Moving Mountains

Posted by on Sep 14, 2015 in Farm Blog | 31 comments

There are at least two meanings to this blog title, which will become clear as this post progresses. For the astute few that still check in on our blog from time to time, it will not have escaped your notice that we haven’t posted an update since March of this year. We apologize, but this has been an incredible year, some of it good, some…not so good.

2015 had a very bumpy start, with the loss of no less than THREE cherished family members in the first few weeks after the new year. Thankfully, things then settled down, briefly, and then kidding season came roaring around the corner.

Minnie with her just-born set of quadruplet does!

Minnie with her just-born set of quadruplet does!

We are so incredibly grateful for a close college friend that offered to step-up, and stayed at the farm for a couple of our busiest weeks to lend a most welcome hand this spring. I think we may have worn her out, but it was a wildly successful kidding season, gifting us no less than 14 does, to just 4 bucks this year, and no kid losses. It’s difficult to ask for a more successful season than the one we had, and we’re incredibly grateful! I promised not to post a picture of her, but I lied. This photo is just too damn cute, not to. Don’t you agree? Sorry!

Kidding season is hard work, but it's also FUN!

Poppy trying to understand the concept of a ‘selfie’

As kidding season settled into its predictable routine, show season started up, with week after week of clipping, bathing, and driving goats all over Northern California. Show season was very successful as well this year.

A good start to the 2015 show season

A good start to the 2015 show season

We finished two permanent champions, and have one more that just needs that ever-elusive “one more championship leg” to become a permanent finished champion. We also had not one, but two ‘best in show’ wins this year, one of whom was a beautiful doeling of our own breeding. Confirmation that perhaps we’re heading in the right direction.

Our buck, Castle Rock Abraham Darby, wins Best in Show at the first show of the season!

Our buck, Castle Rock Abraham Darby, wins Best in Show at the first show of the season!

However, as soon as show season had a lull, and I could stop to catch my breath, searching for a new location to move the farm to re-started in earnest. This year, we weren’t messing around. After three years of searching we’d reached condition critical. Do or die. Move this year, or we’re permanently, and very finally, done. I don’t say this to be melodramatic, but it is quite honestly the point we had reached. As if looking for new real estate in this area isn’t stressful enough, the potential finality of all things farm, more than added an extra layer of stress.

Sure, we could keep two does. Breed them, even, but if we can’t retain the offspring, there is NO point. There is no ‘breeding program’ if you can’t hold on to some of the next generation in an effort to improve your herd.

Curbstone Valley Calypso earned her Junior Championship leg at her first show. Selling her simply wasn't on my radar (Photo: V. Walsh)

Curbstone Valley Calypso earned her Junior Championship leg at her first show. Selling her simply wasn’t on my radar (Photo: V. Walsh)

Not to mention, this is the second year we’ve abandoned the gardens due to lack of water, and the orchard is languishing, to put it mildly. After four years of an incredible drought, our poor fruit trees may be permanently stunted.

So for this year, it’s fair to say that the roller-coaster we’ve been riding was one of those old rickety, creaky wooden ones, and barely attached to the track. If you’re familiar with real estate, especially anything involving acreage, and commutable to Silicon Valley, you know just how difficult this task has been. I won’t bore you with the details, but I did blog about our frustration with the market previously. If it gives you some perspective on the duration of our search, and the level of our frustration, this is the post I wrote on this same subject two and-a-half years ago.

Despite the recent crash in the economy, in this area property prices have soared this year, and bidding wars are once again just part of the purchase process. The good news? This farm is finally worth more than we paid for it. The bad news? Banks don’t believe that land is worth more than you can spit on it. Acreage barely counts anymore, unless it comes replete with a mega-mansion. In California. Acres. Worthless?!?! Yes. Banks simply won’t take risk on sales involving significant acreage, despite the fact that those of us farming, or anyone with a land-savvy synapse in their brain, understands that LAND, SOIL, SQUARE FEET OF THE EARTH’S CRUST (not to mention water), is very much the limiting reagent in this part of the state. Dirt is worth…well, just that, from a lender’s perspective.

We see MUCH more value in 'dirt'. This is how the garden used to look. This year, a brown, dessicated collection of weeds

We see MUCH more value in ‘dirt’. This is how the garden used to look. This year, a brown, dessicated collection of weeds

So this year has been a series of let’s make a deal. Make offer, get in bidding war (invariably against a developer), lose, move on. Rinse, and repeat. We did that more than once, bouncing from hope, to disappointment, and back to hope, and again to defeat and frustration. You get the idea.

