Sound the trumpets! I’ve got an update from farmer Shannon Varley that might just make you feel everything is right in the world. You can read her full story starting here, but here’s a quick recap:
Shannon’s determined dream for years has been to own her own farm. She moved up and down the east coast in pursuit of that dream, and after years of renting, she and her husband BJ were finally able to purchase a nice property in Maryland. It was affordable because the dump of a house was considered a teardown. But BJ thought otherwise, and while Shannon and BJ and their two children lived in a small trailer on the property for 21 months, BJ carefully restored the 1820 house into a sweet treasure. The dream of ownership finally had come true, and Shannon set about the work of building her farm business.
Then in December of 2014, 11 months after the grand unveiling of the renovated house, the house burned down in a raging fire. Everything was lost.
Through all of it, Shannon has never given up her dream of a farm, although at times it felt like the dream was shifting. Maybe homesteading rather than full-on farming might be what she could do. Owning another farm might be too far out of reach.
The search continues
Throughout her horrible story of loss, Shannon was able (most of the time) to have a philosophical attitude about it. (You can read her inspirational thoughts on gratitude here.) She felt the path was being laid out for them, yet she wasn’t sure yet where that path would lead. Over time they made the decision to move back to Vermont, where they still owned a small house. They had heard of a farm for sale in their Vermont town, 178 beautiful valley acres complete with a big red barn, outbuildings and a farmhouse that was more than livable and only required some paint. In August of 2015 they made an offer, which was immediately rejected by the owner.
They moved back to their Vermont house in October of that year and made a second offer on that farm, which was also rejected. The owner raised the asking price, to dissuade low-ballers (like Shannon and BJ). But Shannon is a determined person, so they pulled together every last penny they could come up with, and made their final offer, which was $100,000 more than their original offer. It, too, was rejected.
At that point BJ said they had to just walk away from the deal, because the thought of that farm was just tearing Shannon up, and after all they’d already been through, their family needed to move forward. “I wanted that farm so badly,” Shannon said. “It was along my running route, and every time I ran past it…I can’t tell you how many times I cried, begging the universe to work with me on this. I was just so upset.”
There were endless conversations back and forth between husband and wife. “Whatever ended up happening, it was the end of the road for us. We’re done. We’re exhausted. We want to put roots down.”
So walk away they did. Shannon understood that that farm wasn’t meant to be hers. They bought another property in June, which sat on a mountaintop. It was a lovely, large piece of land (no house though, so they’d have to build one), but it wasn’t a farm. So Shannon retired her dream of owning her own farm and tried to embrace the idea of homesteading. She regretted it every step of the way.
What’s going on here?
The settlement of the mountaintop property was in July 2016. Two weeks later, the farm owner of the farm she had wanted so badly started dropping his price, by $20,000 a week. Everyone in town was talking about it—somebody’s going to buy that farm! Says Shannon, “I totally flipped my pancakes. Because now…now we’ve got two mortgages [the mountaintop property and the house], so how in the world could we buy that farm? I was pissed.
“It was just killing me. Now that farm was within range, and we couldn’t do anything about it. I can’t tell you how pissed I was.”
She had met a couple the previous year on a farm conference panel who worked for a small investment company that invests in farmland for young people: Iroquois Valley Farms. “I called them and asked them to look at our numbers. We were holding on to assets that we could sell, so I told them that if they would just bridge the gap for us for a brief period of time, they would have no idea what they would be doing for us.”
No conventional finance house in its right mind would finance them at that point because they were mortgaged up to their eyeballs. But Iroquois Valley must have seen something promising, because they approved a bridge loan. The company was moving from its original model of buying farmland and leasing it to farmers and into a full finance model, and Shannon and BJ were their first finance client in VT; “we’re their poster children!”
Once the bridge loan was approved, Shannon and BJ made another offer on the farm. “We totally low balled it, because we were so tied up in other things. But the interesting thing to me was that as soon as we took our energy out of it, it was like a magnet—this guy wouldn’t leave us alone all of a sudden. After a year of running around in circles with him, he now was like ‘what will it take for me to sell this to you?’ The change was unbelievable. We ended up getting it for less than we offered originally.”
What does she think happened? “I think that he sat on it for ten years and no one was coming along to buy it, and finally someone talked some sense into him and said ‘take the money and run’. He did tell us at closing that selling it was really hard for him psychologically. It ended up being a really nice transfer of ownership, and he was a really nice guy. He was really excited that we were going to be on the farm. Everyone in town is so excited.
“A woman who was born on that farm, she’s 95, she came and had tea with me. She’s so excited that we’re there.”
Kismet? Miraculous alignment?
So they got the farm! But they still had two properties that they needed to sell, as soon as possible. The thought kept Shannon up at night, because what if they couldn’t sell them? There would be no way to pay all those mortgages. “It’s impossible to move land in VT in the winter, so BJ and I just kind of stepped back from it and tried to come up with a plan.”
One day the woman who runs the general store mentioned that she knew someone who was looking for something like the house they were selling. Having been through that routine about ten times already, Shannon didn’t think much of it. But the next day the woman called and said she had driven by many times and really liked the house and would like to see the inside. She visited, and gave them a deposit the same day, which Shannon felt was a miracle.
The harder sell, though, was going to be that mountain property. They had a friend in town who wanted to start a maple sugar operation, and there are 30 acres of mature sugar maples on the property, but Shannon felt he would never buy it. But at the beginning of December, he made an offer, which they accepted.
Within four months of settling on the farm, and during the winter, they sold both properties. Shannon’s dream has been realized. Again. Maybe the farm in Vermont was where she was meant to be all along; it was just a long, dramatic, devastating ride to get there.
As for the future, Shannon has a vague sense of what she wants to do—probably some combination of meat animals and vegetables. But she’d like to use this next year to get to know the land and plan what’s best.
Here’s wishing Shannon and family years and years of peaceful prosperity on their new, forever farm.