November 3, 2013

Criteria for a Place to Call Home: Part 1

One of the most important and potentially most difficult decisions Kristy and I have to make regarding our homestead dream is where to actually homestead. In many ways this one decision affects everything that follows. If we don't like the place we live, if it does not have the resources and conditions we need, if we can't afford to live there, then our homestead will collapse upon itself. I don't want to put it in too stark of terms, and it is true that we could probably make many places work. But this is the place where we intend to live the rest of our lives. We needed to put a lot of thought into this endeavor.

The beautiful Kootenai valley. One possibility on our search for a place to call home.

One of the first things to know is that we don't plan to homestead where we currently live. Portland, Oregon is lovely city. It has many opportunities and an almost ideal climate for growing food. But it is…a city. Kristy and I both come from more rural backgrounds and want to get "back to the country." Plus it is fairly expensive here. It did not seem feasible to find the amount of land we would like (around 20 acres) at an affordable price and to be able to homestead on severely reduced salaries. Plus the rain! I am sick of so much cold winter rain.

Columbia River Gorge outside of Portland, Oregon
In some ways, both of us would love to move back in the Black Hills of South Dakota where we both lived through our middle and high school years. It is definitely more rural, we could probably find affordable land, we still have friends and family in the area and it is so beautiful. But it is very hard to grow food reliably (which is slightly important when trying to become more self-sufficient). Frosts can occur any time of the year. There have been long periods of drought (accompanied by forest fires). The Black Hills get massive thunder storms with accompanying hail that can be the size of baseballs. Kristy's dad is an avid gardener but he has lost much of the food has tried to grow due to these weather conditions. If we want to try to live off the food we produce, we need to live somewhere where that is feasible every year.

The beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.

Both Kristy and I have moved several times throughout our lives, so we know that almost any place can become "home." Once we had decided that it would be difficult to homestead in the two places that have seemed the most like home to us, we knew that we were open to finding a completely new home to make our dream possible. We realized that deciding where to live was going to be influenced by many different factors related to what is important to us and what we needed for the homestead to be successful. We needed a way to evaluate different locations to determine their feasibility for homesteading.
Kristy and I started talking about what was important to us and it became clear that there were three general aspects that needed to be addressed.
1. Factors related to growing conditions
-Could we grow our own food relatively easily and reliably as well as raise livestock? This took into account factors such as average precipitation, temperature, and frost dates.
2. Factors related to livability
-Would we actually want to live in this place? These were more subjective and included factors such as proximity to hiking opportunities, proximity to medical care and services, pollution levels, did the community seem warm and and welcoming and if the place was aesthetically pleasing to us.   
3. Factors related to affordability
-Could we afford to buy land and to continue living on that land? This included factors such as average price of land, property tax rates, and general cost of living. Simply put, if we can't afford the land then all the factors in parts 1 and 2 become moot.
We then broke these down into individual factors and developed an algorithm (all compiled into an Excel sheet...yes we are geeks) to punch data into regarding potential places to live. This became our criteria. Then we started looking for data...
Well that is where we started. Over the next several weeks I intend to break the criteria down into more digestible chunks exploring what criteria we chose, why we chose the ones we did, how those criteria helped us narrow down what locations to look at, and ultimately what we learned from the process.

So stay tuned...
My potential new home...wonder if mongeese are good neighbors?


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