Unfortunately, our quest to move the farm is not about “one or two more acres”, or a “nicer place to live”. It’s to move the farm…or…fold the farm. This location, plain and simple, is not working for us. We’ve outgrown it, and a feud with one neighbor has made living here incredibly uncomfortable. The rest of the neighborhood treats us as the local ‘theme park’, and loves us, and the animals. One neighbor flips out about bees, and can’t abide poultry, or livestock, no matter how small. When a neighbor makes noise, and nuisance complaints to the county about your animals, especially when you share an easement, there’s always a concern, in the back of your mind, for the welfare of your animals, as you never quite know just how far that neighbor will go to get their own way. Life is just too short to live with that day after day.

People who loathe animals, quite honestly, scare me. How does anyone despise this?

People who loathe animals, quite honestly, scare me. How does anyone despise this?

We’re not in violation of any zoning or building ordinances, and are not doing nothing wrong, but it doesn’t stop someone from becoming an incredible pain, especially when they clearly have nothing better to do with their time.

Despite the fact our existing location is rural, squarely in the middle of Agriculture-zoned land, and California has been a right to farm state since 2008, most ag land here is now stuck up mini-mansion land, and mini-mansion owners don’t like livestock, animal noises, or heaven forbid…poop. Most rural residents in this county seem to want sterile acreage. Lord of the manor acreage. Not real life up-to-your-shins mucking out stalls acreage. More faux I-own-ten-acres-of-just-a-view acreage. 5000 square foot houses, manicured woodlands, leaf blown within an inch of their lives, and no critters, wildlife, or livestock. Period. Anyway, I’ll stop there, because anyone that knows me, also knows that I could rant on this subject for days!

We've come to love the woodlands here, and preferred to find a property nearby

We’ve come to love the woodlands here, and preferred to find a property nearby

So, this time we were searching for a more remote parcel. Less neighbors was a priority, appropriately zoned acreage (easier said than done), and more contiguous flat land, if for no other reason than to help make our day-to-day chores MUCH more efficient. However, we’ve grown to love our privacy here, and love the woodland areas, too. We can walk the goats on any day of the year to an area of the farm where they love to browse on blackberry, redwood, and honeysuckle. What we didn’t want was a sterile, flat plot, with nothing but grass, and being able to peer directly into a neighbor’s bathroom.

After more than three years of hunting, we finally found a property that really REALLY suited our needs, and it’s not that far away! Perched on a plateau, on the side of a mountain, the house is tiny, but it’s sited on a secluded 18 acres with more browse than the goats could ever wish for. Unlike here, there is NO shared easement, the inner 8 acres of the property is fully fenced, and as a bonus, two sides of the property border on State Park land. This time we pounced, went in with guns blazing, and succeeded in quickly securing the offer, finally avoiding a bidding war. After dragging through the financial quagmire that has become normal these days, and the slowest escrow we’ve EVER experienced, due to the debacle that was the ‘boom’ a few years ago, and suffering through the most intrusive financial scrunity, yesterday, we finally obtained the keys! As such, we are now moving to a different mountain!

The new site is sunny, secluded, and still has ample blackberries to keep the goats happy!

The new site is sunny, secluded, and still has ample blackberries to keep the goats happy!

The new property is situated at around 1900 feet above sea level. There is an established orchard, with a variety of trees, including a well-established Meyer Lemon, Grapefruit, Limequat, Persimmon, various (albeit not heirloom) apples – but as California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) members we can remedy that over time, pears, grapefruit, plums, apricots…you name it. One advantage, at least for the Pomme fruits, is the elevation above sea level should help increase those all-important winter chill hours. Our apples this year, due to our incredibly warm winter, and our lower elevation, struggled to set any fruit at all. Oh, and this property has water. A LOT of it. Which is incredible considering how severe our drought has been.

Minnie would disown us if there were no blackberries at the new farm!

Minnie would disown us if there were no blackberries at the new farm!

For the remainder of 2015 our priority will be getting everything set up for moving the animals to the new farm. Things will be in disarray for the next few months, but we’re hoping the move will be final by Christmas. We do need to construct a new barn before the animals can move, which this time will require going through the permitting process with the county, and no doubt that will slow the process down. I will honestly, of everything here, miss the barn we originally both built for Lotus and Minnie, with our own two hands, but am very much looking forward to what the new property holds for us. We also need to install some dwarf goat-friendly fencing at the new location, so the blog will still be quiet for a while, but we’ll try to update from time to time on our progress. Once we’re settled, we should have no shortage of things to blog about, as we’re (almost) starting all over again.

