geoff finishes having his heart attack.
Now the real work begins—finding jobs for next year in KY, planning what livestock to begin raising, ordering and installing fencing, and most importantly, finally agreeing on a farm name and ordering cute merchandise that will inspire us and create a sense of farm unity. Here we go.
Quick footnote: I wore argyle today as I do almost everyday and I made the important decision that just because I am a legitimate farmerlady now does not mean I will quit wearing argyle. I think if I am persistent I can get Tractor Supply to start carrying an argyle sweater or two. Or at the very least some argyle socks. Anything is possible.