I’m trying to buy a farm in VA

For the last 2 years, I’ve been trying to buy a farm to plant a repository of fruits, nuts and fodder cultivars and I’m still looking. Because of the fact that I really need to find some land soon, I’m writing this blog post to put it out there. Why is this so hard? Here are my thoughts…

1.) Covid and Interest Rates: Many of the city and suburb people seem to be leaving for larger properties now that Covid has them working from home. Combined with low interest rates, these people are buying farms. Not only are they buying farms, but they are waiving inspections and bidding up the price- something I cannot do.

2.) FSA loans. I am completely self employed and though I have great credit and adequate demonstrable farm income to afford a decent mortgage, it’s not enough to get a conventional loan. They ultimately want someone with a W-2. Therefore, my only option is to get a loan through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), an agency within the USDA that exists to make loans to farmers because they know this is a problem. Though on paper this loan looks really sweet- up to 40 year mortgage, low interest, no down payment, it is proving to be a nightmare. Here’s why:

  • No pre-approvals. The government doesn’t pre-approve, and you must submit your application over and over again for each farm you have a signed contract to buy. Each time, they go over your business plan, your existing finances, the appraisal of the property, etc. Only, no contracts to buy have manifested themselves because I can’t get pre-approved. I cannot find any organizations working on the legislation around this.
  • 90 day minimum discover/financing period. In talking with FSA agents, this is the minimum time needed to process your loan application and give both you and the seller an answer.
  • County FSA offices. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency is decentralized and broken down into county offices all over. Because my search for land spans several counties, I’ve spoken with FSA loan offices in all of them and they range from being extremely helpful and open minded to down right ignorant and dismissive of my abilities and business plan. It doesn’t help my optimism when articles are also published about how women and minority farmers and ranchers receive disproportionately less credit than their white male counterparts through the FSA.
  • Business plans. I don’t grow corn and soy. I do, however, have a history of pigs and nursery products and growing/managing orchards. My last conversation with an agent revealed that I probably shouldn’t elaborate on the nursery or orchard part of my business plan because “we don’t understand those businesses” and, instead, should focus on hogs because those numbers are easier. This is incredibly frustrating. So, do I write a largely fake business plan?
  • You might not get the loan. It takes 45 days to find out if you and your business plan have been approved for the farm. Another 45 days to finance the property.

Having to go through the FSA has turned into one heartbreak after another. After an offer was rejected yesterday, my realtor called to tell me that it’s looking like my only hope is in finding someone who wants to sell but hasn’t listed their property yet. He’s talking with some of his realtor friends to see if they might know of anyone or anything coming up… but that’s what this loan has become. I’ve also written loads of blind letters to landowners asking if they might be interested in selling and the answer, if I get one, is always no. One lady kindly called me back to tell me that a man grows corn and beans on her land and all the land around her and says he’s got a long-term lease. Which is a whole other issue that I won’t get into in this essay, but lease bullying of older women landowners is a real thing.

Other questions you might be asking in your head:

  • Why not lease? I have a lease and it’s a good one. I trust my business partnership and feel confident in the lease’s longevity. It is, however, simply too small of a piece of land to hold all of the trees I am trying to save, evaluate and give jobs so they’ll stay around and be employed by others.

    What about a good lease on more land? It’s a dangerous proposition for me to operate my life’s work on other people’s land. I was interviewed this week by an ag non-profit and they asked me: “On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being strongest, 10 being least), how much do you identify as a farmer?” I had to answer that in my late 20s, I was a 1 (when I started this blog). That identity combined with non-ownership of my trees and lost access causes a deep and dark depression that I cannot describe and never want to face again. These days, I’m probably a 6 or a 7 simply because of a need for self-preservation. I have clarity and focus and more purpose than ever before and, yet, cannot take anymore risks with land tenure. The next steps have to happen on land that I own. And if that can’t be in the next 6 months, I am going to need to reevaluate everything that feels so solid, which is a crushing proposition.

    What about on non-profit land? Putting my work’s canvas in the hands of a board is terrifying to me. I’ve seen boards overturn. I’ve seen them bend to the loudest, most emphatic member. I’ve seen board deals worked behind the back of others on the board, eliminating group conversation. Having my livelihood and passion be in the future of a board would pump me with a never-ending sense of foreboding.

    You could put your trees on my property! I get this a lot and, respectfully, I am not interested. I know you are well-intentioned, but it’s spreading myself too thin. It’s not owning the trees. It’s the unknown.

