Thursday, 28 June 2012

Cacoethes Aedificandi

Most books written about small scale farming and self-sufficiency begin with a chapter dedicated to choosing the right property.
Because we were looking for a starter home and not planning to farm,
the advice in that early chapter fell on deaf ears.
There are so many features to look for in a suitable farmstead, it would be difficult to expect everything.
Of the most important features, there is the existing infrastructure of the farm.
That is, house, outbuildings, utilities, and fences.

There is a common quote that crops up throughout the small-scale farming texts.
Pliny quotes Cato the Elder as advising to buy what others have built rather than build oneself, and thus, "enjoy the fruits of another's folly."
Timeless advice.
Unfortunately, a well established infrastructure also adds value to a property,
and even had we taken that advice to heart while we were looking for a home,
I doubt very much that there would have been something ideal, that we could afford.
Though, I often recall that quote while I'm working on building the next project.

I should admit that I prefer the current arrangment.
The skill set required for maintaining a farm is virtually identical to building one.
Being compelled to build, provides the tools I need to keep everything working properly.
The added value of pride and legacy make building very rewarding,
despite the real possibilty that I'm building for someone else.

I used to daydream about everything I would build if there was enough time and money to do so
There is still lots of dreaming going on, but also some more meaningful planning.
If there was all the time and money I needed when we started out, I would have made a lot of errors.
Hindsight has proven that many of my plans would not have worked well had they been built when I dreamed them up.
Restraint allows time and experience to develop better ideas.
The projects underway now reflect several years of planning.
Of the long term plans we have now, many will be discarded as we grow and learn.
It is a benefit that we are limited by time and money,
but not by any lack of enthusiasm.

The fence and the coop addition currently underway represent a culmination of solutions to many different problems.
The fence will give us much needed control over the chickens, and the addition will allow us to keep more young birds.
In fact, the addition is really just a part of the original building that was never completed, or even started.
The addition is just an outdoor covered porch, that is screened to keep the little birds in and threats out.
We have done without by using the woodshed in past years.
My goal is to use the woodshed before November,
and having it empty will help my resolve.

Sometimes there is loose talk about sellng our home in exchange for something more built up.
But we have made a commitment to see this through, and besides,
life is pretty empty when the grass is always greener on the other side.
There is also the challenge to be efficient in how we produce food.
Fewer infrastructure requirements translate into less cost, less maintenance, and less impact.
Hardy animals, smart design, and favouring plants over livestock, reduce the need for extensive and expensive structures.
We don't have all of the answers yet, so there is no need to be overbuilding.

The undeniable itch that goes along with being in the country,
is the desire to build.
It's hard to resist, and our farm might be a mess if I was able to build everything I have dreamed up.
Fortunately, I have trouble keeping up with the basics list.
In truth, I am looking forward to the next project.
I haven't decided which plan that will be just yet, but it will involve harvesting trees and milling lumber.
Just enough diversion until it is time to build again.



  1. My husband and I just bought house on 3 acres which we plan on turning into a family homestead.

    Our situation is similar - we bought a place with no outbuildings whatsoever (except a very old chicken house), and the land is in very rough shape from being used to temporarily "store" horses. The house is 100 years old and needs a lot of work. We'll have to build something for my husband to use as a workshop too since he is a woodworker. But this is how we could afford the place. In our area, 3 acres of land is usually totally out of our price range.

    We're excited to start digging in and making the place ours by the sweat of our brows. We don't mind hard work. My husband feels (like you) that he will feel more pride if he builds things himself, anyhow.

  2. Hi Laura,
    The other advantage to starting from scratch, other than satisfaction, is that you are more likely to design your homestead in accordance with modern considerations.
    Energy, for example, was once cheap, and farm infrastructure doesn't always account for energy conservation.
    Different farming practices call for different buildings, and with a fresh beginning, you won't be held back by times passed.
    Congratulations on finding some land, and taking on the challenge.