Monday, August 30, 2010

Not giving up.

We've been doing a lot of research lately. Information is a double edged sword cutting a swath through our ambitions. While earlier last week we felt our hopes of farming in Florida had been reduced to a mere pipe dream, the barriers have uncovered alternatives we might never have found otherwise.

Building a home from scratch with our own hands and plans is now purchasing a mobile home. Is it everything we wanted? No. But what is more important, a dream home or any home for our dream?

We had planned to build a single barn but may now have either multiple smaller structures closely positioned or premade buildings delivered to our site.

The Merino sheep we wanted have been replaced with Gulf Coast Sheep. A breed that is currently on the near extinction list. Breeding our own small flock of these fits in much better to our region plus adds much needed members to the less than two thousand sheep currently in the world. Conservation of a species speaks loudly to my heart. Plus they have wonderful milk, wool and meat. There is also a breeder within an hour or so of our farm.

Though we still worry "what next" whenever we have to make a phone call, the resulting challenges are being met. We will have our farm, we just have to get a little creative.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Of phones and chicks. And lots of rain.

The rain has been constant over the past few days. It ranges from overcast with a few cool, fat drops to a gray deluge and can change either way in an instant. I love it. I love hearing the pitter patter pat on the roof top. I love feeling the tiny cold splashes hit my skin when I go out to feed the bunnies. Everything is damp and so vividly green it's almost surreal.

It feels like a new beginning. As if the rain could wash away the panic and fear and dispair.

I've come to hate the phone and the uncertainty that flows from the other end. But I have to plug away at the calls that need to be made to secure our future. Even if I don't like some of the results.

We did get the okay from the building department to live in the shabin. Though we still have to find out from environmental services how human waste disposal will work. Sometimes the calls are just funny in an ironic-not-really-"fun"-funny way. Like the water management people not knowing what graywater is. Really, I had to explain it to three people that are in successively more important jobs and then got the number for another entire division because they still didn't know what I wanted to do.

But still, there are good things around me.

The chicks are doing great and my nervousness is slowly dwindling. They've been here a week and a half and their wings are almost completely feathered. Their tails are sporting little feathered beginnings. I've given them a short perch and they love jumping off of it, flittering their wings in hopes that they might fly. The dark chick -who is still namelesss- has taken to perching on top of the feeder jar. She sits up there like queen of the coop, no one else dares take her spot.

I have never encountered the personalities of poultry before. It's quite an astounding things to behold. I have one chick, Jenna, that will come to greet me whenever I go into the laundry room. She's so brave as to jump on my hand if I leave it still for a moment. She is curious and interested in the world outside her cage while the other three cower in the corner or scatter wildly as if I've loosed the cat in their domain.

It's a good feeling to hold these little darlings in my hand and think of what relationship we'll have in a few months. And to hold hope in my heart that both of us will be on our farm soon.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Now I know why

there are so few small farms in Florida. The state makes it impossible for anyone of moderate income to build a house without first taking out a mortgage and leveraging your soul.

On the phone yesterday talking with a man that has a Ph.D. in architecture, I was informed that a 36' square, dirt floor barn for livestock would cost roughly eight grand for the plans. The ones we bought from Stable Wise are now useless because they have no Florida licenced stamp of approval. That no one that has a licence would risk authorizing use of these plans (which are CAD drawn and up to codes of just about every state) without completely redrawing them and assessing a hefty fee.

The past week, after getting our letter from the mortgage company, I've been optimistic that we have a place to go, that with a little work we'll be okay. We'd be on our land, how could things be bad then? We've been uplifted by the support of strangers. We started stingily doling out the little resources we've been blessed with by buying things to make the shabin habitible.

Before buying the land we did our due dilligence and found out what it would take to get a house built. The packet from the building department seemed pretty straight forward. The papers from the sale were cut and dry. The building department never hinted that anything they told us to do would be tens of thousands to accomplish just to get a hundred dollar permit. We didn't delve into the real meat of building a house. We never imagined that Florida's new laws would make building the small home and livestock barns utterly impossible.

So, where do we go now? What do we do? We're looking into mobile homes, looking at amassing a debt we didn't want. Then even contemplating leaving the state, selling the land and heading to areas where laws are less restrictive. We wanted security with buying land, a place to weather out the stormy economy, a place to leave our children when we die but lawmakers and beurocrats have decided that unless we have hundreds of thousands of dollars at our disposal, we're not entitled to have that security. The hurricanes a few years ago have left the state in ruin. No one wants to accept responsibility for buildings and those that will step up to the plate (mainly architects) are going to want a lot of money upfront for "putting their necks on the chopping block" when disaster strikes. The insurance companies want a scapegoat and have somehow goaded the lawmakers into making that happen.

According to the architect I spoke with, there are no "stock plans" to purchase, that each home needs to be evaluated, the soil tested for stability, wind loads calculated by the new standards. Even without a mortgage or insuring the house, or ever intending to sell it the state won't allow for anything to be built without these restrictions.