After the last few years we’re hoping that now we’ve finally secured the location, that the worst is finally behind us, and although we’ll be insanely busy in the coming months, at least now we can make some forward progress! We are so excited to be moving the farm to a place we can finally call…home.


  1. Clare and Jon, I am SO happy you got the property in Ben Lomond! I know it was a battle, but you fought well and won! Congratulations – you definitely deserve it!

    • Thank you, Traci!!! BTW, I think you are the first official person to comment, while working, from Antarctica, LOL 😛 When you finally get home, and thaw out, send me a PM. Would love to have you out to the new place for a tour!!!

  2. Congrats on getting a place in this mad real estate market!

    • Thanks, Amy! Mad market is an understatement! We saw a lot of properties this year, but in Santa Cruz County, the zoning for most of them just would not have worked. Just so happy this part is finally over!

  3. CONGRATULATIONS!!! I’m soooooooooo jealous. Looking forward to all your future posts about the wonderful flora and fauna that inhabit your new property. Oh, and about those lovely ladies and handsome gents too!

    • We haven’t much of a chance to hike around yet, but I’ve already seen at least one new (to us) California native plant species, California Spikenard, and the property appears to be overrun with wild turkeys. Really overrun. They actually come up onto the covered porch, and stand at the front door of the house, too! I’m thinking that maybe 48 M isn’t patrolling as much up there, although it is within his territory range. We’ll have to see 😉

      • Nice! I had to look that one up. Not sure if you know Maya Blow up in El Sobrante. Beautiful woman who teaches wildcrafting herbal medicines.

        If the turkeys are that bold, I’m inclined to think that the former residents fed them. They are probably hanging out on the porch waiting for their supper. Best to watch out, or they WILL be invited in for supper. Ha ha

        I looked at the Puma Tracker, but they don’t show any recent collars so 48M isn’t shown. It would be nice if you caught a glimpse of him at some point, but not until AFTER you have secure pens for the critters.

  4. Congratulations on securing your new home. We should all admire your appetite for challenges. Best of luck, and we all look forward to reading abut you new adventure.

    • Thanks, Ed! It will be an adventure, for sure, but I’m excited to see where it takes us 🙂

  5. Ben Lomond! So, so glad to know that you all will still be close by!

    • Yes, not moving far at all, thankfully. We were bound and determined to stay off that Highway 101 corridor, and I’m so glad we get to stay in this area, and close to our friends!

  6. What wonderful news Clare at long last – it’s been a long hard journey for you all … so glad that there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel.
    Rosie´s last post…Going Back to School with

    • It was a very long tunnel, but it’s always said that any endeavor that is truly worth it, is worth fighting for. I can’t wait to get all settled in at the new place. It will be a process over the coming months, but I’m excited to see how the new gardens take shape (once we figure out how to keep the turkeys out), and to see what a few of the fruit trees that no longer have labels on them, actually turn out to be! 😉

  7. Oh wow Clare, what fantastic news for you and Jon!! We’re so very happy for you! Need any help building that new barn? 😉

    • We just might! We’re working on the barn first. Been evaluating our options, and may go with a prefabricated barn, because it will make getting permits a little easier. If we go that route, we might actually have a bona fide barn raising! 🙂

  8. Congratulations Clare! Dang, what it takes to make things work these days. The only thing saving my sweet island from breakaway development is difficult access (no bridge, ferry only), and water limitations courtesy of a single-source aquifer. We have our share of McMansions, but God bless the verdant northwest forests that shield them from our eyes. Here’s to your new home; may it bring peace, joy and plenty of stories to share with your us, your friends who wish you and yours a “farmful” of happiness.
    Tom | Tall Clover Farm´s last post…Preserving Summer Peaches for Winter Pies

    • I honestly think you live in a little piece of heaven. I actually even looked online at a couple of properties on Vashon. Might have been interesting to ferry a small herd of dwarf goats over to the island 😉 Development, and water, were definitely two key issues for us. I’d hate to get settled somewhere, and find a big box store pop up next door in 10 years, or have the property zoning changed out from underneath us. Water in parts of the mountains here is also a major issue. This property actually has water literally falling of the ground, with an artesian well, in addition to a regular bored well as backup, and a couple of springs. The redwoods certainly look much happier there, than they do here, suggesting there’s quite a bit more water on that mountain. Not that it’s an excuse to waste it, but it’s comforting to know the water situation there is stable.