How to move forward?

Well, it seems as if I need to find someone who wants to both sell me a farm and be sympathetic to the FSA loan process, or otherwise offer creative financing. I’m looking for the following:

  • I’m looking for around 30 acres of land with at least 50% in fields of well drained ag soil in zone 7a, 7b or 8a . But I’d take smaller if I could be on it by this winter.
  • Within a 150 mile radius of Southeastern VA (Hampton Roads, Middle Peninsula Northern Neck and inland) OR 20-ish minutes off any route between Northern VA and Southeastern VA.
  • I prefer a house on the property, but it’s not necessary. If no house, on-site electricity and a well with some outbuildings is strongly preferred. Again, at least 13-15 acres needs to be in fields and not forested.
  • I’m open to offering life estate if someone in advanced retirement wishes to remain in the house, but I need access to the land ASAP.
  • Old orchards (older than 1980) or former orchard land (pre-1980s) are not preferred due to likely lead-arsenate toxicity in the soil and this is a problem for livestock.
  • My budget honestly varies depending on the property. Just let me know what you’re willing to sell it for and I can crunch some numbers.
  • The business plan surrounds producing orchards, nursery space and some livestock. I’m willing to share it with seriously interested parties. I am not interested in business partners for this business plan.

    Know anyone who might be interested? I can’t post my personal contact information on here for security purposes, but please email fruitandfodder@gmail.com or submit a message through my website, www.fruitandfodder.com.

    I’m open to other suggestions as well, just get in contact with me


The Launch of HogTree

Last year I went through a collapse. The best I can describe it is the imagery of me walking down a dirt road while being shot with arrows. I tried to pull them out and fight back with the first few shots, but more shots  continued to hit and sink into my flesh. By late fall, the fight was gone in me. I was bleeding out and in a dark place. I had no choice but to let the darkness envelop me.

During this period of time, I questioned myself, my life, my passions. I felt hollow. What was it all for? If I am to pursue my passions, will I always suffer like this? And how much more can I handle before it’s no longer worth it?  As these questions floated by me in the darkness, I heard a voice whisper: “Eliza, you are here to love apples.

It wasn’t the first time and I have a feeling it won’t be the last time that apples pull me out of depression. Slowly and incrementally, I started to give myself time to think about the things I loved and the patterns of my life. With each passing day of thinking about what I loved, business plans emerged. Caution and negative feelings turned into strategy. Conducting a personal inventory on what I had in my possession turned into talks, workshops, and mulberry trees for sale. When put all together, HogTree emerged.

HogTree Logo

First of all, what is HogTree? 

HogTree is a diversified orchard system designed and synched to the rotation and feeding of livestock while also growing commercial process fruit. Imagine a paddock filled with trees that drop fruit/nuts at the same time. Now imagine many paddocks incrementally dropping fruit from May through November. That is HogTree.

I have mulberry cultivars that will drop fruit from May through July. I have around 30 apple cultivars that, when put in order, will drop fruit from late June through November. I have special genetics gathered from notable Quaker horticulturalists like J. Russell Smith, John Hershey and Yardley Taylor to add to this system as well, including: persimmons, chinquapins, chestnuts, pears, pecans, oaks and hickories. In essence, HogTree is a practical arboretum designed to preserve rare or otherwise unwanted cultivars in order to feed livestock…and more.

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Summer drop scheme for apples in my area.

Why would you design an orchard to feed livestock? Because that’s the first income layer. If you are going to start an orchard, you’ll need to make some income during the time it takes for the orchard to start bearing (This is also important when trying to get a loan from the bank).  Some people grow annual vegetables and I think that’s perfectly fine, however I do not want to spend all of my time bending over. I’m a much happier person if I reach up rather than down. I also want to incorporate an income stream which will help manage the orchard throughout its lifetime. After a few years of having pigs in orchards, I’ve discovered that pigs do the job of an unskilled intern and deposit fertility in the process.

What about the second layer? That’s commercial process fruit production. Interspersed within these paddocks in inventive ways are cultivars which grow well for me in this area and have a high quality in value-added markets. These fruits will be mostly managed by livestock with a few steps of intervention coming from humans. Though it’s 5-6 years out, I’ve already promised this fruit to amazing makers/friends/business people who will not only treasure this fruit and turn it into the best product they can, but who also give a shit about our impacts on this earth and humanity. My fruit will go towards producing products with a positive and aware message.

