Many people dream of living in the country, and you can find plenty of information on choosing a homestead. In most cases, the writer seems to operate on the assumption that things in the world will be relatively stable and the focus is on location, soil quality, buildings and such. There’s no question there are some basics for everyone to consider, and we’ll cover those. But it seems to me, in this highly unstable day and age, that there are important considerations beyond the basics. Among these are societal trends, climate change and politics. I have written a number of posts and made predictions on where I see things going in our country, so my suggestions and recommendations reflect those opinions.
The Homestead and Climate Change
Whatever the climate in the area you’re evaluating, you should expect it to change within your lifetime. The rule of thumb so far seems to be that everything will get warmer, dry areas will get drier and wet areas will get wetter. To some extent, you can mitigate these problems with careful selection. Our ranch is located in the western California foothills near where the Cascade range and the Sierra Nevada range meet. Because it is on a west-facing slope, we have the advantage of a windward slope. That means we get more precipitation than a similar property located at the same elevation on the far side of the Central Valley.
Historically, average rainfall in this area is 35-45 inches. While we are still within the historical averages, the swings are much wider and generally trending downward. Again, historically, we get most of our annual rainfall between November and February. In the last eight years we have had more years of no-rainfall months in that time period than at any time in the historical records I have been able to dig up. When it does rain, we are now more likely to get bursts of very heavy rainfall in a short time interspersed with no rainfall. Luckily, we have a number of year-round springs that feed multiple ponds, which helps us collect and store the rainfall we do get.
The Homestead and Societal Change
Sadly, our society (along with many others) is becoming less civil, more angry, more violent and less cohesive. Groups with different agendas are stoking divisiveness and fanning the flames of hate and racism. While these are normal human responses to fear and uncertainty, it means there are more risks in day-to-day life. For all of those reasons, I strongly recommend you choose a place that is well away from a large town (by “large” I mean a population of 25,000 or more) and well off a major highway. Don’t even consider locating near a larger city. For similar reasons, I would choose a place well off the road.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should be aware that our civil liberties are under attack in many areas. Governments are getting involved in things that would horrify the men who developed the US. Constitution and created our democratic form of government. For example, if I were looking for property these days I would be very careful not to choose a state/community that thinks it’s OK to relocate immigrants using force or lies; ban books or control access by only allowing certain groups to provide reading material to children; interfere with the electoral process; storm the US capitol; treat people differently because of their skin color, ethnic background, gender or biological sex at birth; control what people eat or wear, or decide what sexual orientation people should have.
In my opinion, Robert A. Heinlein captured it best: “Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”
What Are the Basics?
Once you’ve considered the factors above, you can get into the day-to-day living aspects of choosing a homestead. These include climate, topography, vegetation, soil condition, water supply, access to the property, buildings on the site and the location of the homestead in relation to stores, schools, health care and other services. If I were ranking these, water supply would come first. After that, topography. Then climate, vegetation, soil condition, access to the property, buildings on the site and the proximity to shopping, schools and services. With the exception of water supply, most of these can be shuffled according to your particular situation. If you are on the older side and have health conditions such as heart disease, access to health care and a relatively flat stretch of land may rank higher for you. Parents of school-age children may place a higher priority on schools (although home-schooling is an option for almost everyone). In the next post, we’ll take these one at a time.