So, today I will research more, scour the Earth for a solution. A mobile home on the land might be a possibility, I have some calls out to different places to see what will be.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The beginning of our hydration system

There is a key component to farming and homesteading that is more vital than central air during a Florida August.


Hydration for our bodies, our livestock. Fluid to clean gardening clothes and cast iron dishes and sweaty, dirt-smeared skin. Liquid to hose down sprouts and clean off udders.

Without water there will be no homestead. Without water there will be nothing to farm and no one to farm it.

Out on our land we are off the city grid for sewage, water and trash removal. By taking building into our own hands we've cut out the middle man that would arrange a well to be dug for us. Even hiring a well-digging company is out just because of the ridiculous expense. This puts establishing a working, economical, safe water system in our hands.

We will at some phase be hand-hammering a sand point well and attaching to that a manual pump. This water should be clean and clear enough to drink without a heavy filtration system But given the drought prone area we live, we can't rely soley on a well dependant on top-soil run off. According to our watershed management department, we're allowed to harvest as much rainwater as we want without needing any permits or inspections.

This is largely Rob's project and he requested I get this book for him The New Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems - Includes Branched Drains. The Shabin will have a greywater bog that the shower and bathroom sink will run into. We'll be engineering a 500+ gallon water filtration system using these two 250 gallon tanks we bought used this weekend. They were previously housing vegetable oil for a bio-diesel but are food grade and as long as they are rinsed out properly will be fine for our intended use. This water will not be suitable for drinking but will be okay for washing, showering, etc.

Rob has been working on the diagrams for placement of containers, runoff over flow and filters. But this is the beginning of our hydration system. One of the integral parts of our venture.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Electric Progress

Yesterday, I spend an enormous amount of time trying to figure out the steps to getting the electric turned on. It's a convoluted dance with far too many steps.

At least two parts were accomplished in hours of phone calls. The paperwork for the new service installation has been filled out. And we have a permanent 911 address.

We have an address.

Oh. My. God. We exist. On a map somewhere is a little dot with our names attached to it. If you were on our property and broke your leg you could call Emergency Service and they could find you. This one little thing feels so monumentous. Now, we feel real, like a stuffed rabbit that got loved too much.

God knows, there's a lot of love around us right now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I think we're being shoved.

I have said again and again that I think we need a push -something monumental- to get us out on our land. I don't think I realized what I was asking for. Yesterday, I think we got shoved.

We've known for awhile that foreclosure was heading our way. The bank just stopped working with us midway through a modification, denying us because of their clerical errors, yet still very happy to continue to take payments. Even going so far as to asking for more than our monthly due. One month they asked for a rounded up full amount twice so we could prove we really wanted the house while they filed incongruent paperwork, case managers mysteriously left and verbal agreements were never documeted. Even though beforehand you're given a voice-recorded message saying the calls are taped, somehow they don't have access to these tapes and cannot go back to verify anything.

All in all it was a big huge mess. Yesterday, they finally threw down the gauntlet demanding payment in full by the begining of September. Obviously, that's not going to happen. The bottom line is we're losing the house, we have at least until September, maybe October even. But we need a plan and need to take the momentum of the push and move forward as fast and hard as we can.

We weighed our options. We could rent but we'd need thousands down and a place for animals. Many places don't do pets at all and want first/last/security. We could rent and get rid of the animals, something that really doesn't jive with us. Then we realized this might be the push we need to get out there. Take our money and put it into getting the shabin ready instead of saving just to move into a place.

No, Rob doesn't have a job out that way yet. We'd have to figure something out for that but he's calling on some jobs he has resumes with and we're letting it go that it'll work out however it needs to. The sooner we're on the land, the sooner we can start farming it and maybe not need that full time job.

So, today I'm sick with a headcold and it's all really quite a lot for me to even comprehend right now. I know we have friends we didn't know of and hope. Mix those together and I think we'll be alright.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Water Pump

The land doesn't have a well yet. We're planning to try our hand at pounding a sandpoint well ourselves and attach a hand pump. The other option is having a well dug by a professional which includes a price tag of about $3500. If we had the well dug it would include an electric pump. We don't have electricity yet which would be an additional $450 or so to set up. This isn't an option for us yet but we still need fresh drinking water while we're visiting the land.

I looked into buying or renting a water cooler holder but they're so expensive and if you want hot or cold water lines to function you have to have electricity. The cheapest one was also $40. While hunting up solutions on Amazon we came across this Dolphin Manual Drinking Water Pump.

For easy transportation (it comes in a little box), price and function it's a fantastic addition to our shabin. The bottles don't need to be tipped upside down (I can't be the only one that spills about half the jug attempting this), the pump easily snaps together and simply threads onto the bottle neck. There is a little learning curve to pumping, as the suction on the upstroke after depression continues to pump water through it but it's easy to figure out. The pieces come apart for easy and small storage back into the box it comes in. The longer neck also makes it suitable to position over a basin to use as a "faucet".

We did have to purchase the jugs from the grocery store. Filled they were about $12 a piece, $6 for the water and a $6 deposit on the jug which we'd get back if we turned them in. We were going to try and find them used but also need the caps for transporting such a long way.