Ugly Apples

Before I go to the next layer, I also need to put out a disclaimer. When I first got into apples, I wanted to grow alllll the varieties. I wanted to find uses for them all, so people could feel as rich as I felt when having access to hundreds of varieties/tastes/textures/uses.  I started growing heirloom apples for cider because they otherwise had no market due to natural cosmetic blemishes/weirdness, but were too special and delicious to me to not be given a purpose. In growing them for livestock first, process second, I’m giving them a new niche.

Is there a third layer?  Yes, the nursery layer. This year I’m selling the Hicks Everbearing Mulberry along with what we think is Stubbs Everbearing Mulberry (positive ID coming next month (May)) through HogTree. Both were championed by J. Russell Smith and John Hershey for being the original “Hog Trees,” with each tree responsible for feeding pigs and chickens for 3+ months in the South.  I sold 250 newly grafted trees in January, which are shipping out now, but this coming winter I will be selling hundreds more as 4-5 foot tall trees. In the next few years, I’ll start to sell the apples, chestnuts, chinquapins and persimmons that are part of my drop scheme. HogTree is an orchard system.  In selling these trees, I’m selling the order in which they belong in the scheme.


Fourth Layer? Of course!:  Talks. Workshops. Tours. Helping people to learn from my mistakes. U-Pick (If you have a system designed to efficiently rotate livestock through, humans are no different).

There are more layers, but this is the 5 year layout as of right now. Now to reality!

What do I have right now? I have an 8 month lease on 10 acres in Loudoun County, Northern Virginia. The 8 month lease is so I can prep the ground for orchards to go in this winter with pigs (an annual income), while also keeping  a healthy dose of caution related to land tenure. In 8 months, the landlord and I should be able to see if it’s a good fit and will then discuss a long-term lease.  I’ve been burned badly in regards to land tenure and much like being in a romantic relationship, I do not feel comfortable planting trees which will be around for my lifetime after the first couple dates between me and the landlord. Working with pigs as my first activity on this new property feels safe, whole and doable.

10 pigs will be arriving in early May from David Crafton, of 6 Oaks Farm. He is a passionate wealth of information and all of his pigs are from pasture genetics, so they contain the necessary gut biome to raise them in an orchard-in-the-making setting. He has been working for years to develop his own breed, the Carolina Forest Spot Hog, but in waiting for this breed I’m receiving a heritage-breed mix from him largely consisting of a large black x tamworth cross and bluebutt crosses. The goal is 200+ pounds of delicious marbled red meat in 7 months with them eating 90% pasture/fodder. I’m excited to work with them.


With that said, this timeline is how I currently predict HogTree will be developed in the next few years:

Year 1: The land is responsibly “pigged,” removing grubs, spreading minerals/nutrients and planting cover crops after them in order to prep the ground for orchard plantings. This is also a trial run for a long-term lease with the landowner. These pigs will be supplemented with some off-farm feed (non gmo peas, barley and whey mostly) because they are working to transition a blank canvas/pasture into an orchard and will need some supplement to grow within my 7 month time frame. HogTree the nursery sells mulberry trees online.

Year 2: (If pig year 1 pans out, otherwise repeat yr 1 on new piece of property), I will be planting fodder trees and fruit tree rootstock. Considering fodder trees,  I have the genetics for trees whose leaves are as nutritious as alfalfa and way more drought tolerant, providing high digestibility/minerality and nutrition when the grass starts to underperform. These trees will be harvested annually starting in year 3. HogTree continues to sell mulberries online.

Year 3: The fruit tree rootstocks will be topworked (grafted). In addition to pasture, the pigs will be eating tree fodder and early season mulberry fruit by this point.  HogTree sells summer apples and mulberry trees online.

Year 4: Pigs will hopefully start to taste their first apples off some trees. They will continue to eat pasture and leaf fodder from the trees. The full gamut of fruit trees will be available through HogTree.

Year 5+: Pigs will be fed/fattened/finished off tree leaves, fruit, nuts and pasture. Harvests for process fruits will begin.

*In order to make this vision and business plan work, I will need the investment of consumers. That means I am opening up a waiting list for 20lb box/quarter/half/whole hogs for the 2018 year. Please realize that in buying this pork, you are supporting the future of HogTree’s orchard system, which will show the important links between animals and orchards. Please consider buying pork from me if you want to see HogTree set this orchard system into motion. Click here to get on the waiting list!*

Update: Support my writings and more through the purchase of charcuterie at www.hogtree.com

HogTree Logo