It all started when…
Lise Monahan, Fraga Farms Organic Goat Dairy, left a message on my cell on a Sunday night in early March – please call – urgent. The farm next door had a For Sale sign. Lise had been working with the owner to grow organic hay for her goats. Lise was afraid a wealthy individual would buy the property, build a McMansion and not farm the land. Would I be interested in buying the property?
Crazy idea! I had a newly minted Certificate in Food and Agriculture from Bainbridge Graduate Institute, but I had never farmed, never even planted a garden. I had a week to decide.
The farm is a perfect investment for Rooted Investing – it brings real meaning to “Bringing Capital Back to Earth.” I did a quick survey to determine if the farm could bring me a 3% return. I found that young farmers without capital to purchase farms, were renting farms with a farmhouse for $1,200 to $1,500 a month. The numbers worked. I made an offer and it was accepted.
The closing date was April 10, 2014 – my grandson Duncan’s third birthday. I called Duncan and told him I bought him a farm for his birthday. Hence the name Duncan Farms.
The next two months were a blur. Duncan Farms had not produced a commercial crop for at least 23 years. The good news – “Not farmed, but not harmed.” – no pesticides had been used. Lise added Duncan Farms to the organic certification for Fraga Farms and planted oats, clover and grass to make organic hay for the goats.
One day Lise invited me for pie and introduced me to Julie, Jeremy and Jimi; three individuals who were all connected to the Gales Creek farming community and knew each other to say “Hi.” What they shared in common – they all wanted to farm but did not have the capital to purchase their own farm.
Duncan Farms became a “farm incubator.” Julie, Jeremy and Jimi would live on the farm; I would pay basic expenses and I would not live on the farm, as required by the IRS for IRA investments. Our goal is to develop farm related businesses that provide Julie, Jeremy and Jimi a sustainable life style and provide my IRA with 3% simple interest on my capital.
Julie, Jeremy and Jimi each have their own room in the farmhouse, the fourth bedroom is a guestroom, and one shared bathroom. The farmhouse needs work and the Emerson house interior is being gutted for a Passive House retrofit. The flooring, the appliances, the kitchen cabinets and much of the woodwork is being repurposed at Duncan Farms.
Learning about the farm is like a treasure hunt. There are 50 to 60 fruit trees – primarily apple and pear, but also plums, cherries, hazelnuts and some that had yet to be identified. There are rows and rows of berries – blueberries, blackberries, red currants, etc. Julie is stashing away berries to make jams this winter. The fruit trees are heavy with fruit and plans are to make cider, applesauce, compote, jams and jellies with this year’s harvest.
The vision for Duncan Farms is to produce a variety of value-added products, using permaculture and sustainable farming techniques. Plans include learning to prune and care for the fruit trees and berries, increasing their yield. Other ideas include chickens and ducks for eggs, a hoop house for year round vegetables, and a root cellar.
Jeremy is currently growing organic hops and making beer. Jeremy is an engineer by trade and is passionate about using sustainable solutions on the farm. In addition to farming, Jeremy is working to repair the pond and the irrigation system and install rainwater capture system.
Jimi has been working as a carpenter at Fraga Farms, helping to build a new barn for milking stations and the dairy. When the barn is finished, Jimi wants to learn cheese making and care of the goats. Jimi is also raising pigs in partnership with Fraga Farms. The pigs were added because they eat the whey, which is the waste product from cheese making.
At Duncan Farms, Jimi is learning beekeeping from Jill Leigh, an organic beekeeper who moved to Portland from Maine. Jill misses her bees and is pleased to be mentoring Jimi. Jimi plans to increase his hives and sell honey and other bee products. Jimi also plans to raise rabbits for meat.
Julie in interested in agri/eco tourism. Julie lived in a yurt during a farm internship in Scotland and is planning to add a bicycle hostel at Duncan Farms. Julie and Jeremy are discussing upgrading one of the barns to include a community room, a washroom and composting toilets for our bicycling guests.
Duncan Farms is such a wonderful surprise as well as a great investment, which is consistent with my values. I am confident that I will earn a 3% simple interest return, while developing new relationships, becoming part of the local community.
The money to purchase Duncan Farms came from my investments in Vanguard Funds. I chose Vanguard because I like its business model – Vanguard is owned, not by for-profit investors, but by Vanguard’s own mutual funds, which are owned by millions of clients. Vanguard’s investment strategy is conservative and its fees are the lowest in the industry. My investments did well with Vanguard and the decision to sell my Vanguard Funds was difficult, but the mutual fund industry has changed and I felt it was time for a new approach.
Rooted Investing means investing based on your values. My values prohibit paying Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan CEO, a $23 million salary, when he led a bank that could face criminal charges for the “too big to fail” fiasco which brought the financial world to its knees and required a bailout by US taxpayers. My Vanguard funds all held JP Morgan. Owning JP Morgan violates my values – I sold the funds.