I'm actually quite keen on the idea of keeping these. Using them to ration our water supply for washing but we'll see how it goes. Either way, this pump is a great investment for adding "running" water where there is none.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

If the heat doesn't kill us

the spiders might.

Anyone know if we need to be afraid? Other than the fact these guys are about the size of my palm and breeding, of course.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

August is too. damn. hot.

Yesterday, we made another day trip up to the land. The going on twelve foot high weeds had to come down, we needed to put the new break-into-this-NOW lock on the shipping container, and we just really wanted to be out there. Getting bogged down at home, being so far away, getting frustrated that the house designs keep. constantly. changing. makes it hard to see the forest for the trees. We forget entirely what our forest looks like. That it actually exists and isn't some figmented dream of our hearts.

We loaded up the trailer and by nine a.m. was on our way North. There is a bush hog driver just around the corner from our land. We talked to him last time we were up. His price was a little higher than the last guy but he wouldn't charge a travel fee so it evened itself out. We had to meet him at noon. Nine a.m. was cutting it close but somehow, even with the myriad of potty breaks and multiple re-tyings of the tarplin, we made it up with a few minutes to spare.

I have been deluding myself. I will own it right here and now. On hot, sticky days I have been falsely consoling my heart that our land runs about ten degrees cooler than where we are now. That those ten degrees will make it easier to farm our small bit of the Sunshine State. That sheep, wool covered bunnies and pumpkins won't wilt to nothing in the swealtering madness. Oh, I was so terribly wrong. The truth of the matter is that August in Florida -anywhere in Florida- is just too. damn. hot.

It was miserable. We brought up two 5,000 BTU window units that we powered with the generator. In the four hours were were there I think their combined Max-temp-high-fan output cooled the shed about two degrees less than the atrocious conditions outside. The kids were red faced and saturated with their own sweat. We laid in motionless lumps. I was nauseous and had a headache by hour three. I think if we had stayed longer delusions and body tremors might have set in. We bought plenty to drink; water, tea, powerade, and lemonade. But we couldn't get it in at the rate it was perspiring out.

While the heat pushed us down on our knees, it also brought the reality of building a home with our own hands crashing down.

How, dear God, are we going to do this? With only a scant few months of amiable temperatures to work with, how are we ever going to build a home? Farm the land? Even pounding fence posts and planting trees now seems too difficult a chore. All this land, and more with only our hands to shape it?

But we're nothing if not creative and resourceful. Our ideas of using concrete block instead of frame have been modified. We're reconsidering using shipping containers to complete at least two sides of the house. A smaller foot print is in order. Trees have been added to the budget to shade the shed and our home.
The window units will have to be replaced with a heartier system. Yes, we're changing the floor plan yet again. Yes, we've been knocked down a few pegs back into the hot hands of reality. But we're not out of the fight yet. The bell hasn't rung, the counts aren't even close to being made.

After the one section was mowed the girls and I took a trip along the edge where the forest wilderness now meets the meadow. It didn't seem so hot outside. The wind gusted past cooling our sweat beaded skin. We took a slow pace, no need to rush, as we explored the animals and plants that inhabit our land with us. The girls were awed by spiders and birds. The sweet smell of dog fennel was sharp and soothing. The sky was shining a bright blue peppered with fluffy white clouds as we walked.

The heat didn't seem so bad then. Only another aspect to consider. Now we know. Now we modify our ideas, form a new plan of attack without forgetting how August sucker punched us.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

And Change Again.

Across the street.

Our trips this weekend didn't happen because my car flex plate needed repairing, our AC broke Friday night (again) which both add up to we're just too broke to make the trip and get anything accomplished. Also, after looking into the solution of paint-on vapor barrier, that option isn't going to happen. One of the only places to find it is Amazon and it's close to $100 a gallon. Yikes. We've decided to go with either a plastic vapor barrier or just the insulation which we've read is sufficient enough on one of these buildings.

We're pricing out our insulation and drywall now. We need to build stairs to the loft and run the electric lines before we dry wall it all in. The electric is a good option considering we'll be running the shed and multiple power tools at the same time once building commences. The $450 price tag isn't too steep but will wait. Running the electric after drywall isn't a very smart idea hence getting that done before hand. We're trying to work smarter not harder.

Last time we were up the 100 or so acres across the street had been virtually cleared away. The photo at the top shows just the sparse barrier of trees that line the road side. We could see lots of construction equipment but no signs saying what's going on over there. Did the owner just sell off the timber? Are they clearning it for homes?

The sad part is the deer that we've seen skitter across the street from our property to this now cleared one, will not have a sanctuary so close to our home. Our woods isn't big enough to support a Cervadae family. Looking on the bright side of things, if the land was cleared for timber, it has the possibility to grow back. If it is cleared for homes, there's a possibility of new families moving to the area which for a farming business that will sell fresh eggs, meat and produce, having a community of potential customers near might be beneficial. I can't see a cookie cutter development getting set up that far out, though I know anything is possible.

We're still planning to go up soon but not making any plans right now as they seem to change and change again.