  9. Hey Clare and Jon – congrats!!! hope the move goes well. just wish i was in the area still to offer an hand. Cant wait to see the future posts and see the photos…

    • Hi Tom! Hoping to do a preliminary post soon. First project is putting in a barn. With winter coming, that could prove to be interesting, but we’re always up for a challenge! Will definitely post updates on our progress…or lack of 😉

  10. Clare, I was so happy to see this post. Not knowing exactly where you are in California, I was worried about you in this horrendous fire season. But the news that you have found new property is extra-good news. Congratulations!
    Jean at Jean’s Garden´s last post…Seasonal Changes: My Red Maple in September

    • Thus far, the fires have mostly been north of us. A couple of small ones locally, that CDF managed to squash quickly. Until we get some real rain though, I’m going to be a bit jumpy. Everything is so unbelievably dry here. We’re super excited about the new property though. Fire risk there is about the same as here, but the property itself should prove to be much more conducive to our lifestyle…and much less steep! 🙂

  11. Clare,
    Your new property sounds wonderful–congratulations! And water even, that is huge!

    • Water is a very big deal. I’m impressed that even the artesian well is still spewing water, this deep into an incredible drought. It certainly makes the property that much more special. Saw a couple of other properties this year where water was clearly an issue. Either on public water, or wells not deep enough/with high enough capacity. Banks can refuse lending on rural properties if the wells don’t meet minimum standards. Regardless, with the springs/artesian water sources, it’s a huge comfort to know that in a disaster situation, water will still always be available for the animals. Definitely have to have you and the girls come up for a visit once we get settled, would love for you to see it 🙂

  12. So happy to read this news. I am excited for you and this big change.

    • Thank you, Chad! We’re so relieved, and very excited about what lies ahead. I’m also excited to, once the dust settles, get back to blogging! Already found a number of different native blog-worthy plant species that don’t grow at our existing location! 🙂

  13. Oh my, exciting news! So sorry for the losses in your family, Clare. For those of us who have followed your blog for some time, through bees and chickens, goats and turkeys, mountain lions and pesky neighbors spraying weedkillers, this is BIG news!

    It’s very sad to have to leave all the hard work of the garden, greenhouse and elaborate and safe barn you constructed. However, you will LOVE having the room and the water!

    It will be fun for me to live and build vicariously through your efforts. Totally understand the lack of time for blogging, too! I try to remember that my Sierra Foothill Garden website should be a running diary of sorts, but it’s hard, so hard to find time while so busy.

    Best, BEST wishes!
    Sue Langley´s last post…200K Special People ‘LIKE’ Flea Market Gardening!

    • It is difficult. This year I just threw my hands up. I could either get out there, and do what needed to be done, or I could blog about what I had not managed to get done, but I couldn’t be productive, and blog about it! 😛

      We’ll miss the barn, the gardens, and even the retaining wall, but I expect new versions of all of them will transpire at the new property. Here, so much of our issue with the terrain has been diminished efficiency. Having the animals spread out all over the farm makes twice daily chores take an eternity. Even something as mundane as cleaning a barn or pen takes four times longer than it should because of hauling up and down slopes.

      I am looking forward to getting settled at the new location though, and am already thrilled to find some different native plant species because of the difference in elevation (about 1200-1500 feet higher than here). If we actually get some rain this winter, I’ll be interested to see if we find any different species of fungi too!

  14. Clare I am so sorry for your losses and trials……but I am so excited for you now knowing you have the land you want and can build the farm the way you now want! I can’t wait to read about your new journey on your new mountain.
    [email protected] Eye View´s last post…Simply The Best Natives-Nodding Onion

    • Thank you, Donna! I’m really hoping this is our last-ever move, and I’m greatly looking forward to getting to know our new ‘home’, and sharing the joy! 🙂

  15. Catching up after a very long break – I remember you battled with That? Neighbour who was spraying poison next to your land.

    Congratulations! How wonderful to find suitable land. And water!!

    We’ve also moved from Porterville to False Bay – now in a kinder climate which our merely garden plants appreciate. We have birds and lizards, and endemic bees.
    Diana Studer´s last post…Our False Bay garden in September

    • You’re right, Diana. Our neighbor was spraying herbicide on our property. Definitely something I WON’T miss about this place. I do enjoy it here, though, and I will miss the creeks, and watching the deer outside my window (the new property is fenced in the inner 8 acres around the house, so my deer-spotting days are probably over). Self entitled neighbors, however, will NOT be missed 😉 Glad to you found a great new location, too! I need to pop over and catch up myself!!!! 🙂